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The Signs of Progress in Meditation: Embracing Life as it Unfolds

Meditation is often approached with a hope for peace and life improvement, a relief from the challenges and chaos of everyday experience. However, the initial stages of a meditation practice can sometimes feel like stepping into a storm rather than finding calm seas. For those new to meditation, this might seem counterintuitive—aren't we supposed to feel better right away?

What many beginners discover is that progress in meditation doesn't always align with conventional expectations. Instead of immediate peace, you might find a heightened connection to life's ongoing flow, which is not always peaceful or easy. It is imperative that, at this moment, a practitioner feels confident in the truth that this is a normal and valuable part of the journey.

The Waterfall Experience As Progress

In Buddhism, there's a concept known as the "waterfall experience." When a person first begins to meditate, it can feel like sitting at the bottom of a waterfall—a rush of thoughts and sensations cascading down, each more overwhelming than the last. For many, this experience can lead to a concern they are "doing meditation wrong". However, the waterfall experience isn't a setback, though it might feel like one. It's actually a sign of progress.

As a practitioner becomes more aware of their mental landscape, everything that has been happening under the surface of conscious awareness becomes more obvious, comes into clearer focus. This clarity of mind, a familiarization with what has been happening already but largely unnoticed, is the first step in learning to navigate the mind space more effectively.

Strains in Relationships

Another unexpected sign of progress can be the surfacing of strains in personal relationships. As meditation makes a person more attuned to their own feelings and those of others, it is common to notice more discord and tensions that were previously overlooked or suppressed. This increased awareness can initially lead to more conflict or discomfort, as it challenges the status quo. Yet, this too is part of the process. By becoming aware of these issues, a practitioner places themselves in a position to address and resolve them, fostering deeper connections and understanding.

Changing Relationship to Experience

It's crucial to recognize that meditation changes our relationship to our experiences. It teaches us to observe life's unfolding without immediate judgment or reaction. Whether events are perceived as good or bad, meditation encourages a stance of observation and acceptance. The real progress here is learning to sit with all types of experiences—joy, pain, boredom, excitement—and see them as transient states that come and go.

The true marker of progress in meditation is learning to make space for life to unfold naturally. This involves noticing reactions and feelings about experiences just as much as the experiences themselves. Allowing space for these feelings, without trying to change or dismiss them, is a profound step toward inner freedom.

Continuing the Journey

If you find yourself noticing more chaos, more thoughts, or more relational tensions, don't be discouraged. These are not signs that your meditation practice is failing. Rather, they indicate that you are engaging with the practice correctly and authentically. You are not doing anything wrong—quite the opposite; you are making real progress.

Meditation isn't about turning life into a perpetual high or escaping from reality. It's about becoming fully present and connected to the moment, regardless of what it brings. The essence of meditation is awareness, and it is this connection to and recognition of awareness that transforms our relationship to experience. As you continue to practice, you'll find that your ability to remain centered and calm through life's ups and downs becomes the ultimate measure of improvement. Keep going, and trust the process.

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