How I Know My Meditation Is Working

I spend 30 minutes every morning traveling down rabbit holes of obscure thought, worrying about things that are out of my control, and praying like hell for an alarm to go off — the same one I despised when it guilted me out of bed — so I can move my legs and get the f up.

In other words, I tell my friends, “I meditate everyday!”

I’m sort of joking but sort of not. Most days this is exactly what happens. On rare occasions it will be a bit calmer, a bit quieter. But usually the half hour I spend “meditating” is fairly action-packed.

As many of us are looking to meditation for results, these challenges can start to surface ideas that meditation simply isn’t “working”. We hope to be more focused, less stressed, a little happier. We’re quickly disenchanted when we encounter frustration instead.

But I got some invaluable guidance from a teacher early on. One lesson in particular really changed my perspective on meditation and helps me to stick with it.

He gave me such a simple measuring stick for judging progress in meditation. It’s this:

How many times in a day do you get angry? As you practice meditation, you’re making progress if you find yourself getting angrier less.

I have an awesome dad. He is also reliably infuriating, so it’s very easy to keep track of this.

If I say “hello” with anything less than gleeful exuberance he calls me a grump. There is nothing. that makes me grumpier. than that. There’s also nothing that humbles me faster.

Everyday we face situations that can activate the angry in us. Or the selfish, or the jealous or the hate. When we’re making progress in meditation we start to quell these automatic reactions and replace them with intentional, neutralizing responses. We react with understanding or kindness or generosity. And then, eventually, we start to feel the negative feelings less in the first place.

So I try to forget how many thought-filled rabbit holes I’ve been down. I try not to worry about the ten minutes I spent deciding what’s for breakfast and what I’m doing for the Super Bowl. I don’t feel bad that I moved my legs 500 times. These aren’t important concerns and I definitely don’t want them to steer me away from continued practice.

What is important is that simple question: how many times did I get angry today?

I meet people everyday who, like me, are working hard to build a meditation practice. It’s incredibly encouraging because, if we’re doing things right, it means we’ll have a whole lot fewer angry people around.