Meditation Is a Skill

ฐานิสสโร ภิกขุ

Meditation Is a Skill

…Meditation is a skill, and mastering it should be enjoyable in the same way that mastering any other rewarding skill can be.

The Buddha said as much to his son, Rāhula: “When you see that you’ve acted, spoken, or thought in a skillful way—conducive to happiness while causing no harm to yourself or others—take joy in that fact, and keep on training.”

Of course, saying that meditation should be enjoyable doesn’t mean that it will always be easy or pleasant. Every meditator knows it requires serious discipline to sit with long unpleasant stretches and to untangle all the mind’s difficult issues.

But if you can approach difficulties with the enthusiasm that an artist approaches challenges in her work, the discipline becomes enjoyable. Problems are solved through your own ingenuity and the mind is energized for even greater challenges.

This joyful attitude is a useful antidote to the more pessimistic attitudes that people often bring to meditation, which tend to fall into two extremes. On the one hand, there’s the belief that meditation is a series of dull and dreary exercises allowing no room for imagination and inquiry: Simply grit your teeth, and, at the end of the long haul, your mind will be processed into an awakened state.

On the other hand there’s the belief that effort is counterproductive to happiness, so meditation should involve no exertion at all: Simply accept things as they are—it’s foolish to demand that they get any better—and relax into the moment.

While it’s true that both repetition and relaxation can bring results in meditation, when either is pursued to the exclusion of the other, it leads to a dead end. If, however, you can integrate them both into the larger skill of learning how to apply whatever level of effort the practice requires at any given moment, they can take you far.

This larger skill requires strong powers of mindfulness, concentration, and discernment, but if you stick with it, it can lead you all the way to the Buddha’s ultimate aim in teaching meditation: nibbāna, a happiness totally unconditioned, free from the constraints of space and time.

This reflection by Ajaan Geoff is from the Essays book, Head & Heart Together: Essays on the Buddhist Path, “The Joy of Effort.”