Meditation might be a path to enlightenment. To be honest, I don’t really care about that — it’s not why I meditated today and will probably have nothing to do with my meditation tomorrow. I’m not practicing for some imagined reward far in the future, I meditate because I derive significant value from it now, each time I sit.
Setting aside the tricky notion of enlightenment itself, pursuing any reward that’s likely to be years away is hardly a good motivator to act today. Some people might have the discipline to slog through endless days in service of the future, but that’s cheating yourself out of now. And maybe, having such a distant goal (of uncertain realization) could even do just the opposite, discouraging you from ever taking the first steps.
Now I’m certainly not suggesting it’s wrong to have lofty goals. Identifying goals can help us clarify our values, and give us direction. Yoga is all about progressing toward a goal — choosing something to focus on, and working to maintain that focus. But if you look at a yoga pose and think, “I’m sure I’ll never be able to do that, so why bother?” well, then you’ve probably talked yourself out of what could’ve been a very beneficial practice. Even if you never achieve the full splits, the process of gently working to open your hamstrings and hip flexors would likely help you feel a little better in your body today, stronger and more flexible.
Your ultimate goal might seem daunting, but if you can see the steps you would take today as worthwhile, helping you to learn and grow and hopefully bringing some joy on their own, then you’re much more likely to keep going tomorrow. And if maybe you never do realize that distant goal, it doesn’t matter. It was still worth it. You got to enjoy your life in the process.
So if you find the notion of enlightenment an unlikelier prospect than doing the splits or putting your foot behind your head, I’ll say, I feel the same. (And I certainly don’t ever expect to be doing the splits myself.) And if you’ve read about the many benefits of meditation but think they’re only available to people who go on retreats for weeks or months at time, I’ll say, I wildly disagree with you.
My meditation practice is about trying to find peace with whatever each moment holds. Keeping attention on my breath while maintaining a broader awareness of the thoughts and feelings, and sounds and sensations, as they arise and pass. Keeping an awareness of context, that they do arise and pass, to find the perspective that this moment can still be peaceful. And the moment is always changing, so it’s a continual challenge.
Anyone can practice that, at any time. I don’t hold it entirely steady, even in just a five minute practice. But when I do find those moments of peace, it’s a deeply gratifying experience. It feels wonderful, and profound, today.
Maybe enlightenment is maintaining that perspective at all times, holding a sense of peace permanently, effortlessly. I can imagine it.
But that’s not near where I am, so that’s not what interests me right now. All I’m trying to do is remember to remind myself to try to find the peace in this moment. And then in this one. And each moment that I do is invaluable.