I want to share one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received: Lower your standards.
Not everyone agrees with this advice because it sounds, on its surface, like a road to mediocrity, but I believe that it's a road to steadiness.
The advice comes from poet William E. Stafford (1914-1993) who famously woke up everyday at 4am and wrote a poem. One poem every day before his family woke up.
How was that possible? The poet e.e. cummings said that a writer could spend 25 years on one line of one poem, and we know that writers agonize over their words and can be reluctant to call anything complete.
When Stafford was asked how in the world he writes a full poem every day in the space of a couple of hours, he replied, "It's easy. I lower my standards."
What I took this to mean is not that he didn't go back and revise ever but that he wouldn't let perfectionism stop him. He wrote a poem to an end in the allotted time every day.
The advice -- lower your standards -- applies to so many things in life (my favorite application is house cleaning), but I think it applies especially well to meditation. From one day to the next, we don't know how our meditation is going to be. One day it could be full of distracting thoughts. The next day, it could be very peaceful. We could feel a darkness pervading one day and showered with light another. In all scenarios, we are meditating and more importantly developing the habit of meditating. In all scenarios, we are showing up for the deep work of connecting to our inner wisdom and however messy it is in the mind, I believe our souls take notice.
So please don't let perfectionism stop you. Please drop your expectations of how meditation should be. You closed your eyes; you went within; you sat for the allotted time... you meditated.
It's not about having a perfect experience or blissing out, it's about showing up and moving through it. If we can liberate ourselves from perfectionism and keep showing up, we can be steady in our practice. And steadiness is the most important thing, providing the container for the wisdom to pour through, the insight to burst forth, the peace to rise to the surface day after day. That's what Stafford did with his writing practice.
Lower your standards and let the soul respond. If Stafford's body of work is any indication, it will. You can read one of my favorite of his poems below.
I know that some people avoid meditation because they think they can't do it or they won't get it right. If that describes you, I pray you will lower your standards because the rewards of doing so are many.
Co-owners and Instructors of Montclair Kundalini Yoga, Cate Baily and Savitri Narayan Kaur. See their bios here.