You Can’t Meditate Wrong

Barry Magid says Buddhist practice is like looking in a mirror — there’s no wrong way to do it. The important thing is to be yourself.

By Barry Magid

Photo by Indian Yogi on Unsplash

Zen master Dogen said that zazen was not a meditation technique but was instead the dharma gate of enjoyment and ease. Yet how often we stray from that reminder, especially when we are sitting alone.

A technique is something we can do right or wrong, well or badly. True practice is about being grounded in a place free from these dichotomies. So we need to frame our practice in such a way that we do not get lost in dualisms of right or wrong, progress or the lack of it.

I have found that a good way of maintaining this perspective is to liken sitting to looking in a mirror. When you sit down on your cushion, the state of your mind and body automatically appears to you, the way your face instantly appears in a mirror. The mirror does all the work. You can’t do it right or wrong. Approach your sitting in the same way. You can’t do it wrong. It’s not a technique to master or something you can fail at. It’s just being yourself, being your experience of this moment, over and over. It’s simple but, if we’re honest, not always easy.

Why? Because we don’t always like what we see in the mirror. We are tempted to either turn away or try to touch up our image. We want our sitting to make us what we are not; we want to be calm, clear, or enlightened. We’d like to be able to call that rejection of our self just as we are “aspiration,” but all too often it’s just another word for self-hate. Sitting, first and foremost, is sitting with who we are–what we see in the mirror. Our practice is to sit and look and say to ourselves, over and over, “That’s me.”

Barry Magid

Barry Magid

Barry Magid, MD, is a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist. He is resident teacher at the Ordinary Mind Zendo in New York City and the author of Ordinary Mind: Exploring the Common Ground of Zen and Psychotherapy (Wisdom Publications).