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When I sit down to meditate, the first thing I think is "how will I accomplish this task of meditation." Usually, it's automatic and I don't even realize I'm trying at first. So I'll sit, and try and do something. I'm trying to get somewhere, to this state of peace or bliss or contentment or open-heartedness.
It's a total scam.
It's a scam in the sense that you can't find things like that. Those things are not "out there" somewhere else. Ajahn Chah, a great Buddhist teacher, said trying to find peace is like trying to find a turtle with a mustache -- it doesn't exist. As I understand it, Ajahn Chah wasn't saying that there is no such thing as peace. He was saying that you can't discover peace. You make it.
Meditation is like a laboratory for experiments in peace.
When I first sit, I am not at peace. I'm in a state of conflict with myself. There are things in my experience I find unsatisfactory, and in response, I try and affect them, manipulate them, change them, and meditation is going to be my tool.
But there comes a point where I begin to realize how ridiculous that all is, and how my "meditation" is a disguise for yet another conflict with myself. Then something happens. Instead of fighting, and instead of fighting with the fighting (I'll explain in a sec), I just listen to it. I listen to the thoughts, I listen to the feelings, I listen to the sensations and tensions that surround my chest. There's no objective. I'm not trying to get rid of anything. I just realize that fighting with it is stupid. Trying to manipulate my experience and tweak it is stupid. That's what I do all day. In that moment, I start to relax. I'm at Rest.
It's not that I've gone anywhere. I haven't found peace in some secret psychological enclave. I've just admitted what I'm feeling. In that moment, I was feeling tension, discomfort, and inner turmoil. I was trying to get somewhere, and at the same time, realizing that trying to get somewhere was futile. Okay, interesting, that's where things are right now. Then I feel tension in my chest. Interesting. A thought drifts by and I get distracted. Interesting. There's no need to fight and no need to resist; there's no where special I have to get to. It's simply listening to what's here with no special agenda.