Many of us don’t look at people sitting motionless on cushions with their legs crossed meditating and associate that scene with joy and happiness. We’ve been conditioned by daily exposure to advertising to associate joy with a fizzy soft drink, a delicious looking alcoholic beverage in a glass with a long stem, a slim model wearing glamorous clothes, a tropical beach gently caressed by clear blue water bordered by a shady grove of palm trees, a brand new sports car with the top down cruising along California’s route 1 toward San Francisco and a penthouse apartment that looks out over New York’s Central Park at sunset. These are the paths to joy and happiness we crave, not being bored watching the breath come in and out.
I remember bringing an optimistic but grim attitude to my first week long meditation retreat over thirty years ago. I knew I’d be expected to sit very still for up to an hour at a time, then alternate that with very slow walking meditation from early in the morning until late at night. I was ready for meditation boot camp. I knew my body would ache, my knees and back would be sore and my mind would want to run away. But I hoped that if I could survive the first few days, then maybe I’d get some joy out of it. Sort of like the enjoyment I might get when I stop hitting my head against the wall.
I did hit a different sort of wall at my second meditation retreat about a year later. I had been pushing myself very, very hard to excel at meditation. After about five days I was exhausted and in agony. There was a painful knot in my shoulder I just couldn’t make go away no matter how hard I tried to relax. I finally gave up and let the knot win. Defeated, I returned to the basics of the meditation practice and started all over again. And a few minutes later, it changed and let go. And in that moment I suddenly realized the goal of meditation practice. And then I tasted an exquisite kind of joy that has deeply changed me…
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