In a recent class, there was a woman who seemed to be struggling with the techniques we were trying out. Let's call her "Kim" (not her real name). I could see it on Kim's face and hear it in her questions. She was very upbeat and excited about meditation, but there was an edge in her voice that expressed how she really felt.
That edge is not uncommon. When we leave our home and mix with people, most of us try to put on a good face, try to be polite and helpful. When asked how we are, most of us just say "fine," but inside, we might feel pretty un-fine. Or totally miserable.
This is why some of us come to meditation: to deal with our deep down unhappiness. I know I did. I tried almost everything that came my way in search for happiness, for peace. And then I ran across meditation.
And just like Kim, when I tried meditating, something was happening, but often, I was just getting frustrated and really wondered, how do you meditate? So I could relate to Kim and we chatted a little in the group about the way in which meditation happens.
A few weeks later, Kim came back to the class and shared an epiphany: "There are no rules." The class wondered what she meant and I'll do my best to remember what she said:
"I was trying to follow all the steps at home—to follow the sequence of how we were meditating in class. I was doing my best to follow the instructions and it wasn't working."
"And then, during meditation, I just stopped all that. I stopped following the rules. I just let everything happen. And wow! My agitation went away, and I felt peaceful and happy."
Kim stumbled upon an essential fact in meditation, which we learn sooner or later: you let yourself just linger in what is happening and stop trying to change it. You stop following all the rules.
Don't get me wrong--there is a time and a place to follow rules in meditation. The techniques we practice in classes can be helpful for beginners and experienced meditators—to develop focus, to become calmer, to become skillful in working with strong emotions and to experience clarity.
But meditation should not be something imposed on you. If you have given the techniques an earnest try and find that they work, great! If not, then check in with yourself and see what is going on.
Maybe it is time to relax the rules.
Letting the rules drop away, you start being with whatever happens. A bird sings. The computer hums. Breathing happens. Bit by bit, without getting lost in fantasies, you move through your own misery into a spaciousness as your true nature shows itself: peaceful...happy.