"Even though you try very hard, the progress you make is always little by little. It is not like going out in a shower in which you know when you get wet. In a fog, you do not know you are getting wet, but as you keep walking you get wet little by little. If your mind has ideas of progress, you may say, "Oh, this pace is terrible!" But actually it is not. When you get wet in a fog it is very difficult to dry yourself. So there is no need to worry about progress."
- Shunryu Suzuki Rōshi, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Everybody struggles with mindfulness practice at some time or another. You try your best, but don’t seem to be making any progress. You try to practice compassion, but end up criticising yourself for not doing it right. You meditate for a long time, but end up more restless and distracted than when you started. Sometimes the distance between our actual experience and the mindfulness that we had hoped to embody can seem like a measuring stick for something wrong with us.

But what do you really mean when you say that you’re finding practice difficult? There is a misapprehension underlying this sense of difficulty that the real practice, of either meditation or mindfulness in daily life, requires you to be experiencing more mindfulness than you currently are. “Difficulty”, in other words, is simply the felt sense of the difference between your current experience and your idea of how your practice “should” be going.

But the practice is very simply to understand and hold intentions in mind: in daily life, to come back to awareness of what’s happening now when you can, and in meditation to notice when your mind is wandering or about to wander, and come back to the breath. Some days you will be distracted and notice mind-wandering less frequently, but the practice remains the same, and the frustration is optional.

Imagine how unpleasant the practice of gardening would be if you thought that all of your plants should grow in a month, or a week. You could easily think that you must be doing something wrong and over-water your plants, or try to make them grow by pulling them. But nature moves in its own time, and a skilled gardener is not somebody who can force plants to grow faster, but somebody who knows how to tend to them correctly, and who can enjoy that process. Mindfulness practice is just like this.

Intentions need only be very light. Trying to force the development of mindfulness and kindness in meditation through willpower and sheer force of effort will inevitably be ineffective, and lead to more tension and discouragement. The trick is not to practice ‘hard’, but with commitment and consistency. A meditation teacher I know says that exercising these intentions is like brushing a snowflake with the tip of a feather. Like gathering moisture walking through a fog, like the seed which grows into an oak, like the trickle which carves a raging river, these intentions, if practiced consistently, will gradually change our minds completely.  But the change is directed by the way that you practice - if your practice is to wish that you were more mindful than you are, then you will simply get better at wishing.

Ollie Bray