Andy's Headspace: The mirror doesn't work
It doesn’t happen all that often, but every now and then I’ll get a message from someone who says that they’ve tried meditation and it ‘doesn’t work’. I’m not even really sure what that means, but I can only assume that the person has had certain expectations of a result and, in not experiencing that outcome, has concluded that meditation ‘doesn’t work’.
But just to put that in context, that’s like looking in a mirror and saying that the mirror doesn’t work. Sure, you may not like the lighting in the room, you may not look your best that day, and perhaps you didn’t anticipate looking as you do, but that’s about as far we can go with the argument. After all, ultimately the mirror is just a mirror, no more, no less.
I remember when I started out learning meditation in the monastery. After just a few short days I concluded that the meditation simply wasn’t working. I was certain that my mind should have settled by this point, and convinced that the thoughts should have stopped. So off I went to see my teacher. Once again, just to put this in context, the teacher was a very respected meditation master, teaching meditation techniques that have been refined over several thousand years. I was very new to meditation and knew nothing about it at all.
“The meditation doesn’t work!”, I said. “What do you mean?” he asked. “Well, there are lots of thoughts and my mind keeps wandering off. In fact, I think there are even more thoughts now than when I began a few days ago. I think the meditation is actually making me think more.” He laughed, a lot. “It’s not the meditation” he said, “it’s your mind!”. “Your mind has always been this way, it’s only now that you have the opportunity to see it more closely. Pretty scary, right?” he said, chuckling some more.
And it was. The thoughts were endless. At times I wondered if anything was happening at all. It took quite some time to realise that meditation was not about trying to make something happen, but rather getting a better understanding, a different perspective, and a greater sense of ease around what was being observed. It took even longer still to recognise that the difficulty of learning to meditate was shared by all...a fact which led to sweet relief and genuine empathy in equal measure.
In many ways though, meditation is like polishing the mirror. Each time we sit down, we polish our awareness, we see the mind a little more clearly. Sometimes the reflection might take us by surprise and almost certainly there will be times when we wish it looked differently. But no matter what we see, there is no benefit or joy to be found in arguing with the reflection in the mirror. In fact if you think about it, it’s kind of funny that we’d even try.