I spent some time reflecting on how my meditation practice is unfolding, and I came to realize something profound that should have been quite obvious to me earlier.
I’m learning to meditate in the same way that I learned to play guitar over many years. I started out by really listening to the sounds and learning the basic language (notes and chords). I then began mimicking the way I saw my teacher’s hands moving, and spent time really learning to use my hands, fingers, and arms in a fluid and relaxed way. After learning to play my favorite songs, and even write a few of my own, I began to learn the theory of how it all works together. From there, I moved on to learning more complicated styles like jazz, and began extending my knowledge to other instruments as well.
My meditation practice is unfolding in a similar way. At first, I spent time listening to dharma talks and guided meditations, and then began to follow along with the instructions. After learning some basic vocabulary and conceptual knowledge, I began to practice for longer and longer periods on my own. As I became more and more mindful with less strenuous effort, I really got in to the groove of the practice. I then began to learn and apply theory to my experiences, and started working with more difficult stages and applying new techniques. I also found it helpful, as with learning to play guitar, to have regular contact with experienced teachers. Not only that, but also the ability to “jam” with others meditators. Having conversations with others about meditation really catalyzes one’s practice.
My point here is that learning meditation and gaining insight in to the nature of reality is like learning and developing any other skill. As one begins the process, their natural learning style will guide the process if they are open to it. This is why it is so important to just start! It doesn’t matter which style of meditation you try as long as you’re willing to try it. You will quickly learn your strengths and weaknesses, and will be able to make adjustments when necessary.
Try to remember that it’s perfectly OK in the beginning to focus on the parts of your practice that are the most fun. Getting good at what you really enjoy doing first will help you to build up the confidence to try other techniques that don’t come as easily. With enough dedicated training, learning to play the guitar is possible… Enlightenment should be no different.