Between drowsiness and distraction: meditation and certainty

I was on an intense FPMT Lam Rim retreat for the past two weeks. One of the things they teach is meditation: meditation techniques as well as pitfalls.

On all levels of meditation one of the pitfalls is not finding a middle ground between drowsiness and distraction.

Both are recognizable at our level: nearly falling asleep during morning meditation, or that wandering mind that focuses on a lot of seemingly important issues.

There is a connection between these two extremes and another spiritual continuum: uncertainty and certainty. I wrote about that recently and on my Dutch blog many of the responses were of the ‘don’t be a ninny’ type. Thank you all for your more generous and kind take on my post.

I’m convinced that on the spiritual path it’s essential to avoid two extremes:

  • Too much uncertainty and skepticism: it’s paralyzing.
  • Too much certainty and arrogance: all movement is gone (we’re not Buddha yet, are we?)

We need a ground to stand on: security, certainty. We also need the freedom of the open air – and that includes uncertainty, because all kinds of things can happen.

It’s like that with a spiritual teacher as well, perhaps. He or she is essential on the spiritual path, because they see our blind spots. On the other hand we can’t leave our decisions up to them, because it’s our own life, our own karma, our own responsibility.

Extremes are so much easier than that ever shifting middle ground. It is much easier to stick to uncertainty and stay eternally skeptical, than to take that plunge and choose a spiritual path. At the same time it’s rather hard to stay true to yourself, once you’re on that path. Once chosen you still have to keep checking up with yourself: does this match who I am? Hard to know what your strong points are, but still keep track of weaknesses. Difficult to face our limitations and yet keep going.

But that is the path – denying such issues is ignoring what IS.

Getting back to meditation extremes: meditation strengthens what is, so we were warned against meditating on drowsiness… Isn’t that a neat idea? Makes a great excuse to quit meditating early.

4 thoughts on “Between drowsiness and distraction: meditation and certainty”

  1. I think you nailed it. The illusion of duality is very convincing, and polarizing it cripples many a would-be spiritual aspirant. Riding the crest of the paradox is where the spiritual seeker ought to stay.

  2. I appreciate the no-extremes part. As I am finding my way back to fulfilling my spiritual needs, I find that this balance comes and goes. Trapped at either end is certainly difficult.

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