Most people expect that when they engage in a regular contemplative practice that they will make consistent progress over time, that their practice will get better and better day-by-day, maybe slowly, but consistent gains will be apparent. Unfortunately, it rarely happens that way. Rather than slow and steady progress the individual is confronted with a roller coaster ride.
One day practice is deep and satisfying, the next it is tortuous, and the next the mind is overwhelmingly busy. This can be very discouraging, as practice doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere. At this point many people give up and stop practicing or become sporadic in their practice. But, this is a mistake.
This is a classic example from signal detection theory. The signal, progress, cannot be detected because its magnitude is small relative to the noise of the day-to-day variations in practice. It is thus difficult to detect the real progress that is being made.
Only over long periods of time does it begin to dawn on us that we’re actually progressing. It’s just hard to tell amid the wild fluctuations. But we begin to recognize that we’re on average, deeper, calmer, and more on task than we used to be. The wild ride continues but now it is recognized that it is going on at a higher level than before.
So, stick with it. Really, you’re making progress! It’s just hard to detect. But, if you do persevere, you will get to a deeper, calmer, more blissful practice. It just take patience.