Is Your Meditation Good Enough?
For most of my twenties, I focused on practicing meditation and working at a Buddhist-inspired university. I completed several month-long meditation retreats, and I wondered how people who didn’t have the privilege of intensive retreat could really deepen the practice of meditation.
Then, in my early thirties, I moved to Los Angeles, and helped manage a grant for teaching mindfulness in Veterans Hospitals. That story I had inherited of how much meditation counted as “good enough” changed the second I saw the impact on people in hospitals who were practicing mindfulness for the first time. I saw how in a single moment, a shift of attention inward can reveal the basic good-enough-ness of simply being present. One moment of mindfulness was good enough.
And yet, if you’ve meditated, you know that this feeling can be fleeting.
When the mind is fueled by unpleasant emotions, a simple stimulus – a sound, a feeling in the body, a memory – can be the beginning of the next tragic chapter. And when it’s fueled with pleasant sensations, the mind can tell us all sorts of uplifting stories about ourselves… until the next unpleasant one comes. This cycle creates a washing machine feeling. We are constantly being pulled around by the cycles of not enough and then enough, and then not good enough again.
This may seem obvious, but it amazes me how ingrained this “not good enough” storyline is. It is very chameleon-like too, even masquerading as stories about meditation itself. It slips in when I least expect it and says, I should meditate more, or my mind should be quieter, or meditation should be more relaxing than it is.
The good news is that the more I see this pattern, the more it loses its grip. As soon as I see it, now I’m mindful, and now I can shift my mindset to basic good-enoughness. Every moment of meditation is an opportunity to just know and sense whatever is happening – and that is good enough! That moment is the possibility for touching the innate completeness that we yearn for. As Sharon Salzberg says, “a moment of mindfulness is a moment of freedom.”
Over time, these moments add up into many moments, and eventually, this can rewire the negativity bias that we all have to accentuate what’s wrong in any situation, rather than what’s right.
So, I encourage you to check in about the storylines that get created around what kind of meditation is “good enough.” Try this experiment. Start with a simple prompt, whether you believe it or not, like “this is not good enough.” Then you might add, “this meditation would be better if….” See if you can play with this. Let the stories get as big as they want to get -- maybe the stories are of lack, incompleteness, or unworthiness -- all the while remembering that you’re exploring them, not believing them.
But then, see if you can let these stories go, and tune into the good-enoughness of just one moment of mindfulness. Come back to the simple movements of breathing, the simple sense of being alive. Come to know the feeling of dropping the story in this way, and what’s left over when you do.
And then, the next time one of those stories arises on its own, pause. Sense the impact this has on your mind, body, and heart. Ask “what story am I making up?”
We can free ourselves from believing stories of not-enoughness if we see them clearly. We can step out of old grooves and begin to weave a new story that starts with the foundation of good-enoughness. Whenever you remember, that is good enough.
Of course, the stories are also good enough, in their way. As the Buddhist Teacher David Loy says, “The world is made of stories. We don’t have to get rid of them, yet we need to learn to tell stories in a new way.”
And then, paradoxically, from that sense of wholeness, you might find a willingness to do more: to improve, to heal, to make a difference in the world.
Emily Horn is on the core team of Buddhist Geeks, which integrates technology, culture and meditation. She is a teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Insight Meditation Society, and InsightLA, and has been called a "power player of the mindfulness movement" by Wired Magazine.