It's fun being good at things.
You get to reap the fruits of your talents.
You get to wallow in egoic self-congratulations.
You get to savour that satisfied feeling of knowing you’ve got your just rewards for effort put in.
Because when you think about it, proficiency in an art or skill typically requires a lot of practice.
You've probably heard people talk about the 10,000 hours it takes to become a master at something and, while not necessarily a binding law, it does typically seem to apply – even for those people we would consider child prodigies, like Mozart or former American chess world champion Bobby Fischer. (For more information on this, try reading Robert Greene's excellent book "Mastery".)
But as satisfying as achieving a hard-earned reward might be, it's also true that the difficulty of gaining proficiency in something often deters us from even beginning it.
Because as good as we might one day become at something, in the beginning it can be a long climb out of the ‘I suck box’.
Now, I know this is a harsh way to put in. But from the ego's point of view, starting something new is often akin to getting dragged through a seemingly-endless bog of smelly, slimy goo.
And we’re not even necessarily talking about starting something completely new, either. It can just be a variation on something we already do well – a spin on the familiar that sends us reeling back into the ‘I suck box’.
This used to happen to me quite a bit as a kid taking tennis lessons. Every now and again my coach would get me to change my grip and, even if it might only be a few degrees here and there, afterwards it was often hard to hit the ball.
Now, after a while of course, I'd get used to the new grip and start smacking balls better than ever, but before that they would generally fly everywhere: out of the court, into the net, into the ground – all over the place!
In many ways, the spirit world is the same. When you practise a new meditation, for instance, it often feels clunky. You can’t find your rhythm. You can’t find your groove – and you can't get into those deep states you’re used to when you practise your regular techniques.
It is for this reason that meditators often default back to what they already know and do well. They learn a new technique. They give it a brief shot. But then, before you know it, they revert back to the old and familiar.
Now, I'm not saying that the meditation they revert to isn't great. In fact, it might be fantastic. It might even be better than the one they’ve just learned! But the thing is, they already know that meditation and if they continue to practise it, they won't learn anything new.
So sometimes it's a case of needing to take the proverbial ‘one step backwards to take two steps forward’. You try out the new technique. You possibly struggle with it at first. But then, quite often, you get a feel for it, just like I always eventually did after my coach changed my tennis racket grip.
The important thing to remember, therefore, is that to learn the new technique well, you often have to let go of the old. You have to let go of security, certainty and your need to do things well.
This might sound shocking to the ego, I know, but you can actually reassure it. Because you don't need to let go of the old for good. You just need to tuck it away for the moment while you focus on the meditation at hand. And if things get egoically desperate, you can always go back to it whenever you wish. But if you can hang tough, then as a reward for your humility, you’ll end up with two meditation options instead of one.
So the moral of all this is that when you learn something new, you’ve got to accept ahead of time that you most likely won't be proficient at it right away.
Then you’ve got to refrain from reverting back to what you already know the moment the going gets tough.
Yep, Zen warrior that you are, you’ve got to continue on with the new technique as prescribed, and practise it until you get the hang of it.
Then, with luck, you'll have a classy new addition to your meditation or spiritual practice.
(Article Copyright, Jeremy O'Carroll 2016)
To find out more about Jeremy O'Carroll's meditation courses, click here.
To find out about his Reiki courses, visit his Om Reiki course homepage.