“What is this?” asks a zen koan. I often feel that way about meditation. What is this? Is meditation so different from the rest of my life? If it truly is, if meditation is the life arena where focus and attention reign, and the rest of is ruled by the demons of distraction, where should I live?
When I sit (or walk) I usually go through a period of time where I tell myself what to do. This may take several forms: “pay attention to the … (breath, sounds, sensations, …),” “label thoughts,” “ask, ‘What is this?’” and so on.
Essentially I have set up ‘rules’ for my practice. This inevitably leads me into territory that is familiar to many meditators.
How do you picture yourself as a meditating person? Do you see yourself as peaceful? Happy? Untroubled by annoying thoughts? A blank slate? Or do you see yourself as a person with an anxious, busy mind, with a tense body, or beset by emotional storms?
It is likely that your expectation of yourself as a meditator will influence your decision to try meditation. Here is what teacher/author Jason Siff has to say about such expectations in “unlearning meditation: what to do when the instructions get in the way“: