A common question asked by both experienced and novice mediators is if the practice is actually working. This is not surprising as this is how our discriminating mind always functions. We seek instant gratification and miracles for chronic problems which have built up over lifetime. Our teacher, Tesshin, pointed out that this is one of the biggest risks to our practice as we are too impatient, judge ourselves too harshly, and become discouraged too quickly.
Our discriminating mind is always present judging our progress …
“I cannot focus – perhaps I am not good at meditation – why bother?”
“I am still angry – this is not working!”
“I am tired and drifted – this is a waste of time.”
Tesshin warned all of us against these thoughts and reminded us that any time on the cushion is valuable even if you think it is not working in this particular moment.
So how do we know if the practice is actually working? Tesshin compared Zazen (seated meditation) to medicine. If you had a chronic disease and your doctor prescribed a regimen of medicine, how would you know if it was working? Would you stop taking it if it failed to cure your condition after the first dose? If you did this, you would never recover. We take the medicine and notice that our condition clears up over time. Meditation is similar to this. Every day we take another dose of mindfulness and our deluded condition clears up. We can ask ourselves …
“Do I tend to get less angry than I did a few months back?”
“Am I more focused and steady in my day to day activities and interactions?”
“Am I less brittle and vulnerable to every little negative event in my life?”
Again, this will not happen after one sitting session, but ask yourself if you see changes after six months.
Tesshin compared our practice to a common Japanese saying…
“Three years into a rock”
In Japan it is common to see bamboo fountains which drip water onto a rock. When the fountain is first built the rock is smooth with no indentations. Over time the dripping of the water works on the rock. In three years a mark forms where the water hits the rock. How can something so gentle as water affect something so hard like a rock? TIME! It is also this way with our practice. Something so quiet and innocuous as meditation, given enough time and consistent application, can have a huge effect on your life.