Novice meditators often ask “will all this sitting get me somewhere?” By “somewhere” they mean somewhere else than where their sitting currently gets them — countless cushion-hours accompanied by states of desire, aversion, judgment, pain, boredom, torpor, fantasy, reminiscence, doubt, planning, philosophizing — and, yes — moments of presence and clarity. By “somewhere else” they mean their fantasy of whatever-it-was the Buddha experienced at the moment of his Enlightenment. They wonder whether they will ever have an experience like the Buddha’s.
The answer is “no.”
The Buddha’s experience was his own. Ours is ours.
The Buddha’s experience was the final end point of everything in his lifetime(s) that preceded it — his meditative practice, his ethical development, his philosophical understanding. Our experience is the end product of everything leading up to this moment in our lives — our virtues and vices, our sleep patterns and eating habits, our discipline and skill, the quality of our relationships and our health.
Meditation never gets us anywhere — we’re always “here.” When we meditate we steep ourselves in “here,” the whole of life held before us in a clear reflecting mirror. Not some perfect idea of life, but life as it is. Not bypassing or escaping life, but sitting with, recognizing, and acknowledging it. Breathing with it and letting it be.
We marinate in life and are cooked by it. It’s a process that happens, not something we accomplish. We didn’t build that. Things shift. We tire of hanging onto things. We cease repeating old mistakes. We laugh at ourselves. We open and soften. We come alive.
It’s not the sitting alone that does this. It’s every step we take on our path. It’s our understanding of impermanence, suffering, non-self, and emptiness. It’s our practice of compassion and generosity. It’s our letting go of past insults and injuries. It’s our growing respect for our bodies, our selves, our neighbors, our planet. All of this is reflected in each moment of sitting.
Does all this sitting get us somewhere? No. Sitting always gets us here.
But the nature of “here” changes as we journey on our path. Usually not in dramatic, awe-inspiring flashes, but little by little, bit by bit. Be patient. You have this whole lifetime (at least) ahead of you.
This isn’t to say you won’t have profound experiences during deep meditation or on prolonged retreats. They happen often enough. They can help our practice as long as we don’t cling to them and struggle to repeat them.
But sitting isn’t about having a spiritual experience. It’s about living a spiritual life.
Sitting isn’t where the miracle occurs.
Our life is the miracle.
Sitting is the mirror.
It’s the pot we’re cooked in.