Meditation brings incredible, almost supernatural benefits, proven by science, popularized in media — everyone should meditate every day, right? So why doesn’t meditation feel good to beginners?
Because as a beginner, when you start meditating, you immediately, directly feel the conflict between where you want your attention to rest, and where it is pulled by your thoughts, outside sounds, to-do list…as a beginner, meditation sucks. Why?
Where you want to put your attention is “top-down” attention. In meditation, it’s whatever your meditation teacher told you: breath, divine image, body sensations, energies, the universe, God, consciousness, …all good stuff.
Where your attention is pulled by internal and external distractors is “bottom-up” attention. In last week’s blog we saw how conflict between these two ways of allocating your attention is the exact opposite of flow — it is pain.
Novice meditators suffer a lack of flow, and that’s why meditation sucks at the beginning.
The state we want in meditation, the state that feels good, is flow. Flow happens when there is total alignment between bottom-up and top-down attention.
As noted last week, flow in action happens when high challenge meets high skill — when your top-down attention is focused by challenge, and your bottom-up attention effortlessly handles all inputs.
But what about flow in meditation? What’s the challenge of just sitting there?And what’s the skill? Great question, glad you asked…
In August of 2005 I sat “in darshan” with an enlightened master. Darshan is the direct transmission of spiritual energy. The master sat on a raised platform at the front of a large room, gazing over the silent crowd. I was sitting right up front.
My job was to rest my attention on the master. I’m an experienced meditator, so it was pretty easeful. Although some people in the room were clearly experiencing the darshan energy, I wasn’t particularly — but I was in a settled, meditative state.
About 20 minutes into the sessi0n, the thick, spiritual silence was shredded by the most incredibly loud feedback shriek from the sound system — totally without warning. As you can imagine, this sound tore through the hall with quite an effect. A few people cried out with involuntary startles.
My body got a sudden thrill, my own startle response.
As instructed, my eyes were resting on the master. His response to this intrusive, loud, totally unexpected shriek? Did he twitch, like I did, and probably everyone else? Did he pause in his darshan transmission?
No. I was specifically watching him when this happened. He made no outward sign in reaction to the sound, but it was obvious to me that he took the awful sound into account, and he also took into account the shift in energy in the room as a result of the sound. His control of attention was total. He demonstrated, to my satisfaction at least, a perfect flow state.
This master offered zero resistance to the event, the “interruption” of the unwanted sound. To the master, there was no interruption — just the real-time event of what was happening.
The flow in meditation arrives when you become capable of paradoxically offering zero resistance to any bottom-up stimulus, while maintaining focus.
Meditation is a practice of pure flow: your modes of attention merge, not as a result of high challenge demanding your attention, plus high skill managing your inputs, but from purely choosing focus, and allowing all to happen without resistance.
What is “resistance”? And how do you stop it? Resistance is any hint of a feeling or thought that “this should not be happening”, or “this should be happening”. Resistance is an action, under your control. You might resist habitually, so that your action is automatic and feels out of control, but really, the action or habit of resistance is fully your action, once you get down to it.
If you are a beginner meditator, the faster you learn to relax your resistance, the sooner you will take a medal at the Serenity Olympics. To instantly love meditation, drop your resistance.
Meditation is merely this: choose focus, then allow everything that happens.
Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good formula for life.