Preferred Mind States


I was meditating tonight, and going into the meditation was in a fantastic mood. I’m starting something new, which always excites me (it’s the persisting that’s the downer), and had been listening to Eddie Vedder’s Acoustic Songs.

A common trap in meditation is to judge a session as “good” or “bad”, and usually it’s “good” if we’re not having many unpleasant thoughts, or many thoughts at all. We can easily take an effect of meditation, less unconscious engaging with thoughts, and make a goal of reducing thoughts. All this ends up doing is suppressing thoughts, leading to a kind of dullness.

I was having a “good” session because I felt great, not because there weren’t many thoughts. I wasn’t really doing much meditation – my mind was engaged and hurtling forwards to all the future possibilities, as it usually does.

At the recent retreat I was on, we spent some time on preferred mind states. It’s a paradox in that everyone meditates in order to feel better, become better, yet this grasping after a particular state is one of the blockages. We reject our current state, and wish for some improved future state. Materialists fall into the trap of saying something like “When I buy my new car I’ll be happy”, meditators say “when I progress more in my meditation I’ll be happy”.

I was feeling really sick on one of the days on the retreat. The kind of day which I’d normally spend groaning in bed feeling sorry for myself. Instead, I meditated. It wasn’t fun, but it was interesting, because I was meditating in the kind of state I normally wouldn’t be. It helped me see a mindstate I usually take into meditation.

It’s so easy to look for preferred mind states in meditation, as a result of meditation, and before we start meditating. We may not even start to meditate if we don’t feel “in the right space”.

Instead, try some radical acceptance. However you’re feeling, whatever’s coming up.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons