The short answer with experience and practice. On this podcast we like to compare meditation to learning music and that comparison works for this question too.
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At first when you’re struggling to learn an instrument, you’re trying to figure out the fingering, the pacing of the notes, you might be trying to read music or follow along with someone else who’s already good at the instrument you’re learning.
All of that takes time and practice. But slowly, as you start to master each one of these skills, with practice, you start to perform that skill naturally.
All of a sudden, one day, you’re not worried about a particular sequence of fingering for a series of notes. You’re just doing it, without thought. You’re making music with ease. You’re enjoying music without effort.
Find a Meditation You’re Passionate About
This is really important when it comes to meditation. At some point you should have this feeling of enjoyment or ease or effortlessness. Not all the time, but at some point you should have these.
Of course, there’s going to be times when meditation is a struggle. That might be the case for you for a long time. And if that’s the case, just like with music, it’s a lot easier to learn an instrument when you’re learning with a song you love. With a song that excites you, invigorates you, a song you connect with.
Now that song may be different for different people. It might be a pop song for some people, jazz standard for another, classical music yet for another. Or it might be kirtan, which is Indian devotional music.
Whatever it is, once you find the music and song your passionate about, the one you connect with, you will go deep, deep into the nuances of that piece of music.
Similarly, it’s easier to go deep, deep into the nuances of a meditation if you connect with it, if you enjoy it, if it makes you want to get up in the morning and do it.
Not that meditation is going to be roses and ice cream all the time. Sometimes it’s going to be thorns and sugar crashes. But you should get some joy out of your meditation or some benefit otherwise you won’t stick with it. You won’t make it a habit. And you won’t go deeper because you’re not practicing it. And that’s pretty much the main reason most beginners stop learning musical instruments and why most beginning meditaters stop meditating.
So that’s the first answer of how to deepen your meditation. Experiment with meditations until you find the one that speaks to you. And then practice, practice, practice.
Understand the Hardships in Your Life
The second way of deepening your meditation involves understanding the hardships in your life and seeing what can be done about them.
The type of hardships I’m talking about maybe financial, health, relationship, work. All of these take a tremendous toll on our thinking. And rightly so, they’re important in our lives. But they are also distraction and they make focus difficult. They make detachment difficult.
Now we don’t want to do spiritual bypassing, which is pretending like these hardships are not actually hard to deal with or thinking that we can wish them away or positively think them away or meditate them away.
Here at Meditation Questions we do not believe positive thinking or meditation or wishful thinking will change these circumstances. We need to face them head on and act and do something to improve our circumstances.
We do not want to ignore hardships.
So if you’re a beginning meditator, hardships are going to be hard. They’re going to be an obstacle in your meditation and that’s okay. You shouldn’t expect a blissed out meditation. And that’s okay.
What you can expect is an occasional breather. That’s something meditation can provide.
At some point while you’re meditating, whether on the cushion or off the cushion, whether sitting quietly or going for a walk, you should be able to take a breath and say, I’m okay in this moment. Everything is okay, in this moment. This single breath should nourish you.
It doesn’t mean the hardships are going to go away. It doesn’t mean anything else in your life will be automatically fixed, but in this moment you deserve a breath. You deserve a moment of okay-ness. Give yourself this.
You might not be able to do anything about your obstacles. If you have a lot of hard things you’re dealing with in your life, it’s okay if you can’t go deep into a bliss out meditation. But see if you can allow yourself moments, allow yourself a breath of okay-ness.
We don’t want to spiritually bypass our hardships, meaning we don’t want to pretend like they’re not a real force in our life, but if we’re in a miserable job or relationship or living situation, we shouldn’t also just want to learn to live with them either. We should look for ways to change.
We shouldn’t use meditation to put up with things that need changing, that can be changed and that should be changed. We should try to change them.
Once we’re in a better situation our meditation will naturally deepen, when we no longer have to deal with the mental stress hardships exert on us.
Study the Tradition of the Meditation
Suppose obstacles are not distracting you during meditation, that hardships are not interfering with your meditation, yet your meditation doesn’t seem to be deepening. What can be done in this situation?
One of the best things we can do to deepen our meditation is studying. We can study the traditions of the meditation we’re doing, study its philosophy, its poetry, its contemplative literature. And also study by writing our own ideas about the meditation.
We can engage with the meditation’s deep, profound truths by reading about them, by reflecting on them, by writing our own thoughts about them. This will deepen the meditation.
What we’re trying to do is to expand the idea of meditation to something that’s happening not just when we’re on the cushion, meditation that is isolated to the cushion can often feel inert or dry or shallow, but a meditation that’s engaged with the rest of our life. A meditation we’re invested in emotionally, mentally, physically or socially will deepen much more quickly than a meditation that’s just restricted to what we’re doing on the cushion.
So the three ways you can deepen your meditation:
- Choose a meditation you connect with
- See if something can be done about the obstacles and hardships that are in your life
- Spend time away from the meditation cushion, studying and reflecting and writing about the meditation yo