After a jhana retreat some students may feel pride at the rate of their development, and other students may feel sad, angry, or depressed. I have found that student’s feelings about the significance or insignificance of their own progress is usually inaccurate. The ideas that students hold about what constitutes a successful achievement are often based upon feelings, and do not usually match the development of wholesome states, and the relinquishment of unwholesome states that I see happening.
The tendency to judge ourselves based upon the degree of our accomplishments as a worthy successful person or a miserable failure is deeply ingrained. Most meditators will know their own tendencies—do you tend to inflate your abilities with boastful pride or deflate your worth by focusing on the gap between where you are now and where you wish you were? Comparing thoughts bring enormous pain. Ask yourself if they are true. Don’t believe them. Look into how these thoughts form.
You may have a concept of what success in meditation would entail, and also a concept of what failure would look like. The concepts of success and failure are seductive because they reinforce the fundamental concept of self. But these are all just concepts, not reality.
I encourage students to let go of their own judgments about the progress of their practice. Neither pride nor despair will support the practice. Learn to cheer yourself when you feel deflated. Learn to calm yourself when you feel elated. But most importantly, don’t believe every thought that you have about yourself.
If you insist upon evaluating your practice, please don’t judge yourself through comparison to idealized concepts of attainment or make your assessment based on the degree of pleasure or ease that you feel. They are not useful standards. Every once in a while you may look calmly at your actions and reactions in life and see if wholesome states are increasing and unwholesome states diminishing. If so, be glad, you are on the right track.