At some point in the development of the practice, everyone feels discouraged. For some people disappointment is an occasional hindrance; for other meditators discouragement is a chronic obstacle. There is a story in the Pali Canon of a young monk named Venerable Sona. He practiced walking meditation so diligently that the soles of his feet were split and bleeding, but still he was not liberated. Discouraged, he considered giving up the practice and returning to a comfortable lay life. Perceiving Venerable Sona’s difficulties, the Buddha gave a teaching on balancing effort. He taught him to practice with energy that is neither too lax, nor too forceful—like tuning a stringed instrument neither too tight nor too loose. Following this teaching on balanced effort, Venerable Sona was able to succeed.
It may be when we are over-efforting that we might be most vulnerable to discouragement. If we are trying very hard and still don’t reach our aim, we may fall into the old thought patterns of conceit—comparing ourselves with our expectations. Thoughts of not being good enough could thwart the practice. Discouraged, we might want to quit.
We need to learn to patiently persevere in our efforts, without believing self-judging stories. We need equanimity with the pace of our development, balanced effort, and trust in the unfolding of the path. We must not believe the stories of conceit that compare our rate of progress with the attainments of friends, or even with our own expectations. The comparing mind is suffering.
Diligent, attentive, and mindful, our meditation practice will surely develop. As one of my teachers used to say, “you can only do the practice, you cannot make it work.”