The secret of meditation, and of life, is to focus on the good news instead of the bad news.

Meditation is hard because when you try to do it, you are subjecting yourself to a stream of bad news.

The bad news is that your mind wandered. Your concentration was broken. You were trying to sustain your focus and you failed.

As you keep trying to meditate, failure keeps happening. After an hour of trying, you will have gotten bad news, bad news, and more bad news.

But if you make one simple observation, your experience of meditation can improve fundamentally.

The observation is that any time you get bad news, you’re getting good news too.

If your mind wandered and you noticed it, that’s good news.

To see why this is good news, think: What would have happened if you hadn’t noticed? Then your mind would still be wandering. You’d still be lost in thought, still caught up in distraction.

The event of noticing your mind’s path – that was a lucky event. It gave you a chance to steer. It created an opportunity for you to leave the path of distraction and return to your chosen point of focus. It gave you a chance to continue your practice.

Meditation would be impossible if distractions were inescapable. But meditation is possible. It’s possible because distractions are only unavoidable, not inescapable. You can’t prevent your mind from wandering, but when it does wander, you can “escape” the wandering when you notice that it happened. Every time you notice, you’re receiving another escape opportunity.

Instead of thinking, “It’s bad news that I got distracted,” you can think, “It’s good news that I noticed I got distracted. I’m lucky that I got a chance to recover.”

Now when you meditate, instead of experiencing a stream of bad news, you’re experiencing a stream of good news.

By the end of your session, you might be amazed at how much good news there was — how many times your mind seemed to be going off on its own but you got a chance to bring it back. How many times your concentration was broken but you noticed what happened and you were able to recover.

The key to this approach is that you have to accept good news as such. Any time you get good news, you have to let it be good. Don’t come up with reasons why it’s not good. If you can accept good news as such, then you’re going to be getting a lot of it.

Was your mind wandering for a few seconds or for a whole hour? Whenever you notice what happened, it’s good news that you noticed. No matter how long the good news took to arrive, the news is still good.

Did your mind wander once or hundreds of times? Any time you notice what occurred, it’s good news that you noticed. The goodness of this news doesn’t expire or wear out, even if you’ve received the same news many times before.

Maybe you noticed your mind wandering and you recovered, but the recovery only lasted a moment and you quickly got distracted again. Was there any value in noticing the wandering, if you were only going to get lost in it again? That question won’t help you — it’s a distraction! That history doesn’t matter — it’s a distraction! The next time you notice that you got distracted, it’s still going to be good news, it’s still going to be a fresh opportunity to recover.

Traditional approaches to meditation often recommend an attitude of non-judgement or impartiality. When the mind wanders, you are not supposed to see this as good or bad, it’s just something that happened. You should observe the thought with detachment, and then let it go.

But oftentimes, when we try to be impartial, we’re only concealing a judgment that we’ve already made. Our mind wanders, then we notice it and regret it, and then we remind ourselves we’re not “supposed” to judge what happened. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, wouldn’t we rather that our mind had not wandered in the first place? If the answer is yes, then we’re not really impartial, we’re just downplaying our preference. We’re still slightly frustrated that we got distracted and we’re trying our best to suppress that frustration.

The alternate approach offered here is to displace the frustration with appreciation. When your mind wanders, there’s bad news and good news. Be partial to the good news. Celebrate the good news. Concentrate on the good news as a way of crowding out the bad news.

This secret of meditation is a secret of life too.

That’s because whenever anything happens to us in life, we can always find two things inside it: good news and bad news. Every occurrence contains those two things – in different proportions, but always both present.

Sometimes it seems there’s only bad news: it rained on our wedding day. What’s the good news in that?

The good news is it didn’t pour. It wasn’t too cold. And we got married.

There are three things we can never practice enough:

  1. Being able to identify the good news in any situation, especially when it’s hidden by bad news
  2. Being able to accept the good news as such, without searching for reasons to discount it or second-guess it
  3. Being ready to focus on the good news and to give it more time and attention than we’re giving to the bad news

It’s hard to do these things in life. But guess what? There’s a great way to practice. It’s called meditation. ■

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