My initial approach to meditation was very misguided-I believed it was going to do all kinds of things for me and make my life easier. I thought I'd morph into this robo version of myself, replete with a soft voice and permanently pasted on smile, never getting angry or upset or bothered by anyone. I'd be impervious to anything negative and pearls of zen wisdom would spontaneously pour from my lips as needed.
It took me a while to realize that the changes that come with practice, if there are any changes at all, are more subtle than that. And if they do happen, they aren't all that noticeable right away, or at least they weren't for me.
Most religions or philosophies offer the promise of a grand prize if you play the game of life just right. The motivation for being a "good person", whatever the hell that is, is that you'll go to heaven or have a better next life or get the bicycle of your dreams if you can just visualize it strongly enough (remember The Secret?)
The way I see it, Zen offers no guarantee of a better afterlife or even a better next week. What it does offer, if we practice, is a better experience of life overall. In this moment. Right here and now. There are no fairytales or promises or magical cures, just an emphasis on a regular sitting practice so that we can better know ourselves and our minds so that eventually we are longer be so beholden to our thoughts.
That's something I can work with and believe in.
It's very tempting to view practice as a means of escaping rather than a tool for embracing our lives as they are. This was certainly how I saw it in the beginning.
The real payoff comes when we learn to stop running away from this moment in search of something better because true joy is right under our noses right now but we're too blind to see it most of the time.