What happens when we sit quietly in meditation? Try to answer this before you read on. Realize that your answers might be coming from several points of view: experience, expectation, or hope. Also consider that, while there may be no single right answer that applies to every person, let alone to every meditation session, there is nothing wrong if some aspects of your meditation experience begin to seem familiar over time.
Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, describes meditation as a means for developing experience with one’s ‘inner refuge.’ The inner refuge is not a hiding place, but rather a place where one can experience “the stillness of the body, the silence of the inner speech, and the spaciousness of the mind.” According to Rinpoche, the ability to connect with one’s inner refuge is especially helpful when one is experiencing a difficulty of some sort, say, depression or physical pain. For this reason, Rinpoche recommends developing this connection, i.e., practicing meditation, before difficulties appear.
Of course, connections like this can only be developed if one can set aside time for meditation. Do we have that time? Rinpoche has an answer to that question too:
In everyday life, even when we are feeling well, aside from things that need to be done, like paying taxes and bills, taking care of children, and eating food, there are a lot of things that do not have to be done. Sometimes we commit to doing things based on temporary excitement without knowing what it means for the long term, and we exhaust ourselves through engagement in unfulfilling tasks. Even within the supposed refuge of your own home, you can feel your house is calling you to do something—there are dishes to wash, clothes to fold, floors to vacuum. And there are endless connections to be maintained through returning phone calls and email, not to mention our habits of endless searching in cyberspace. Sometimes there are things we need to do, but many times our doing masks an underlying restlessness. From the point of view of meditation practice, we have lost the abiding, or resting, quality. We have lost our connection to the inner refuge.
To read more of Rinpoche’s words, and to learn how other meditation teachers approach mental difficulties like depression, see “How does a meditator deal with episodes of major depression?” (Lion’s Roar, 14 Dec 2015).