They say “practice makes perfect.” When it comes to meditation however, the rule doesn’t seem to apply. “After twenty years,” warned a Zen master, “you can finally say you’ve begun to learn how to sit.” Practice skill in meditation (and associated benefit) is slow to develop. Indeed, you can get even less effective with practice!

How is this possible? As a research psychologist interested in skill learning, the paradox drew me. I gave meditation a critical look and discovered the root of the problem. From this followed a solution so simple you’ll be amazed that it hasn’t been seen before. Let me show you how feedback, added to meditation, accelerates progress and assures success.

What Is Feedback and Why Does Meditation Need It?

Meditation takes many forms. Some methods sit, some move, some are vocal, some silent. All methods however have one thing in common. All have the same “active ingredient.” It is attention. Attention (focused on a mantra, a candle flame or the breath for instance), makes meditation work. With sustained attention, practice skill grows and meditation moves mountains. Without attention you wander and while away time.

Attention is a learned skill, and skill learning requires what psychologists call “feedback.” Feedback is the knowledge of results necessary for learning. To see why feedback is necessary, imagine practicing darts while wearing a blindfold. To develop skill at darts you need to see what you are doing -- you need feedback to correct your aim. Meditation without feedback is like shooting darts blindfolded. Your target is attention, but you can’t see your target. You may set out with the best intentions but attention slips away unseen. You lose it without even knowing you are losing it (finding out later when you wake from a daydream). To build skill at attending you need to see what you are doing. You need a way to monitor attention. You need feedback.

How Can You Add Feedback to Meditation?

Adding feedback to meditation is surprisingly easy. Indeed, visual feedback has been right before the eyes of meditators all along and unrecognized. You’ve heard of the light of enlightenment. If you’ve meditated with open eyes you may have seen it -- visual distortion in the form of light. This light is caused by attention itself. When attention holds the eyes still, a stabilized retinal image is created. Photo pigment on the retina is used up, causing visual distortion. Zero in and focus on the light and you literally attend to your attention. Halos of light (or other distortions) are feedback signals confirming attention.

Focusing discs have been specially designed to facilitate feedback. These are freely available at Focus on the screen or print one out, or make a disc at home if you like. Draw a two inch circle on a sheet of paper. Add a pea sized bull’s eye and you have a basic focusing disc. Now simply focus with a gentle gaze on the bull’s eye. Soon you’ll see distortion (usually light.) This is feedback signaling attention. Shift your attention to the light and you can pay attention to attention. As soon as your mind wanders, however, your eyes too will wander. Visual distortion then vanishes, signaling you to re-focus on the bull’s eye. Thus feedback allows continuous self-monitoring. It lets you take charge. It lets you ‘mind your mind.’ The advantages are many.

What are the Advantages of Feedback?

Now that you’ve seen how feedback works, consider its advantages. First and foremost comes rapid, sure-footed practice skill development.

Fast Practice Skill Development
As in shooting darts blindfolded, in traditional meditation your target is attention but you can’t correct your aim. Practice skill improves slowly if at all. Feedback changes this. Seeing what you are doing skill improves automatically, and great gains come from doing this better, not necessarily longer.

Accelerated Progress
Buddhist tradition says: “Just sit… and eventually, maybe after many lifetimes, you will come upon the truth.” This assumes many lifetimes of drifting and dreaming. With feedback to harness attention, however, a butterfly mind takes a bee-line. Quality, not quantity of practice counts most here, not hours spent meditating, but minutes on target. Beginners have instant success. Advanced practitioners have breakthrough intensity. Feedback prevents wandering, and when you don’t wander you cover ground fast. This straight-line meditation is the shortest distance between you and your goal.

Complete Self-guidance
Meditation students are often taught there is no right or wrong way to do it. They sit passively, hoping for luck. Why is meditation so passive? Because it has to be. Being aggressive would be like running full speed when you are not sure where you are going. Feedback lets you see where you are going. It lets you correct your course. With guidance from feedback you can run full speed to your goal.

Attainable Goals
You can tell if someone is driving blind. He is all over the road. Inconsistent results of meditation show the same directional instability. It is all too easy to meditate in circles. Some meditation teachers encourage students by saying there is no goal. Some even say there is nothing to be gained, but this puts a damper on motivation to practice. Who wants to work toward no goal? Feedback takes care of this too. You can set goals, you can move directly toward them, and you can aim high.

You Can Aim High
Many meditate for relaxation, not knowing that they are attending a banquet and eating crumbs off the floor. With feedback you feast at the banquet. Traditional meditation gets you into the banquet hall, but feedback sits you down at the table to feast. You can aim high, and most important of all, you can count on success.

Success Is Guaranteed
Meditation is a trial and error process but with traditional methods, most error goes undetected. Without confirmed attention there’s no guarantee of success. With feedback to confirm attention, success is assured.

Today the feedback meditation method is fully developed, researched and presented in Straight Line Meditation: How to Restore Awareness and Why You Need to by Carol E. McMahon, Ph.D. with Master Deac Cataldo. Sample the Focusing Discs at Experience feedback and you’ll “see the light” in more ways than one.

Author's Bio: 

As a National Science Foundation Trainee, Carol earned a Doctorate in psychology from Penn State University. Her book WHERE MEDICINE FAILS (paperback 2009), was a driving force in the holistic health movement. Carol is the author of STRAIGHT LINE MEDITATION: HOW TO RESTORE AWARENESS AND WHY YOU NEED TO with martial arts Master Deac Cataldo. She makes her book available free of charge to retreat center and prison libraries. More at: and