Do you need to put a lot of effort into your meditation practice?

Or is it counterproductive in a practice that is really about letting go?

It’s a great question.

And the answer is not so clear. But if you’re serious about making progress on your meditation path, it’s a question you can’t ignore.


Because you need both. Sometimes we have to put in a lot of effort. Other times, we need to relax backwards.

So how do you know when to push or relax? And what effort are we talking about anyway?

Let me begin by telling you a story based on the experience of a seeker I once knew.

The Seeker’s Story

Once there was a young man. He did tons of meditation exercises. He studied with many teachers. He was on a one-way mission for enlightenment.

He practiced for hours in 10-day silent retreat after 10-day silent retreat, practicing in the hallowed halls of Vipassana centers. He met many so-called enlightened masters.

After several years of being dedicated to one point, he was feeling a little tired. All the energy and effort he was putting in didn’t seem to be getting him any closer to his goal.

Then one day an old friend called him and said, “Hey, come meet me in this place in India, there’s a really amazing teacher. I think he is the real thing.”

So the young man met his friend and soon fell at the teacher’s feet. And he asked the venerable Mada, “What kind of effort should I make to be free?”

“You don’t need to make any effort to be free,” said the wise woman quietly.

At that time, something gave way and the young man found what he was looking for.

In fact, all his searches and efforts had become obstacles to self-realization.

Yes, he brought it to the teacher’s feet. Yes, all that hard work has certainly accumulated and matured.

But it was clear that trying harder wasn’t the answer.

Gross Mind and Subtle Mind

Now, I’m not saying that you and I don’t need to make an effort to follow our meditation guidelines. But I say it’s all about how you frame those guidelines and how you hold them in your body and mind.

I once studied Tibetan Buddhism and Mahamudra with a teacher. During the first steps in meditation practice, we had to put in a lot of effort.

“Increase the intensity,” he would say, focusing on our object of meditation, our breath. “Keep trying until you can hold your breath without distraction.”

It was called Close Staying.

The goal was to use the increased intensity to focus on the breath without losing concentration.

But then, at a certain point, when your focus is reliably close to the breath and stays 80-100% of the time, “Calm down!”

That’s right.

Instructions such as going through the glasses were turned 180 degrees and he gave the opposite instruction.

At this point, forward progress was made with less effort in the experiment.

Our teacher described it like this. In the beginning, our focus is coarse or gross. Therefore, we should make more efforts.

But then our attention becomes very subtle by paying careful and continuous attention to our object of meditation. And when that happens, more effort backfires.

In fact, in practice, more effort at this stage is harmful. Less effort, feather light touch, relaxation and relaxation. This is what drives you forward.


It’s not something you can meditate on

I love this quote from another Tibetan Buddhist teacher. I think it speaks to this line that we explore between effort and effort. He says:

There is an obvious Tibetan saying: “Gompa ma yin, kompa yin”, which literally means: “Not meditation; to get used to it”.

This means that meditation is nothing more than getting used to the practice of meditation. As they say: “Meditation is not to make an effort, but to be naturally assimilated into it.” As you continue to practice the method, meditation gradually emerges. Meditation is not something you “can do”; it’s something that should happen spontaneously, only after you’ve perfected the experience.”

There is a point in meditation, and you may know this from your own experience, when meditation begins to happen by itself.

At that time, it arises automatically and by itself.

In fact, no effort is required. In these moments, our job is simply to rest in that perfect middle ground. Not too tight, not too loose. We just have to step back and let it flow.

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