Dennis Hunter publishes a popular website on Buddhism and spirituality, One Human Journey, and writes the weekly feature "21st-Century Buddhism" on the Interdependence Project blog. A long-time resident of New York City, he is currently living as a temporary monk at a Buddhist monastery in Canada.

Often when I meditate I’m involved in some kind of subtle (or really obvious) form of manipulation. I want to be more settled, more focused on the object of meditation — less distracted and discursive. I want to be more contented and peaceful, more compassionate, more blissful. I want to have more profound insights into emptiness, a deeper experience of the nature of mind.

Those are all nice things to aspire to, and most of us on the spiritual path (at least the Buddhist one) share those goals. The only problem is that when you’re sitting there wishing you were experiencing something other than you are right now, you’re not really meditating.

Some Buddhist teacher or other once said that “Hope is poison.” By definition, hope involves projecting into the future, wishing for something to be different. When we bring hope into our meditation practice, it can turn meditation into a self-defeating cycle. We sit down with the intention to remain anchored in the present moment, but we end up spending a lot of our time subtly thinking about what we hope to become in the future.

A famous Tibetan Buddhist proverb says: “Abandon all hope of fruition.” That might sound like bleak advice, but it’s actually very practical. Abandon your hope of becoming something better than you are right now (and your fear of becoming something worse), because that hope (and that fear) keeps you trapped in fantasies about the future.

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, who is quite the Twitter aficionado, recently tweeted: “Don’t think about NEXT, think about NOW!”

That is a profound meditation instruction, and proof that Twitter isn’t all bad. How often, when we meditate, are we thinking about NEXT — whether it’s the next breath, the next hour, the next few years, the next stage on our path, the next item on our spiritual agenda? How often are we really staying with NOW? What makes us think we’re going to find enlightenment up ahead somewhere, always lurking in the NEXT moment, the NEXT one, the NEXT one? Isn’t it always right here, right now?

“This moment is the perfect teacher,” said Pema Chodron. Surprisingly, though, its perfection has nothing to do with whether we like it or not, whether it’s pleasant or not, whether we’re happy or not, whether we’ve accomplished the things we think we need to accomplish or become what we think we need to become. Whatever is happening now, in this very moment, is just what it is. When we can open to that and stay present with it, without glomming onto it or trying to manipulate it to become something else, we are seeing its perfection. Whatever arises in this moment is fresh, the essence of realization.

One way of getting into this space, and one of my favorite meditation instructions of all time, is this: Don’t meditate.

Seriously, try it. Sit down on your cushion or your chair and take your meditation posture. Give it your best shot. Do a few minutes of meditating on the breath if it makes you feel better. And then just drop it. Break the cycle. Don’t meditate. Don’t do anything that looks or feels like meditation. Don’t try to hold your mind to an object, don’t try to shew away thoughts if they come. Just look at whatever you’re experiencing in this moment, with no agenda and no attachment or aversion. Don’t think about NEXT. Think about NOW. And don’t meditate.

Where else are you hoping to find enlightenment, if not right here, right now? And how much of your so-called meditation practice is actually keeping you from being here now?

In the Mahamudra tradition they say that the highest form of meditation is non-meditation: when you’ve completely gone beyond the idea that there’s a difference between meditating and not meditating. In the state of non-meditation, you’re just completely here, completely now. It requires no particular effort, and there’s no longer any need to crank it up through some contrived idea of “meditation.” At that point, there is something artificial about the whole notion of meditating, because it’s a subtle way of trying to manipulate the present moment.

The supreme state of non-meditation. Sounds like something to aspire to. Oh, wait — there I go again! Drop it. Abandon all hope of fruition. Don’t think about NEXT, think about NOW.


  1. avatar Tyler Dewar says:

    Good one, Dennis! Another of Ponlop Rinpoche’s instructions that I have found helpful was one that he gave in response to a person’s question about aspiring for deeper experiences of meditation. He said that, in general, if you have some interest, or even a longing, to experience “samadhi” (poignant experiences quiescence and alertness), that is actually an excellent state of mind, WHEN you aren’t doing formal meditation practice (and of course as long as it doesn’t take on a level of obsessiveness). He said you should definitely “keep” that kind of interest or desire if you have it. BUT, he continued, you should use that desire to lead your butt (my paraphrase) to the actual practice of meditation. Then, when you are sitting and endeavoring to just be present and relaxed in a simple way, then you don’t need the previous desire anymore, and that’s the thoughts of that desire can become an obstacle, in exactly the way the you nicely describe here.

    • Rodger that; Right on; that’s the way to do it.

      We are all in the same boat on the river of Samsara, isolated in dualistic delusion and concepts. Using concepts to be free of concepts is the only choice we have in the dualistic conceptual river of awareness that we swim, float, struggle or sink. listen, think and then relax. let go and go, go, go further, go beyond, so ha

  2. avatar Robert J. Bullock says:

    I love the post, Dennis. I think Rinpoche’s tweet, “Don’t think about NEXT, think about NOW!”, was in response to a question I tweeted at him, “What’s next?”. So that’s kind of funny to me. 😉

    I’m so happy to see you blogging here on Rebel Buddha and look forward to future posts!

  3. avatar Susan Busby says:

    I would go a step further and say don’t try, don’t sit down on your meditation cushion or chair and don’t take you meditation posture. Just do it right now. Look at your present experience.

    Without the need to prepare, you can do this anywhere, anytime.

  4. avatar fitri says:

    To cut the long story short, it’s just like going to the toilet. We know why we wanna go to the toilet. Once we’re in it, we don’t think about it anymore…we just do it.. let go..then..relieved and liberated. 🙂

  5. avatar JustBob says:

    Brilliant! Something Krishnamurti said that has always stuck with me is (as I remember it) “Meditation is not a practice. It is a way of life!”.
    There was recently a wonderful session at The Interdependence Project led by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche – wonderful in part because you could NOT resist laughing along with his very wise observations. He did a little experiment in which he offered the class two styles of meditation to see which they preferred. They seemed to prefer the one which he later identified as “not meditating” to the one that seemed more like “meditation”. He then spoke of getting lost in discursive thoughts. His conclusion? “Don’t meditate – don’t get lost”. I can’t think of anything that better gets straight to the core of our practice.

  6. You made some excellent points there. I did a search on the topic and hardly got any specific details on other sites, but then happy to be here, really, thanks.

    – Lucas

  7. avatar baba jibaba says:

    Don’t Meditate , BE.

    Don’t think that you are, BE.

    Don’t think about BEing, you ARE!!