Meditation is not Self-Improvement

Each time you consider meditating, you should simply sit and meditate, and forget all ideas of self-improvement.

For four years I had an on-again, off-again thing going with meditation. My first “formal” meditation was at a snow-covered yoga ashram in Val Morin, a few hours north of Montreal. Soon after was introduced to Headspace. At the time, I was working as a management consultant often doing 70+ hour weeks while racking up hotel points and rewards miles. I was stressed, anxious about my career, and at times unbelievably self-sabotaging.

Following several deeply peaceful and inexplicably illuminating experiences in meditation, I happily adopted the belief that this was the solution to all of my problems. Frustratingly, when I felt as though nothing good seemed to happen — or worse, I was somehow more agitated, anxious or aware of my inadequacies — during meditation, I lost all motivation and gave up a consistent practice.

Days, weeks or sometimes months later I would reconvene with the agreeable intention of “bettering myself” or improving my life in some way, and once again find myself conflicted when the “results” weren’t aligned with these intentions.

Just sit and observe

Each time you consider meditating (or any other contemplative practice), you should simply sit and meditate, and forget all ideas of self-improvement.

We meditate to cultivate mindfulness, which is done by paying close attention to our moment-to-moment experience while, as best we can, not getting caught up in our ideas and opinions, likes and dislikes. If we view our efforts to establish a mindfulness practice as a form of self-improvement, we add unecessary complications that create friction with the inevitable moments of discomfort, frustration and tension that arise along the way.

This is like looking in a mirror. Maybe we like what we see, maybe we don’t. Either way, there is no use arguing with the reflection. What is happening is happening. What we see is what we are aware of in this moment.

We practice mindfulness because with this awareness comes the feeling of having more room to move, of having more options. Over time, this can free us up to choose more effective and appropriate responses in stressful situations rather than losing our equilibrium and sense of self as a result of feeling overwhelmed, thrown off balance by our own knee jerk reactions.

But there I go again, talking about the results, the change we may get to experience, improving on how things currently are. And sure you, too, may still find yourself at times thinking of your meditation practice as a form of self-improvement. Simply noticing this insistance on doing things to improve ourselves can allow us to loosen our grip and come back to observing the moment as it unfolds, here and now.


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