Letting Go of Expectation During Meditation

Recently, a close friend of mine was asking me about meditation. He knows I practice yoga and meditation and he was picking my brain to find out a little bit more about how it could benefit him. At one point he uttered the famous phrase that every beginner says about meditation, “I CAN’T meditate. I can’t turn my thoughts off.” As every yogi knows, this famous phrase is second only to “I can’t do Yoga, I’m not flexible”, which is akin to not taking medicine because you’re already sick. It just doesn’t make sense.

I thought that at one time too. “This is impossible, the thoughts just keep coming and there’s no way to stop them”. Little did I know that “shutting out the thoughts ENTIRELY” is not really the goal of meditation, not mine at least.

And I’ve personally never met a yogi, experienced or not, who says they can 100% completely shut down their mind or would even want to.

The mind is a tool, a very important tool, but it represents a very small piece of the whole system of our being. We are not our minds and our minds are not us. Same goes with our thoughts. We think, we visualize, we conceptualize, which are all thoughts, but they are not us. We have thousands of thoughts all day, sometimes very awful and dark thoughts, but does that mean that we really want to run that jerk in traffic off of the road and into a tree? Usually not.

What’s important to notice is the competitive attitude that we tend to take towards meditating, yoga, and life in general. It’s human nature to want to be the best, compete with others and ourselves, and see tangible signs of accomplishment and progress. This is all fine and dandy if you’re playing a sport, opening a business, or pursuing any endeavor where a prize is awarded at the end – be it a trophy, financial success or a new, bigger house. But oddly enough, meditation is the antithesis of all of that and it’s hard to let those old, well-worn mindsets go. We are simply not conditioned to remove the ego, quiet the mind and quit bullying ourselves into bigger, better, more.

Or even worse, telling ourselves that we’re not good enough.

Ok, so just how do we view meditation then? Well, everyone is different and we all have different ways of processing and interpreting, so instead of telling you what meditation should be to you, I’ll tell you how I’ve learned to approach it.

The key turning point for me was learning to let go of what I expected would happen. I had all of these concepts built up around what I thought meditation should or would be rather than paying attention to what was actually happening. Looking back, that seems a bit crazy to me. I was trying to describe what I was going to experience before I actually experienced it.

Imagine someone coming up to you with a painting draped in a cloth so you couldn’t see it. Then they tell you, “It has the color red somewhere on it and there’s a tree somewhere in it. Now describe it to me in detail.” You couldn’t. And why? Because you haven’t viewed the painting yet. Now they remove the cloth and you can see the painting and are now fully able to describe the beautiful apple tree that they have painted.

Meditation is a lot like this painting scenario. It’s really important to learn to let go of expectations of what you think WILL BE and learn to experience it for what IT IS to you. Go into your body, notice all of the sensations that are happening, simply pay attention, and quiet the mind – notice I said “quiet” and not “shut it down entirely”. But therein lies a subtle trap: if you’re “paying attention”, then you’re thinking, right? Well, yes. BUT the key difference is in being able to not label the thoughts and not attach yourself to them. Ok, so you had a thought. Does that mean you have to grasp onto it and see it through to its conclusion. Not at all. I have thoughts all of the time but I’ve slowly cultivated the ability to catch and release them before they consume me.

I kind of see it like this:
…meditating, stillness, breath…
…”Laundry to do, have to fold the cl…”
…catch and release, return to the breath…

…meditating, stillness, breath…
…”I hope that dog didn’t shit in my yard ag…”
…catch and release, return to the breath…

…meditating, stillness, breath…
…”How am I ever going to pay for my…”
…catch and release, return to the breath…

Rinse and repeat. I simply don’t finish the thoughts. And it’s perfectly OK not to.

I catch the thought, recognize it as a thought, release it, and return to my breath. It really is that simple. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy. It takes a lot of practice but eventually it becomes close to automatic. It’s almost like computer coding, which quite honestly is essentially what you’re doing to yourself: you’re reprogramming your mind to go against the grain of years of conditioning and become still. To pay attention to the moment. Eventually you’ll notice that these moments of stillness become larger and longer. And that’s where the good stuff lies. Answers to questions you have posed at other times will begin to slip into these moments of stillness. Ideas, visions, answers, and clarity all begin to come into focus. You’ll find that they are not composed of the mental conditioning and tired habit patterns that you’re used to, but that they come from a place of deep intuition, calmness, and rightness, and all at once will seem very obvious like they’ve been there all along.


3 thoughts on “Letting Go of Expectation During Meditation

    1. Thanks William. People make it out to be much more complex than it should. Not that I’m saying it’s easy, but it should be simple. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to undo years of allowing the mind to be unconditioned.


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