Today's Mindful Morsel comes from Ajahn Brahm's Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond. In this book, Ajahn Brahm (a self-described meditation junkie) shares his knowledge and experience of the jhanas—a core part of the Buddha’s original meditation teaching. Never before has this material been approached in such an empowering way, by a teacher of such authority and popularity. In this selection, he explains how bad meditations can help just as much as good meditations.
The Mind Is Wonderful and Strange
When you work with your mind, you find that it is so strange. The mind can do wonderful and unexpected things. Meditators who are having a difficult time achieving a peaceful state of mind sometimes start thinking, “Here we go again, another hour of frustration.” But often something strange happens: although they are anticipating failure, they reach a very peaceful meditative state.
Recently I heard about a man on his first ten-day retreat. After the first day, he was in such pain that he asked to go home. The teacher said, “Stay one more day and the pain will disappear, I promise.” So he stayed another day, but the pain only got worse. So again he wanted to go home. The teacher repeated his instruction, “Just one more day and the pain will go.” He stayed for a third day, but the pain was even worse. Every evening for each of the first nine days he would go to the teacher and ask to go home. And the teacher would say,“ Just one more day and the pain will disappear.” To his complete surprise,on the first sit in the morning of the final day, the pain disappeared and it did not come back. He could sit for long periods with no pain at all. He was amazed at how wonderful this mind is and how it can produce such unexpected results. So you cannot know the future. It can be so strange, so weird, so completely beyond what you would expect. Experiences such as this man’s can give you the wisdom and courage to abandon all thoughts and expectations about the future.
When you think during your meditation, “How many more minutes are there to go? How much longer do I have to endure this?” that is just wandering off into the future. The pain could disappear in a twinkling. You simply cannot anticipate when that is going to happen.
During a retreat you may think that none of your meditations were any good. But in the next meditation session you might sit down and everything becomes so peaceful and easy. “Wow!” you think. “Now I can meditate!” But then the next meditation is as awful as the first ones. What’s going on here?
My first meditation teacher told me something that at the time sounded quite strange. He said that there is no such thing as a bad meditation. He was right. All those meditations that you call bad or frustrating are where you do the hard work for your “wages.” It’s like a person who on Monday works all day but gets no money at the end of the day. “What am I doing this for?” he thinks. He works all day Tuesday and still gets nothing. Another bad day. All day Wednesday and Thursday he works, and still nothing to show for it. Four bad days in a row. Then along comes Friday. He does exactly the same work as before, and at the end of the day the boss gives him his wages. Wow! Why can’t every day be a payday?
Why can’t every meditation be a payday? Do you understand the simile? During the difficult meditations you build up your credit, the reason for your success. In the hard meditations you build up your strength, which creates the momentum for peace. Then when there is enough credit, the mind goes into a good meditation, and it is a payday. But you must remember that it was in the so-called bad meditations that most of the work was done.
To read more of Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond, click here.