Q: How do I know whether I am making progress in my meditation practice?

A: Is your meditation practice transforming you? Does it make you kinder? Does it make you happier? Observe how much mastery you have gained over your thoughts and emotions both in meditation and in your daily life. Do you become agitated and disturbed as easily as you did before you started your meditation practice? When you are disturbed, how long does it last, and how quickly can you regain your equilibrium and cheerfulness? Can you remain untroubled in troubled situations?

Let’s say that before you started meditating, if you had a fight with someone at work you would still be upset when you got home. That feeling might have lasted the whole evening, making it difficult for you to enjoy your family. Nowadays, however, if you have an unpleasant encounter with a colleague, you wash your hands of it when you leave and are fully present with your family when you get home. That is progress.

When you sit for meditation, distracting thoughts from the day may flit through your mind. If your automatic response is, “Oh, who cares? This is my meditation time,” that is a good sign. But if you find yourself caught up in your thoughts, turning events and conversations over in your mind instead of paying attention to your object of concentration, you are not making much progress. In that case you need to practice non-attachment to further vitalize your meditation.

Notice the small things that bother you so much. Though for someone else, they may not be big things, from your standpoint, they are very big things. It is your reality, and you have a hard time letting go. But consider: is the matter such a serious issue that you should stay upset day and night? Is it worth disturbing your peace of mind? My teacher, Swami Rama, once gave an example of a marriage that ended because the husband squeezed toothpaste from the top of the tube and the wife squeezed it from the bottom, and they would constantly fight about it. It’s the little things that become the trigger point for the deeper things. Try to understand why that small thing upsets you so much. Catch hold of the underlying cause and resolve that.

If you can stay centered in your breath and keep your mind clear and calm, and let go of those little things that are not important in the long run, that is a true sign of progress.

A close relative of mine laughed as she told me a dream she had in which Hanuman, her ishta devata (chosen form of divinity), came to visit her. Overwhelmed that the Divine One would come to her, her heart overflowed with devotion, gratitude, and humility. Offering him tea, she was thrilled when he accepted, and she served it in her best cup. But as he was taking his leave, cup in hand, she realized that he was going away with her favorite cup and called to him, “Hanumanji, please give back my cup!” So on the one hand, we sit in meditation and pray to the Divine, “I humbly offer my mind, my heart, and my life to you; please accept my offering.” And on the other hand, we say, “But please don’t take my cup!” So look at how the little things hold us back.

Cultivate the knowledge that life is not confined to the realm of the material. When this knowledge becomes vibrant and alive, you are making progress in meditation.

The good news is that it is never too late to change. Remind yourself that all these events and objects are part of the material world and are ultimately not valuable. Cultivate the knowledge that life is not confined to the realm of the material. When this knowledge becomes vibrant and alive, you are making progress in meditation. That is called sadhana (spiritual practice). Sadhana is meant to expand our inner state of joyfulness and to reduce the state that gives room for agitation.

Another sign of progress is that you miss your meditation practice if you don’t do it. Let’s say you begin your day without meditating. All day long you hear a whisper from the depths of your heart: “I have not done my meditation.” Then when you sit down in the evening to meditate, the intensity of your meditation is markedly increased, and you think, “Thank God, I have time to meditate.” This is a good sign. If you miss your meditation but the thought of it lingers in your mind, it means you have fallen in love with meditation and are making good progress.

Further Reading

Vishoka Meditation

by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

This concise work makes meditation as practiced by the ancient yoga masters accessible to a modern audience, offering step-by-step instructions to guide us to an illumined state of consciousness. Learn a precise set of meditative techniques designed to unite mind and breath and turn them inward, allowing us to heal and rejuvenate ourselves on every level of our being. Realize the possibility of a life free from pain, sorrow, and negativity and infused with joy and tranquility.

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