It's not instrumental
Something that took me a long time to understand about meditation is that it's not instrumental.
What I mean by this is that if I decide to spend time meditating because I want to untie a particular mental knot, then this only ends up being a pretty uncomfortable arrangement.
I now realize that it's not a tool to further my current goals. It's not something to be done because it has "benefits", e.g. that one can meditate to "feel calmer", to "be happier", or to "get out of a funk". At least not in the way that I had thought beforehand. Maybe these benefits do occur— but it dwelling on that feels like missing the point. Better to leave the extrinsic motivations obscure instead.
To be clear: I'm also not saying that meditation hasn't benefited me; it has. But the times that I have tried to ‘use’ meditation, I’ve only succeeded in bashing my mind.
I don't think meditation is a tool that I can use— because we only 'use' tools with respect to a goal, and a fixed goal at that. But my experience of meditation seems better described as a transformation of my goals. If instead I had tried to use it to advance my current goals, it wouldn't work; I needed to be open to the possibility that my goals might change, and that I might be paying attention to the wrong things. And while I have (so far, at least) retrospectively endorsed such changes to my goals, this has been unsettling as I don't know what those changes will be.
In which case, why would anyone meditate?
A few months ago it was very peculiar to me that someone would ever do this thing that is meditation. I could see why, for example, one person might mimic someone else who had done a lot of meditation and had claimed that it was helpful. But I didn't see how in the first place anyone would sit down and decide, for example, "I'm going to pay attention to (X : very specific phenomena) for multiple hours/days/longer". Moreover, it seemed like many people have discovered this independently— how?
I asked an experienced friend why anyone would come to this naturally. Their answer was, "boredom or depression".
In retrospect, this seems to describe my experience too— at some point I got tired of my thoughts, or my experience, or whatever, and meditation was all that was left (although I was also nudged in this direction by my friends). This is also how I'm okay with knowing that meditation might change my goals in ways that I cannot consciously 'guiderail' in advance: I had particular goals that I was trying to carry out in the world, but I had already been trying hard for a long time without success, and I knew that I was only bashing my head. So, maybe something was up with my goals. But I had already tried everything I could think of. So there was nothing else for me to do except to stop and pay attention.
I asked that friend of mine to read this essay and they said that this point shouldn't be a surprise when meditation is taken as "just noticing". (After all, meditation is just another mode of cognition and we don’t, for example, squabble over when to and when not to think.)