In Early December, right before I headed off for a one-week silent meditation retreat, I encouraged readers to leave comments or questions about meditation that I could respond to upon returning. A commenter named Jon Johanning obliged: "If you're talking about Buddhist meditation, I'm sorry to say that you're missing the whole point," he wrote. He was referring to my having noted that on a previous meditation retreat I felt lousy after the first few days but great later on. He continued, "Whether you feel 'good' or 'bad' or 'bored' or 'fuzzy' or 'ecstatic' or anything else in particular has nothing to do with the whole point of the thing."
Well, I wouldn't say that how you feel has nothing to do with "the whole point of the thing." According to the Buddha himself, the whole point of the thing is to find the causes of human suffering and eliminate them--and, though I have no first-hand experience with the complete elimination of suffering, I'm guessing it would feel pretty good. What's more, these Buddhist meditation retreats typically do make you feel good, which is a big reason that people keep coming back.
Still, Johanning is in a sense right. During the meditation retreats I've been on--four of them over the past 10 years--the teachers typically say you shouldn't be "seeking" a pleasurable state, or anything else. Rather, you should just observe things. Observe your breath, your sensations, your emotions, sounds, whatever. And, as you observe these things, you're not supposed to make value judgments. So, for example, though anxiety normally feels bad, if you encounter a wave of it while meditating, you're supposed to examine it with as much detachment as possible, doing your best to see it as neither good nor bad but just as a fact.