Forgive yourself and try again

I notice that when I meditate, each time my mind wanders, I feel a very subtle ripple of guilt, so subtle that I have never noticed it before. But it’s definitely there. In that moment I feel disappointed with myself. I feel like I’m failing at meditation. I feel ever so slightly guilty.

So I have been bringing consciously to mind a great bit of advice from the Workbook of the Course. Since the Workbook asks us to do an enormous amount of practice, it also gives several doses of advice on how to deal with the inevitable lapses in our practice. That advice amounts to a simple dictum: “Forgive yourself and try again.”

It only says forgive yourself once (W-95.8:3), but the sentiment is there when the Course tells you “Do not be distressed if you forget” (W-20.5:2) or “Do not be disturbed by” your lapses (W-27.4:5).

As for “try again,” guess how often that phrase occurs in the Course. The answer is 12 times, 9 of those specifically in relation to Workbook practice. The very notion of trying again—repeated effort—may seem to cut against the grain of against our spiritual sensibilities, but there is no question that it is a key value in the Course.

I find the combination of “forgive yourself” and “try again” particularly effective. If you try again without forgiving yourself, then your efforts are burdened with mounting guilt. But if you forgive yourself without trying again, then in the name of being spiritual you have basically just given up. Of course, the worst thing of all is to not forgive yourself and then feel so guilty that you can’t face trying again.

It’s the combination of the two that works so well. Forgiving yourself first allows you to try again unburdened by guilt. Without that rock of guilt tied to your foot, you can try again with greater strength at your disposal. You can thrust all of your energy into the new attempt, instead of storing half of it in the vault of self-recrimination.

I encourage you to try this with your meditation, your Workbook practice, with anything you are trying to do and doing imperfectly. When you lapse, don’t get bothered about it and don’t avoid getting back on track. Just forgive yourself and try again.