You bring up some great points about practice. The twists and turns of learning to play a musical instrument or climb a mountain have times filled with clear signs of progress and times that feel like we are treading water without making progress. The more time I spend with practice I sometimes feel like I am sliding back down to kindergarten and then to pre-K and below! But I am slowly taking this feeling to be a good thing for me!
There are two bits of advice that help me to cope with feelings of lack of progress during study, practice or meditation.
The first is to be steady even if only in small amounts. Even if I have little time for practice my own teachers have emphasized that being steady is very important. The steadiness allows the chance to bond with the practice again and again. Focusing on being steady, even if we can only afford five minutes on some days, is helpful as it gives us the confidence (and hopefully joy) of sticking with it. It also reminds us to not be so focused on achieving a feeling or experience through practice.
The second thing that helps me is to simply be with the feeling of “not meditating well.” Like thoughts and other emotions, that feeling can be a focus of practice and practicing being with the feeling allows me the space to reorient my view in relation to that feeling. That gives me some confidence to re-engage with it in an open way and bring it on the path.
On the traditional side, there is a quote from a Kadampa geshe, Geshe Dolpa:
“Steps of the path, steps of the path!
They all come down to three short words:
look far ahead,
think very big,
keep a pace.”
Love connecting and sharing about these journeys we are all on. That is a huge support too!