My Japanese Zen meditation teachers emphasized the importance of not looking for results from meditation, but just continuing with it without evaluating its effectiveness. That said, there is a natural progression that takes place which generally has four stages: 1) What do I want to get from meditation? 2) What can I learn about myself? 3) What can I discover about my relationships and how can I deepen them? 4) Living wakefully from my own still center, the center of all life.
I have noticed over many years how often practitioners progress in this manner without even necessarily realizing it.
Take Jerome for example, a mid-level manager at a health care organization. He was obsessed with hitting his quarterly targets, so he pushed his staff relentlessly and continually obsessed about everything related to his work. He feared being fired, or having to quit because of burnout from anxiety. His workaholic ethic no longer worked. But after his first year of daily meditation and retreat attendance, he complained that his anxiety had not diminished much. I pointed out how much he had learned about himself through his heightened awareness of his moods and reactivity. For the first time in his life, he was able to see his fear-based thinking, judgments, and beliefs WITHOUT criticizing himself or his staff. He had discovered how his high standards for himself and others limited his effectiveness. This meant that he had moved to the second stage of meditative awareness without even knowing it.
During the next year or two of sitting accompanied by frequent meetings with a teacher, he began to see to see each time he wanted to jump in and control everything and everyone, and recognize these impulses so he could let them go without acting them out. As he got better at managing his own anxious induced impulses, his stress plummeted as did that of others in his office. His direct reports trusted him more and did better quality work. He had began to listen attentively rather than just being rigidly directive, ratcheting up his emotional intelligence as he began to experience his supervisees as allies. He had moved into third stage of meditative progress, building trust with those around him. For the first time, he was able to speak to others of his own fears and vulnerabilities openly. He spoke from his heart more, which inspired his team. With his work and home environment vastly improved he drifted away from our Zen Center, so I don’t know what happened after that.
Others I have worked with have moved naturally into the fourth stage, however, tapping into, and learning to live wakefully from their own still centers, the still center of all life. This is what is referred to by Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen, as getting the dharma into “your skin, flesh, bone, and marrow.” My teacher Katagiri Roshi referred to this as developing “spiritual security.” It’s not that hard. All it requires is practice.
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher