Meditation blues

I am alone in the house and nothing is pressing so why do I find it hard to meditate? I barely made it to 15 minutes before I gave up.

The 20-minute mark has always been my measure of an adequate meditation (I do centering prayer). Recently I have tried stretching it by a minute or two, setting my timer accordingly, but instead of meditating gradually longer I am often stopping earlier. Even when I feel the need to meditate I can’t maintain it. My mind shoots off somewhere or I am overcome with a huge impatience, like now.

Sometimes what diverts me is a flow of ideas about an upcoming presentation or event, or about what I really want to do with the day. One recent, abbreviated meditation triggered a spring-cleaning flurry that lasted three days! In a way these shortened meditations are “working” by producing ideas and energy. That’s a worthy but superficial effect, when what I am after is something deeper.

There is often a dialog between the soul’s needs, patterns, and state–which are always in flux–and the bounds of a disciplined practice. Disciplined practices are ways to form new habits that deepen spiritual growth and wisdom. But they also easily degenerate into superstitions: If I don’t do this thing that has worked for me in the past, in the same way I have always done it, something bad will happen. I am failing, sinning if I can’t keep it up.

There is some truth to this. If you don’t flex a muscle it will go flabby. If I stop meditating altogether I know I will eventually become less calm and focused, more reactive.

More important, if I stop meditating I will close off a channel to what I can only call a direct experience of the love of God. But that happens only now and then and that is part of the difficulty. Those peak experiences set a high bar and when the practice doesn’t produce the same results consistently, I lose patience.

That is the nature of spiritual practice. Results are unpredictable. The meaningfulness of practices and rituals fluctuates. I think of superstition again, the illusion that you can wave the same magic wand over and over again and produce the same outcome. But it is not this way because we are not entirely in control. The shifting landscape of the soul is part of some larger mystery.

I will try to have patience with my impatience with meditation, not giving up but observing the resistance. Maybe I will try deliberately shortening the meditation times until my soul longs for more.

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