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July 2nd, 2018
“In the beginning nothing comes,
in the middle nothing stays,
in the end nothing goes.”
– Jetsun Milarepa twelfth-century Tibetan poet and sage
Jetsun’s observation here is directed specifically at meditation, and the gradual process of change that occurs in one’s mind after much practice.
At first it seems like a colossal waste of time. Even ridiculous.
Imagine putting money in a parking meter and nothing happens. The damn thing seems broken. Why would you ever put more money into it? Maybe one more coin, just to make sure it’s broken. But after that? It just seems unwise.
So many just simply stop.
This is the case with many of the endeavors we embark on over the course of life. We pick up a guitar and sound like a cat walking on a piano. This happens an aggravating number of times. So we quit.
This is juxtaposed with the mystifying experience of trying something new and having what many might call Beginner’s Luck. Which is an illusion. An illusion where many capabilities that have been honed for other reasons are coming together in a novel way. In essence, when it appears we have a ‘knack’ for something, it is only because we have practiced for it in other ways.
A long time gymnast, for example, shouldn’t be surprised to find out that they have a knack for say… dancing.
Our instant gratification culture certainly provides an evil fertilizer for the idea that we are either good at something or not.
The truth, like establishing proper context, is more complicated – more nuanced.
When trying something genuinely new, the expectation should be akin to that seemingly broken parking meter.
But the analogy needs to go further.
Making headway with any new endeavor is much like feeding the parking meter hundreds of dollars and then finding it finally registers a few minutes.
Or course the parking meter runs out.
However, feeding it now seems to make it work every time.
Eventually, with lots of practice, our parking meter becomes more generous, registering much more time for our effort and counting down through the minutes slower and slower.
Such is the case with any new endeavor. The beginning sucks. But realizations eventually compound, reinforcing one another, and create a new foundation for a more difficult or advanced level of practice.
Careful though. As with anything we learn, enough neglect and that parking meter will eventually run out.
If our practice is consistent though, the benefits will never run out.
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