These were the words painted on a van parked outside my home recently. It turns out to be a quote from the jazz saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, or at least that’s the attribution given a number of places on the internet. Meditation, too, is about making mistakes. Like the jazz musician, the meditator needs to constantly relate to the spontaneous impulses that pop up in his mind and make them an integral part of his actions. How can you do that without making mistakes?
Don’t try harder!
Actually, the van parked outside my home had twisted the quote a bit: “If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t trying hard enough!” Typical Norwegian? At least it seems to reflect a belief in the power of blind force. In meditation, that’s one of the mistakes we are likely to make from time to time. Instead of keeping allowing for a bit of jazz-like improvisation, where impulses are allowed to come and go, we get tense and suppress our spontaneous thoughts and feelings. Try harder!
People say that “experience” is the name we give to our own mistakes. Only to comfort ourselves? In fact, the mistakes we make in meditation are even more meaningful than the ones we make in our daily lives, or even when playing the saxophone. When we try just a little bit too hard in meditation, this usually reflects unconscious patterns that have been brought to the surface. The challenge is to relax rather than to try hard, and thereby begin to act from a deeper level of ourselves. When we meditate, play jazz, or simply just live.