For several years now I have been witnessing this issue challenge many people. It is especially troublesome for those new to meditation, but it continues to be a stumbling block for those who have been practicing for several years. I noticed it in myself over the years as well and am convinced that it is among the major obstacles to finding real inner peace through meditation practice.
The issue is expectations. Namely, what one thinks is supposed to happen in the practice along with the constant search for evidence of it happening. I’ve noticed this in the pain management groups as well the meditation sessions outside of the groups. Many people have desires about what they are attempting to achieve in their practice, and they come to the practice in the first place because they’ve read or been told that meditation will be the answer to their hopes. When it doesn’t specifically do this, they are disappointed and give up. Or worse, they feel deceived and betrayed by the promises.
When I came to meditation it was partially as a result of the reading I was doing about eastern spiritual practices. So I came to it expecting to achieve some kind of exalted state of mind. In essence I was expecting enlightenment or oneness with the Supreme Reality – God. What I have found over the years is not what I read about. It took many years of confusion to understand and value what I have in fact found.
Here are some of the expectations I have witnessed causing angst in my fellow meditators:
– stopping thoughts
– complete absence of suffering
– seeing God
– constant happiness
– attainment of material wealth
– finding a mate
– improved health
– magical powers
These are among the most common expectations that I have noticed. What they have in common is the overarching expectation that one will become a different person and one’s life circumstances will be changed for the better. When these things don’t happen in an expected time frame, disappointment occurs and many quit the practice. This is unfortunate because of what the practice does offer – real inner peace.
I too fell into the expectations trap more than once. Fortunately, I was able to repeatedly come back to the practice. Each time, I had learned something about my desires and how they cloud the reality of the practice. It has taken several instances of this process for me to see what is really available to me through meditation. Namely the entire theme of this website – serenity.
The process has been one of slowly letting go of the many expectations I brought to the practice. As each of them was dropped I became reacquainted with the simplicity of a serene mind. Then another desireable expectation would come up, not be fulfilled, and eventually released. Once again there would be that beautiful serenity waiting for me. This was not an easy process, believe me. I understand the frustrations involved.
I’ve realized over the years that this problem of expecting something specific from meditation is a widespread one. Those who stick with the practice and are able to align their expectations with what actually happens in meditation will benefit greatly. They come to realize that it is their expectations that create the conditions for disappointment and giving up. It is the expectations that set up a comparison between “what I want from the practice” and what actually takes place. It is the expectations that cloud the practice with desires, fears, hopes, assumptions, (or is it these that cloud the practice with expectations?)
The challenge in meditation is to allow all these things to naturally subside so one can realize the already existing state of serene being. If we can learn to watch our expectations abate for a moment, we will see that this serene state is always available to us, and that it is something of supreme value. The cloud of wanting that obscures it is subtle and difficult to release.
To realize the value of being simply peaceful, without any expectations is where the depth of practice comes in. But be patient with it. Like me, you may need to learn this lesson several times. But it is worth the learning if you find some serenity and start to appreciate it.