I never get up from a meditation session and think to myself, “I wish I hadn’t done that.” Even when I’ve spent the entire sit in a distracted fog of neutral-to-unpleasant thoughts, I still have a sense that I’m better off than if I hadn’t sat at all.
What is the redeeming value of an unpleasant sit? Actually, I think sitting practice retains most of its important qualities even when you’re not into it. It still reinforces the discipline and intentionality it takes to sit down in the first place, instead of weakening it by skipping. It still reminds the body of the posture and its timing in the rhythm of the day.
Personally, I find great mindfulness and clarity in the first few minutes of whatever I do after I meditate, no matter how well the sitting went. Even if I didn’t do much meditating on the cushion, I do some while making tea or writing Grind Well posts.
The quality of the meditation itself is almost beside the point. Deep concentration can convey everything it has to offer in one moment — it doesn’t have to be today. On any given day, the most important element of the practice is keeping it going, reinforcing meditation in the pattern of one’s life.
After all, if meditation were only something we did while nothing was going on in our minds, we wouldn’t be practicing for anything! The skill we’re developing in this practice is to come back to mindfulness in any situation.
Here’s an exercise: When practice is unpleasant, imagine that the mind is trying to help you prepare for life’s realities. Anything can be turned into fuel for the practice.