I’ve been meditating consistently for 16 months and using Headspace for the past 30 days. During those first 16 months, I can’t say I’ve noticed many benefits, and I don’t seem to be improving. I have always felt that if I keep going, I will eventually improve and feel the difference. I wondered what your thoughts are. Am I wasting my time?
This is a great question and a very common one too.
First of all, well done on continuing with something on a daily basis for such a long period of time. That in itself is really quite extraordinary and your motivation must be very strong. This will be very helpful in moving forward with your practice.
There are several different parts to your question. The first is expectation, the second is motivation, and the third is analysis:
The process of meditation is a bit like cleaning a dirty mirror. Before we begin, we cannot see our reflection at all and we have little or no idea what is happening in the mind. Instead of witnessing our thoughts and feelings, we have become them, caught up and carried away by a seemingly unstoppable roller-coaster.
But as we sit more often, we start to see our reflection more clearly. At first, we might be surprised—our mind is not how we thought it would appear. We might be disappointed at what we see, or sad, or angry, or perhaps we are happy and feel very proud. All of these reactions simply lead to more thinking which, once again, obscures our view.
But over time we start to appreciate that there is no benefit in reacting to what we see, and far more value in simply being present, watching the mind unfold from one moment to the next, regardless of what appears. When we do this, we let go of expectation and rather than projecting the idea of what we think meditation “should” be, we witness the mind “as it is”.
This is more of a question than an answer. I wonder if your meditation has impacted your relationships and the people around you? Very often we look for benefits inside ourselves, when often they are experienced more clearly outside of ourselves. I can’t tell you how often we have people writing in to say how much more patient their partner is since they started meditating or how much less reactive their children have become. So it’s worth considering what changes may have taken place in your life in terms of improved relationships.
Any attempt to analyze the perceived progress of meditation is really the beginning of the end. All we are doing is turning up each day to watch the mind. All we can really say is that we are more attentive and more aware or less attentive and less aware. The only problem is that the mind doing the judging and analysis is the same mind which is being judged and analysed—which gets a bit tricky. We also have the problem that the mind analyzing the mind now, is a different mind than the one which analyzed the mind previously—in so much as our perception is always changing. These two factors alone make any analysis impossible.
Instead, next time you sit, simply notice whether you feel different in any way at all when you finish your meditation than when you first sat down. I am not talking about lightening bolts of insight or anything like that, but perhaps just feeling a little less tense, perhaps a little calmer, slightly more aware of how you are feeling and a little softer around the edges. If you begin your meditation free from any expectation and with the motivation to quietly benefit others, then more often than not you will experience these benefits.