On gaining an understanding that meditation is not for gain

In thinking about your meditation practice, how much of it is framed in your mind as being gainful? By that I mean, your inner most reason for doing it. Is it for something you want to gain?

If I were to be honest, much of my life’s meditation practice has been for totally selfish reasons. Over the years I have had various intentions. Some of those include:

  • To be more relaxed (to gain a state of relaxation)
  • To be more focused (to gain greater levels of concentration)
  • To be able to achieve more (to gain the ability to do more in the same hours, or to gain greater productivity)
  • To be receptive to good things (to gain good things)
  • To let go of or deal with negative things (to gain good things)
  • To better deal with my emotional rollercoaster (to gain emotional consistency)
  • … and so on.

They are all the usual things that people seek when they bring meditation into their lives.As a kid, though, ideas of gain were not a thing. It was curious, interested in learning, interested in seeing what could happen. Ideas about relaxation and focus and concentration were adult concepts, and were not things that I even gave two shits about, really.

At the time, all I was interested in learning was how to control my mind. No doubt influenced by Monkey Magic, I was heavily engaged in learning about this thing that filtered my experience. How do you exercise it so that your thoughts are working for you and not against you? I was interested in how many levels deep into my mind I could go while being conscious and not asleep. And what could I do while I was there?

I spent hours and hours and hours from then until my mid-teens experimenting with my inner landscape. I recall one really intense session I had where I had been in state for a few hours, and was surprised to feel the weight of myself again when I came out of it.

Then you grow up and life takes over, and meditation becomes a thing that helps you do or achieve things. When you don’t meditate or don’t make time for it, life is never as good. Until eventually you work it into your routine (happens sooner than later for some) and realise that it helps you to stay on track to some extent.

Today I realised that the pathway, when you want to gain things, is short. The pathway, when you want to learn things, is long.

This is really profound. Stop here and consider it. Learning is forever. Gaining things stops when you get what you want.

It is also first time I have consciously used meditation for actual contemplation and learning. What I learned is that, like great thinkers of the world (Tesla, Einstein, etc) have always told us is true. You can tap into knowledge. And that starts (for me) with dependence arising and the notion that all Mind is connected to all things. I asked what I needed to know right now about dependence arising.

The learning today was that Mind is connected to all things, that all things are energy (so yes, even inanimate objects can be affected by Mind), and that intention is linked to reaction is linked to All Mind.

Further, I only today truly understood this fluffy-sounding stuff; I know it viscerally, the understanding when it hit me actually took my breath away and changed how my body feels. And only now do I realise that meditating to achieve things is counterproductive. Meditating to understand things and to learn about things is the way forward.

While this year marks what is probably the 25th year of meditation in my life, I feel like all of the foregoing was what you do before you start. I faffed around with it, I played, I had fun. Now, I am back at the beginning and it’s much more serious and much more enjoyable.

One could easily regret or resent the notion that this did not happen sooner. Or, one could accept that the journey to here has been necessary, functional, and helpful. The concentration I have developed in all that time, the flexibility of mind, the control of mind, is invaluable in contemplation. I can focus, calm, retreat, question, and learn.

While this might sound like there is no battle with thought and physicality and all that jazz, don’t you believe it. Meditation is training, and it is a path fraught with difficulty (or suffering, if you’re a Buddhist). And even when you’re 25 years into such a journey, it still happens. The difference is your approach and dealing with that event.

If you’re wondering whether I am a Buddhist, please go read my previous essay, Do you even Buddhist, bro?