Well, there’s no wrong way to meditate.
By extension, in my estimation, there is no right way to meditate, only what is most effective for you based on what you intend.
For example, I was speaking with my mom one day over the phone and she said, “I meditate every morning, but it just isn’t comfortable… and it doesn’t seem to be working.” I asked, “Well, when exactly do you meditate?” She replied, “After breakfast, right before I go to work.”
I know my mom, and I know she’s a coffee drinker, so I ask, “Are you meditating before or after you drink your coffee?” Sure enough, she was drinking her coffee first. The rush of caffeine was setting her mind alight and not allowing her to settle in. For her, meditation was about quieting her mind and being present. Kind of hard to do that when you’re wired up. But was this a WRONG way to meditate? Nope — but it certainly wasn’t effective for what she wanted to achieve.
Similarly, there is no one truth in the experience of meditation. I have had multiple people declare, “When you meditate, you should experience ___________.” I cringe, sometimes visibly, because (a) “SHOULD” *controls retching*, and (b) we are each unique creatures, therefore our experiences are unique. And when our experiences are similar, there are multiple ways to interpret that experience.
“Well, Ryan, that’s fairly obvious.”
I agree, and yet people are often convinced that their interpretation is the only one, or at least the only correct one. Let’s talk about running thoughts, for example.
- Some traditions believe in spirits and entities which are present all around us. One such tradition might interpret running thoughts during meditation as tuning into the voices of those spirits. This tradition might prescribe more of the same in your practice, as contact with such entities is considered beneficial.
- Another tradition holds that the mind must be conquered. This tradition might interpret running thoughts as the weakness of the mind presenting itself. This tradition would prescribe a set of exercises to explicitly quiet your unruly mind, as such thoughts detract from your serenity.
- Another tradition believes that the best way to experience life is through flow, easing from moment to moment. This tradition might interpret running thoughts as the natural expression of the mind, simply more noticeable in a moment of quiet. This tradition would prescribe limited redirection of thoughts, preferring to “give the cows a large pasture to roam,”** rather than produce additional conflict in the mind.
So, what do you believe? If you want to contact spirits, maybe prescription one is for you. If you don’t, OK. Or maybe you don’t care about running thoughts at all. To make this all the more entertaining, the beliefs of a certain tradition create a particular structure, one that tends to reinforce itself. If you’re expecting spirits (or at least that interpretation of that experience), you are more likely to get them. So, yeah, enjoy that…
To paraphrase Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, maybe what’s most important is that you just show up for the experience. Everything else is inconsequential. So go meditate, have an experience, be open to what happens and what might result. After all, there really is no wrong way to mediate.
** As it was told to me of Zen tradition, the more room you give your mind to wander, like a cow in a large pasture, it will have less to disturb it. Tight fencing, like water boiling in a closed kettle, just leads to more agitation. So, there’s that.