I've been meditating for some time now and consistently everyday for about six months but I don't have a definite goal or intent - I do it because I like sitting down for 30 minutes or so without reacting to my thoughts. I sometimes wonder about whether I am progressing or what is that towards which I am progressing. What in your experience should be the goal and the associated metrics so to speak?
If we are truly sincere with ourselves, there isn't a goal, but that takes quite an exceptional individual to understand this at the outset.
I do it because I like sitting down for 30 minutes or so without reacting to my thoughts.
This is quite telling. In fact, I know practising Buddhist who have been banging away at this for decades who have still not reached this ability. The fact is, there are people out there who can capture this straight off the bat.
In any case, there will be a reaction to your thoughts on some level, but what I wanted to highlight is that there is natural progression towards a particular practice, and if we're astute and receptive we can hone right in on that and match it with a relevant context. There are some teachers who, knowing the minds of their students, can assess them in such a way. Or, we can do it ourselves!
I sometimes wonder about whether I am progressing or what is that towards which I am progressing.
The mind has a tendency to find patterns in things. This is how it is able to keep the six-sense consciousness ticking over, which in turn leads to all sorts of calamitous thinking, feeling and problematic behaviour.
You don't need to answer this question, it will be answered for you. However, for many practitioners, they need the ability to recognize patterns - it's comforting for them. Those patterns come in the form of various theories, interpretations and opinions about all things related to Buddhism. The thing is, they are only a temporary placeholder to help quench the ego mind, similar to giving a baby a dummy to shut them up until they are old enough to manage their own angst, or, in this case, until you become wise enough that you won't need to cling to those various theories and interpretations surrounding Buddhism.
Where am I going with this?
Beginners mind - Shoshin. Zen at its purest!
I will suggest two books that may help you with:
- getting caught in the bureaucratic academics of Buddhism.
- realizing your true path-automny.
Allow me to point out the possibly obvious... If you sit because you 'like' it, then you have a goal: 30 minutes or so enjoying yourself. It may not be a particularly high-minded goal, but it's still a goal.
Meditation is a practice; we practice putting the thinking mind down. The thinking mind is a tool for dealing with dukkha (discontentment, displeasure, suffering, etc.). Sometimes it takes dukkha as a problem to be solved, fussing away until it finds a resolution; sometimes it takes dukkha as an annoyance to be avoided, seeking out entertainments, pleasures, distractions, and such; sometimes it gets frustrated and creates a fantasy world, one where this dukkha doesn't exist and 'reality' is the way the mind wants it to be. But the Buddhist insight is that the thinking mind is also the source of dukkha. We are so habituated to using the thinking mind that we don't realize we wouldn't be experiencing dukkha if the thinking mind weren't holding up some alternate possibility that compares favorably to reality.
If we sit because we enjoy it, that's bordering on escapism. We're not putting the mind down, but allowing the mind to use the meditation period as a way to avoid reality for a while. That's fine if that's all one wants from meditation (at this point in one's development). But if not, there are a number of ways of working with the issue:
- Meditate longer: stay on the cushion until the thinking mind starts to get bored and frustrated with merely enjoying itself, and see what happens
- Use body-scan techniques: concentrate on the minutia of physical sensations, which keeps the mind from getting lost in purely mental experience
- Try mindfulness: sit back and watch the mind enjoy itself without participating; see that sense of pleasure rise and fall, rise and fall...
There's others too. Different things to try...
I started meditating observing the breath & relaxing thoughts because i heard that it's good from friends and did it to improve concentration & mental faculties. I also liked it even tho nothing spectacular happened.
I did it for 3 years, eventually i became willing to focus on that training more, started to learn buddhist texts, cleared up views and tried to see how far i could take it.
I am 10 years in now and the goal of developing mental faculties has not changed but i understood many things & it's still sinking in. Have a lot of work to do and i know how to do it.
General goals are comfort & happiness and i am still training for calm & stilling but in more so various senses of the words.
If you do decide to train hard & learn a lot, then you can expect more extraordinary experiences in meditation based on the development of mental faculties.
More calm, pleasurable feelings, lights & visions, immaterial percipience and up to the supramundane attainments associated with the dustruction of taints & a culmination of the faculties leading to perfected behavior, mastery of thoughts & knowledge.
There is a lot to learn & experimentation is needed to settle one's doubts & restlessness if one wants to set oneself up properly.
For basic insight meditation (vipassana) based on the mindfulness of breathing, you can consider starting with Ven. Yuttadhammo's "How To Meditate" series for beginners, which is available as a YouTube video playlist and as an online book.
This meditation is based on the four foundations of mindfulness (satipatthana). It comes in the varieties of sitting and walking meditation.
After you have mastered this, you can proceed to "How to Meditate II" by the same teacher.