“To begin with, just give up any expectations of yourself. That’s a simple good instruction for how to do Buddhist meditation,” instructs Pema Chödrön to those beginning their practice. “Let go and observe without judgment.”
Buddhist meditation is about dissolving our fixation on ourselves, on the process of meditating, and on any result we might gain from it. Through meditation, we begin to get the hang of living with a non-grasping attitude.
When you sit down to meditate, you can bring to your practice the notion of the threefold purity: not being caught up with ideas about yourself, not being caught up with ideas about the practice, and not being caught up with ideas about the result.
Sometimes you begin meditation with the sense, I am sitting down to meditate. That’s not too helpful. However, you can’t just click your fingers and Zap!—all sense of self is gone. You have to start where you are. Before you sit down you can actually reflect on the fact that you don’t have to hold on to a solid identity of yourself as a worthless or worthy person, as someone who can’t meditate, or as someone who can. You can practice lightening up the whole persona that you bring to meditation.
"You have to start where you are."
For example, if you’re new at it, you might take a certain pride in being a meditator. You come back from a retreat and your friends say, “Where were you?” and you say, “Oh, I was just meditating for ten days in a monastery on Cape Breton Island. We kept silence most of the time and we meditated many, many hours every day.” You have this feeling, “Wow! Are they going to be impressed.” Perhaps in other situations you feel a little embarrassed. If your parents ask you where you were, you might say, “Oh, I just went on a little trip to Cape Breton.”
To begin with, just give up any expectations of yourself. That’s a simple good instruction for how to meditate. Liberate yourself from any sort of idea of how you’re supposed to be, and just sit. Then remember this instruction occasionally during the meditation period, because you’re going to do a lot of talking to yourself about how right or how wrong you are. You’re going to spend a lot of time on center stage as the star of your own movie. You can spend a lot of time planning, worrying, and trying to get it all right.
"The changes go on and on. Observe them with no expectation of how you’re supposed to be, or who you are."
Instead of holding on to a limited identity of yourself, do your best to observe yourself minute after minute. Observe what’s happening. You’ll keep freezing it by fixating on it, because you do have an idea of who you are; we all have an idea of who we are. But if you’ll just observe instead of fixating, the meditation itself will begin to shake that identity up a lot. You’ll begin to have doubt about being just one way; you’ll see that who you are and how you are keep changing. The first five minutes of the meditation period you’re depressed; the gong rings and you feel happy. In walking meditation you’re bored; you sit down on your cushion again and your back hurts. The gong rings and you realize you’ve been on a shopping spree in New York City. The changes go on and on. Observe them with no expectation of how you’re supposed to be, or who you are. Just sit there and see what happens.