If you have been practicing meditation for some time, you may feel you have reached a plateau. In the Theravada tradition, practice has a goal: cessation of suffering. More precisely, cessation of suffering is a result of cultivating the mind. We can move off a habitual plateau toward a more mature relationship with the mind.
Fist, a word about “meditation.” The term evokes images of sitting still and feeling attentive and possibly blissful. However, it is a poor translation. The ancient terms are more accurately rendered “cultivation” or even “work.” The terms come from agriculture and refer to the work involved in cultivating a field. What we refer to as meditation is not supposed to be a passive process. It means working the mind in a skillful way to allow certain crops to grow. Just as a farmer must both labor in the field and allow the crop to grow of its own accord, a meditator must both work the mind and allow the mind to unfold naturally.
We often begin by meditating on the breath. This object of meditation has the benefit of grounding us in the senses (mindfulness) as well as developing stability (concentration). As beneficial as this practice is, it is not the end, just as planting is not the end of cultivation. To move closer to harvesting a ripe, mature freedom from suffering, we need additional skills and tools, as well as the diligence to use them.
A major reason for our suffering is that we object to impermanence, yet impermanence is inherent in all conditions. What we think of as the self changes, and anything conditioned that we cling to will disappoint us. Jesus taught that a foolish person builds his house upon shifting sands, while a wise person builds upon rock. The shifting sands are conditioned, changeable phenomena. The rock is clarity plus love. Clarity about what? About nonself, impermanence, and inability of conditioned things to provide unconditional joy.
To meditate on impermanence, try examining everything that arises in the senses, including in the mind itself, to see whether it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Is this sound permanent? Is this scent permanent? Is this thought permanent? Look for impermanence in everything that happens. Does the bath water stay the same? Are we always pleased or displeased by the same circumstances? When we see impermanence, we see dhamma (dharma), truth of the way things are. We gain clarity. Change is less shocking, and we are less at war with reality. We are less likely to base our hope on things that cannot deliver.