A student recently questioned me on why her hard effort was going unrewarded. Why with all the reading and the practice she was doing with her meditation (her new passion), she still felt she wasn’t achieving what she wanted …
"I feel like I'm maybe trying too hard to be effective".
While we do speak of the importance of practice (like any new skill everything requires practice) it is really a practice of allocating the time and getting to our seat ... once you have taken the necesary action to be there, once you are ready and committed, then meditation is really a practice that requires non-action (as the Taoist would say).
I recently read again an oft quoted story of The Buddha who spoke of a similar situation in making a point about spiritual striving.
His student was a lute player in training, named Sona, whose approach to meditation was interfering with his progress. He was trying too hard and getting in his own way.
"Tell me, Sona," said the Buddha, "when the strings of your lute were too taut, was your lute tuneful and easily playable?"
"Certainly not, Oh Lord," Sona said.
"And when the strings of your lute were too loose, was your lute tuneful and easily playable?"
"Certainly not, Oh Lord," the musician repeated.
"But Sona when the strings of your lute were neither too taut nor too loose, but adjusted to an even pitch, did your lute then have a wonderful sound and was it easily playable?"
If our energy is applied too vigorously it can just as easily lead us to restlessness and disappointment ... if it is applied too weakly it can lead us to lethargy and sluggishness. So while our intentions may be noble sometimes our meditation is over burdened by our desire for it to be special, or match the experiences we hear from others!
Too much effort can overwhelm the wonderful sound that we are seeking ... the sound that is there if we allow it to be ... if we don't interfere!
We need to be aware that if we striving too hard, are to overly eager or grasping, then we may not truly be present to just what ‘is’ .. we may still be imprisoned in our expectations and desires.