Montaigne said he preferred the “company of peasants because they have not been educated sufficiently to reason incorrectly.” This bit of wisdom applies to the path of Buddhist meditation too. The smarter we are the more we may place obstacles in our spiritual path.
The mind wants to grasp the pratice intellectually, to understand it, and control it. Buddhism appeals to many because of its rich intellectual tradition and its cognitive psychology. However, once we are on the cushion, intellect is something to overcome. It can be a useful tool for framing understanding, but it is not how we practice.
Mindfulness is a practice of awareness and this engages different parts of the brain than discursive reasoning. If we intellectualize awareness we have put something in the way of awareness.
At the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts (a place with a lot of intellect), Larry Rosenberg cautioned, “Even a bubblehead could do this practice.” He was admonishing us not to think too much about the practice. The practice is the doing of being, not the thinking of being. William James, also speaking from Cambridge but 100 years ago, said that our intellectual life is comprised almost wholly by substituting a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which our experience originally lives. He got it right.
Intellect can be a hard thing to let go of. It can be subtle, disguising itself in spiritual concepts –even ones explicit to mindfulness. So much of our identity is bound up in how we think; and we are loathe to give up our precious attachment to this aspect of identity. The more we practice, the more sneaky these attachments can become. Everyone on the path is at risk for identifying with being a meditator. This is not the point. Meditation is the vehicle and also the natural expression of our being.
Beware of being a “good” meditator or having a “successful” meditation. What do these adjectives really mean? If we can be a good meditator, we can be a bad meditator. I guess a bad meditator is one who has a lot of “unsuccessful” meditation sessions. Again, what does this really mean? Meditation is meditation. Our job is to pay attention to what is happening now without an agenda. Whatever happens is the landscape of now and our job is to be with it — not judge it and evaluate it.
Some meditation sessions will feel great — relaxing, subtle pulsations of joy, bliss. Others will be dense, dull, and distracted. Our minds tend to think the former is “better” than the latter. Not so, I would contend. Sitting is sitting. There is no way to do it wrong. The only way we can get to wrong is from the vantage point of agendas — expectations on outcome. Mindfulness is the process of being.
Enjoy that process!