After spending 7 full days, morning until night on a silent retreat I was disappointed that I hadn’t had any major breakthrough experiences. Sure, I’d had some insights and revelations and some wonderfully peaceful meditations, but nothing dramatic – nothing that felt earth shattering.
Of course I know (and teach) that meditation is not about big spiritual experiences. It’s about sitting in a stance of radical acceptance of the way things are. But, of course, like everyone else I like a big spiritual pop when I get one.
So for seven days I sat calmly through each meditation accepting whatever happened.
More often than not I was just sitting, slightly bored, watching thoughts role through my head. I felt disappointed at times, and of course there were other times when I was held lovingly in a deep sense of peace and clarity.
The whole time I just did my practice, which means I let it all be exactly what it was without making any problem out of it. I didn’t try to work harder, I didn’t try to figure anything out — and when I did catch myself working harder or figuring things out, I didn’t make a problem out of that either. I just let all that be what it was too.
As the days went on I found myself drifting in and out of the mediation room, in and out of my practice, in and out of thoughts and feelings. Drifting without concern. Nothing dramatic but very peaceful and calm.
So the retreat ended and after another week away I returned home. When I walked into my house I realized that I had let go a lot more than I had realized during the retreat.
As I wrote about in an earlier essay I came back and felt like a stranger in my own home. I couldn’t relate to anything. The life that I remembered living in this house felt like it belonged to someone else.
My consciousness has settled more since first arriving home and what amazes me now is how much momentum of passive abidance in pure consciousness that I had built during the retreat.
Without any dramatic experiences at all I had simply leaned back and rested in a deep witnessing position – not a hyper-vigilant watchfulness – but a deep rest in the calm abidance of the ever present original awareness.
The momentum I built on retreat stayed with me very strongly for a week after returning home and is still with me now in a softer form.
As I said earlier, meditation and awakening is not about experiences, it’s about what we see as a result of our experiences.
So the question is, what do I see now differently than before this experience? What has this experience revealed to me? That is what I really want to share with you.
What I’m feeling as a result of all this is a profound and passionate faith in the power of practice.
I’ve always taught that what you experience in meditation doesn’t matter. What matters is doing the practice, and not making a problem out of anything that you experience while you do it. No matter what happens you just let it rise up and pass away without engaging it at all.
If you do this you’ll break the habit of mental reactivity and build momentum toward calm abidance in the pure consciousness that is always there beyond any particular experience of mind.
I’ve always taught this – and I’ve always known it was true, but now I want to shout it louder than ever from every rooftop!
The ultimate source of love and wisdom that we seek, the peace and calm that compels us to practice, our own liberation from unnecessary suffering – is already ours! It is already here! It’s not in front of us where we tend to look. It’s behind us.
We can’t find the source of awareness by turning around to look at it head on, because it will never be an object in front of us.
We can only find it by leaning back and resting in the consciousness that is always awake, always calm, always present, always wise, always compassionate, and always right there waiting for you to relax into it.
It’s true, it's really really true.
When you practice meditation just allow everything to arise and pass away without making a problem out of any of it and without getting caught up in any effort to make anything other than the way it is. Just do that and let your awakening unfold unimpeded.
Trust that the experiences you have – or don’t have – are exactly what you need for this part of the journey. Have faith in the power of practice and let everything else take care of itself.
I believe the true benefit of our spiritual experiences is the faith they give us to surrender more deeply to our practice.
Spending time resting in the assumption of no problem is the practice that will build a moment of freedom from the mind that will liberate your relationship to life.
The freedom you seek is yours – as soon as you stop looking for it and just lean back and rest in it.