When I returned to my meditative practices after a long break (entirely my own fault), I found myself frustrated. Where were the insights I once had? Why was this so hard, filled with distractions? Where was this milestoneI had once passed, or that milestone I had reached?
Sometimes I suddenly had success, returning to the progress of years ago – and then it would snap back like a rubber band. I had some techniques to help me, but they were temporary, and I’d end up back where I was, sitting and wondering what I was doing wrong after all those years.
Months of this (and further interruptions I had to work around), frustrated me further. Eventually a random insight thanks to a podcast provided the righteous puncturing to my ego – I was trying to force my past experiences. I was using a map and trying to force myself to a location instead of going step by step.
I focused on doing my practices properly and avoided interruptions, going bit by bit, breath by breath. The tensions, the frustration faded, and I made the progress I had sought with surprising rapidly. The map in my head didn’t help, it just made me frustrated and unhappy with myself.
Yes, it was a terrible display of egotism. But I value the insight – plus it makes a useful blog post! Also, this post further gives my ego a good deflation, and that thing needs it.
This experience made me think of some of the Taoist documents I love, such as The Secret of the Golden Flower. Though some of them describe certain meditative states, they oft use metaphor, maybes, and warnings of when you’re off the path. In turn I thought about other mystical and meditative practices that seemed irritatingly obscure or symbolic. I began to see the value of obscurity and symbolism in mystical practices.
I’ve always believed mystical, spiritual, magical practices should be as open as possible. They are liberating and I am all for “liberation mysticism.” But I realized that trying to map out what and how a mystical experience should happen invites people to become frustrated, to force it, or to use the map to imagine they’re having the experience.
I may have avoided the last one, but I certainly experienced the first two.
Now my meditation is just walking on the path, doing my techniques moment by moment, breath by breath. My goal is to do them right and that’s what matters. I’m walking the path, I’ll get to where I should be by sitting right there on my cushion. I have my past experiences and writings by learned people to provide me signs, and I’ll recognize them when I see them.
A little obscurity is needed so you don’t deceive yourself.