Hermann Hesse on the Value of Patience in Our Meditation Practice

Do you feel impatient when meditating?

For most of us, sitting alone with our thoughts can be a chore, one that we want to finish as soon as possible.

At the core of this tendency lies our inability to be fully present, to step out of “psychological time” and feel satisfied with what we achieved.

If not addressed, it may lead to doubt about our progress on the path to inner calm. This obstacle that every spiritual seeker faces in their meditation practice is what Nobel-Prize-winning writer Herman Hesse (1877-1962) takes up in a passage from Siddhartha, his 1922 classic novel about a young man’s quest for enlightenment.

Hermann Hesse by Ernst Würtenberger.

In the chapter titled “With the Samanas,” following Siddhartha’s departure from home to join the wandering ascetics leading a life of complete renunciation and extreme austerities, after “he traveled the way of self-denial through meditation, through the emptying of the mind of all images,” but finding, again and again, the “return” was inevitable and feeling “the torment of onerous life cycle,” Hermann Hesse writes:

What is meditation? What is abandonment of the body? What is fasting? What is the holding of breath? It is a flight from the Self, it is a temporary escape from the torment of Self. It is a temporary palliative against the pain and folly of life. The driver of oxen makes this flight, takes this temporary drug when he drinks a few bowls of rice wine or cocoanut milk in the inn. He then no longer feels his Self, no longer feels the pain of life; he then experiences temporary escape.

Buddha in His Youth by Odilon Redon.

But then, as if seeing through this doubt, impatience, and discontent, Hesse reassures his protagonist through the lips of Govinda, Siddhartha’s childhood friend and loyal companion:

You speak thus, my friend, and yet you know that Siddhartha is no driver of oxen and a Samana is no drunkard. The drinker does indeed find escape, he does indeed find a short respite and rest, but he returns from the illusion and finds everything as it was before. He has not grown wiser, he has not gained knowledge, he has not climbed any higher. … We have learned much, Siddhartha. There still remains much to learn. We are not going in circles, we are going upwards. The path is a spiral; we have already climbed many steps.

Siddhartha, in a wonderful translation by Hilda Rosner, remains a kind of book that reveals its wisdom with each subsequent reread, along with your own progress on a spiritual path. Complement with Jon Kabat-Zinn on seven essential meditation tips we need to know.

Buddhist monk meditating with text overlay: Hermann Hesse on the value of patience in meditation.

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