The one way to meditate incorrectly

Over fifteen years ago I attended a science fair where a curious game was presented to the general public. Two participants were seated at a table across from each other wearing brain-waves sensing devices on their heads. A metal ball controlled by a magnet under the table was positioned at an equal distance from the players. In order to win the players needed to attract the ball towards themselves. The force of attraction was inversely proportional to the overall level of brain activity.

It was a very counter-intuitive experience. In order to win I had to overcome my desire to win. The only way to get what I wanted was to stop wanting it. This was possibly my first attempt at “stopping thoughts”, this was years before I had a conscious intention to learn meditation. Intuitively, I closed my eyes and directed my attention on breathing.

In the past couple of years I had been following a pretty popular on reddit meditation guide called “The Mind Illuminated”. The structure and the delivery of the book was appealing to my pragmatic mindset. In it the meditation progress was broken down into stages with specific instructions and completion criteria for each stage. It’s not uncommon in the modern meditation community to complain about “trying too hard”. And why wouldn’t they? The instructions are so clear, stages give a sense of progress. Gamification at it’s best. It is very appealing. It would seem that straining to focus on “sensation of the breath at the tip of the nose, while ignoring distraction” is the way to “reach stream entry”.

Humans love achieving. The need to feel “progress” is behind all gamification. Competition is essential to the reptilian part of our brain. A good chunk of self-development books are centered around “achieving success”. If brain-sensing devices were more available I can guarantee you we would have “meditation olympics”.

This is the paradox of meditation. The more you are trying to “do something”, “achieve perfect focus”, “stop mental dialog”, “feel pīti” - the further you are from the truth. The one true way to meditate incorrectly is to strive to meditate correctly. I know… what a cliche.