Personally, I have found that when I approached practice with a striving-gaining attitude, my mind became more disturbed, not less. I spent many years trying to make my mind peaceful because that is what I understood the teachers were telling me to do.
Eventually, when I came to realize that not everyone was out of balance in the way I was, I was able to accept that I needed to adjust my approach. And upon reflection, it seems that not all the teachers were advocating a goal-oriented kind of effort anyway – just that that is how I interpreted what they were saying.
If I were to compare myself with how I understand some other meditators relate to samadhi, I would say that my mind is all over the place – my samadhi is hopeless. However, that would be a heedless assessment.
It is indeed true that my mind is not as still as I would want it to be, but it is not all over the place. There is a sense of containment, and with that comes a degree of clarity that I did not use to have. With that increased clarity comes an ability to contemplate life, and that is what really interests me.
I am not drawn to ‘making the mind peaceful’, but I am drawn to stewarding attention in a way that inclines the mind towards stillness, and such stillness invites deepening of enquiry.
This approach to the development of samadhi is perhaps best described as an effort to stop causing disturbance: to stop taking sides, and to let go of the compulsive judging mind.
Many of the approaches to meditation that have been taught in Buddhist centres in the West originated in monasteries in the East. These teachings emerged out of minds that were conditioned in ways very different to ours.
Casually comparing one culture with another is of course unhelpful and disrespectful, but to ignore how different our cultures are, and the effects those differences have, is naive.
The effects of being raised and educated in Judaeo-Christian culture, where there is an emphasis on competing and comparing, are very different from the effects of growing up in a traditional Buddhist culture where the law of kamma and rebirth is accepted, and where guilt and self-loathing are generally unfamiliar concepts.
This reflection by Ajahn Munindo is from the book, In Any Given Moment, “Samadhi (Collectedness),” (pdf) pp. 479-481.