Benefits Before Mastery

Excerpt from Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris (info, library): 

Mindfulness meditation is extraordinarily simple to describe, but it isn't easy to perform. True mastery might require special talent and a lifetime devotion to the task, and yet a genuine transformation in one's perception of the world is within reach for most of us. Practice is the only thing that will lead to success. The simple instructions...are analogous to instructions on how to walk a tightrope–which, I assume, must go something like this: 

  1. Find a horizontal cable that can support your weight.
  2. Stand on one end. 
  3. Step forward by placing one foot directly in front of the other. 
  4. Repeat.
  5. Don't fall. 

Clearly, steps 2 through 5 entail a little trial and error. Happily, the benefits of training in meditation arrive long before the mastery does. And falling, for our purposes, occurs almost ceaselessly, every time we become lost in thought. The problem is not thoughts themselves but the state of thinking without being fully aware that we are thinking. 

As every meditator soon discovers, distraction is the normal condition of our minds. Most of us topple from the wire every second–wether gliding happily into reverie or plunging into fear, anger, self-hatred, and other negative states of mind. Meditation is a technique for waking up. The goal is to come out of the trance of discursive thinking and to stop reflexively grasping at the pleasant and recoiling from the unpleasant, so that we can enjoy a mind undisturbed by worry, merely open like the sky, and effortlessly aware of the flow of experience in the present. 


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