Ours is an outcome-driven world. We reward outcomes in the way we compensate, live and even think about each other. If things go our way and we are “successful,” we are given money, power, and admiration. Outcomes are our chosen mechanism to validate ourselves and each other – they are the linchpin of how our society works. Think of it this way: When was the last time we rewarded someone for their failures? Yet outcomes are significantly flawed. From a mathematical perspective, things are vastly more random than we like to admit – winners and losers have much more to do with a simple bell curve rather than who is talented or deserving. And from a psychological perspective, our dependence on outcomes ruins everything, including meditation.
Perhaps we cling to outcomes because of a fundamental misconception in our approach. As it pertains to our awesome brains, one of the biggest mistakes is assuming we know how to do this, that we somehow come preprogrammed with the ability to handle the rigors of being human. But in our heads a very unique and confusing physiological imperfection is at work – the blunt rawness of our emotions constantly clashing with the sharp coolness of our logic.
Simply, in the small space between our temples we find the two magnificently large characters of emotion and logic crammed together and fighting for dominance. And while we are born with both, we do not enter this world with the skill necessary to handle their coexistence. Moreover, we are never presented with tools to deal therein. There are no classes in school on how to be human, there are no courses or conferences on how to be innately emotional and logical all at the same time. So we meditate. And in doing so we finally get to improve at utilizing a brain that is both rash and reflective. When we meditate, we are quite literally practicing being human.
Unfortunately, this vital tool of meditation is altogether ruined by an outcome-driven mentality. Like everything else, we mistakenly approach meditation in outcome terms. To us, meditation is wrongly thought of as some form of reprieve, a place we go or thing we do to find relaxation. Our vision of meditation is of some blissful utopia where our problems fade and we connect with ourselves on a more harmonious level. We even lovingly say things like, “Focus on the breath,” as if there is some charmed outcome where body and mind unite, and we are finally at peace.
The truth is that meditation is not an outcome. Like everything else, meditation is a process where success and failure have little to do with how things actually result – how things turn out has almost nothing to do with what we put in. Just because we do not win the championship does not mean we were not the best team, just because we get divorced does not mean we were not deeply in love, and just because we do not transcend does not mean we are not meditating. Explained without the bias of outcomes, meditation is a gritty, challenging, messy and invaluable practice for being human. In fact, feeling mixed-up, overwhelmed and entirely frustrated with ourselves during meditation is the only way to know we are doing it right!
We are born into this world and never given a handbook on an existence simultaneously defined by both powerful emotions and equally powerful logic. So we meditate. We meditate not to find an outcome like the breath, but to get comfortable with that fact that our ideals and our reality are drastically different than each other. We meditate to recognize that our emotions are never going away. We meditate to refine the skill of being reasonable even when our impulses tell us otherwise. We meditate to practice doing what logic directs despite what our urges demand. The whole idea of meditation is not to attain a greater peace than we have today, rather to become at peace with our innate inability to be perfect. Frankly, if we can let go of the breath and just sit still when all we want to do is move, then we can meditate.
Forget outcomes and transcendence, forget perfection, forget the breath – these are counterproductive stories we tell ourselves. Instead, make progress by expecting and learning not to fight the imperfections of being human. We are bad at this, which means we are finally meditating.