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It’s Not About Enlightenment, It’s About Transformation

I have a confession. For years, I, and almost every other meditation teacher for that matter, have been touting the benefits of meditation–happiness, a sense of calm even in difficult situations, inner peace. It is true, meditation will give you all these things, but it’s not the whole picture. Meditation is not about the goal of attaining some idealized version of you where you never snap at your kids and your jeans always fit, it’s about the very raw, dynamic, at times ugly-crying, not-always-pretty process of transformation.

It’s the process, not the goal

When we as meditation teachers emphasize the results of a consistent meditation practice, it sounds wonderful–you’ll sleep better, look younger, feel bliss seeping through every experience. While this is not wrong, it can give students a very goal-oriented approach to their meditation. When this happens, there is confusion and frustration when a student finds themselves barking orders at their partner, or breaking down in tears at the state of the world. They wonder, “Why am I spending all this time meditating if I’m still feeling and acting this way? Where’s the bliss? Why am I not just happy all the time? It’s not working, I must be doing this wrong.” It is not only perfectly normal to have these kinds of feelings as a meditator, it’s often part of the process. Rather than thinking of meditation as this magic wand to make you the person you want to be, think of your meditation as a tool to facilitate your transformation instead. As we all know, any kind of transformation, evolution or growth is a messy business. It involves stretching yourself in ways you haven’t before, shedding aspects of yourself that sometimes won’t leave without a fight, taking two steps back before taking ten forward. Growing pains essentially.

The ugly part is how it works

We’ve all had those amazingly blissful meditations. The super cozy ones where it’s like being barely awake in a warm bed on a cool morning. And we’ve all had the other kind, too. The kind where it feels like it must have been an hour after five minutes and your to-do list is competing with the pretend argument you’re having with the Starbucks cashier who put soy milk instead of almond milk in your latte. These are the unstressing ones. The ones where we are releasing all that stored awfulness and we’re getting a flavor of it on the way out. Meditation is about alternating between the experiences of depth and detoxification of stress.

Enlightenment is a purification process

Enlightenment is not out there in the Himalayas, it’s in us. To get to it is a purification process. The stress in our gross and subtle bodies is the muck on the windows to our soul. Unstressing in meditation is how that muck is released. Unstressing also happens outside of meditation. When you’ve had a big shift in consciousness, sometimes it can feel like you’ve immediately been sucked back to pre-meditation times. Picture the ocean, how with each wave forward, the wave gets sucked backwards, though overall the tide is still moving the whole thing forwards. This phenomenon of unstressing is due the new state of consciousness shedding more light on unsustainable behaviors and they come to the surface on their way out. The faster you’re evolving the greater the intensity of the unstressing. Nothing sticks to a fast moving car, it falls away quickly though sometimes knocks about on its way out. You should have seen us all during my meditation training. You’d think three months of non-stop meditating would have us blissed out the whole course. It felt more like a group exorcism at times. 

Setting realistic expectations

If you know that having these messy experiences is not only okay but to be expected, you can avoid the whole cycle of questioning and potentially falling off your practice every time you hit a rough patch. We’re almost all ugly caterpillars twisting our way to become butterflies. And just because you’ve come so far since you’ve started meditating (and you have, believe me, just ask your family), it doesn’t mean there won’t be times when you’re engaging in old behaviors. I got some perspective on this when a very advanced student of mine who still struggles with episodes of anger described to me a vision he had in meditation of his past lives. He got a glimpse of scenes of his past selves in confrontations, and he realized his anger has been following him for much longer than he ever imagined. Whether or not you believe in this kind of thing, it gives you some sense of just how deeply ingrained some of the behaviors really are, and how maybe it could take more than a year of meditation to flush them all out. Even in just one lifetime, our patterns have been reinforced over and over again often since childhood. If you find yourself in one of these situations where you’re feeling a lack of bliss or acting in a way of which you’re not proud, settle your attention to that unbounded place within and simply witness it without judgement. Be patient and kind to yourself as you transform into the you you always were.  


My little butterfly and her butterfly


Kristen Vandivier is an instructor of Vedic Meditation and the founder of The Vedic Method and Meditation Without Borders. She is regarded for her ability to make profound teachings relevant to everyday life and her mission of promoting meditation for social change. After completing an intensive curriculum of training under renowned Master Maharishi Vyasananda Thom Knoles, including a three-month immersion program in the Himalayas, Kristen returned to found her practice. She lives in Mill Valley with her husband and three small children.

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Jack Landgrebe
Jack Landgrebe
May 21, 2020

Kristy, You have written many very useful commendable articles and posted them in your "" website. Your latest -- It’s Not About Enlightenment, It’s About Transformation -- is a superb continuation. As I read it, I thought of many descriptors of your writing. Here are just a few: ethereal, impressive, excellent choice of vocabulary and analogies, expressive, original, deeply thoughtful, applicable, caring, and a significant and much appreciated contribution to society. Dad

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