“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment,
our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be
filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.”
― Thich Nhat Hạnh
The inability to maintain a daily practice is, I think, quite widespread. It's fun to see a newcomer to the Circle mention, often somewhat sheepishly, that they couldn't establish and sustain a daily practice, only to discover when I ask for a show of hands, that everyone there has had -- or continues to have -- a similar experience.
It only stands to reason.
The entire thrust of our conditioning today operates against sitting still in silence. Creatures of habit, we are individually and collectively awash in habitual patterns of noise, stimulation, and activity, often feeling quite stressed and fatigued. Sometimes aware of a subtle, or not so subtle, discontent with ourselves and our lives, we race on yearning for it to be different.
The Good News is that it can.
More than anything, the establishment of a regular daily meditation practice may be the key to making the difference. At this stage of the journey, I've learned that there are three things that seem to have helped me and others to bring this about. Perhaps, they can help you as well.
1. Setting Your Intention
Rather than approaching a commitment to daily practice as another "should", take the time to get in touch with your deeper motivations, the reasons you wish to make the commitment.
Even if we are simply choosing to meditate to be free of stress and suffering, that impetus is emerging from your Heart of Hearts, that space within and beyond you that is fundamentally benevolent. From that (I call it the One Love these days), emerges the deeply human aspiration to be peaceful, kind, compassionate and clear-minded.
However you choose to conceptualize that wish to be truly loving, bring that into your awareness each morning as you arise as a prayer, a stated intention, a vow. It is helpful to remind yourself of that commitment. Write it down. Post a version is some form so that you will see it "first thing", next to your clock radio, bathroom mirror, etc. As Practice develops the specific focus and wording may change as your perspective widens and shifts.
2. Setting Your Attitude
Whatever specific meditative technique you are working with at the moment, stay in touch with your capacity to be accepting and forgiving. There is no "right" experience in mediation, no "bad" session. It's simply a matter of time on task. Through Practice we are cultivating Unconditional Friendliness toward ourselves and others by being Present and Accepting.
In simply noticing, being aware of our experience without judging it, we are gently and diligently cultivating an Open Heart and Clear Mind. Even being open and accepting to how and when we are not open and accepting is the edge of Practice. We are aligning ourselves with the qualities of an Open Heart. This is how the real healing takes place.
3. Creating the Container in Time and Space
Bringing your intention into the material plane is extremely helpful. Create a special place in your home for mediation, preferably a space that is quiet and out the way. If at all possible leave your cushion or chair in position.
Many people find that creating an altar helps. Some folks choose specifically religious icons, photographs of their teachers, etc. The objects on my altar these days include a candle, incense container, and natural items that I've gathered.
Having been influenced by Soto Zen, for decades I sat with eyes open and downcast facing the wall with the altar to my side. Many folks meditate with eyes closed with the altar in front of them. Nowadays, I sit in front of a window. Sometimes, my eyes are downcast with my gaze focused on the wall, sometimes I gaze at the sky and songbirds in the tree out the window.
Meditating first thing in the morning is often recommended. I've found that meditating early, before you and others are swept up into the busyness of the day is quite helpful. Putting "first things first", melding intention and action at the beginning of the day can be especially powerful and help launch you into a day in the proper frame of mind.
Set a specific time for the duration of the session and use a timer if you have one. (Digital clocks, on-line timers, iPhone apps, etc., are widely available.) Tying your mind up in deciding when enough is enough or even watching the clock can be distracting. Although 20 minutes is a widely proclaimed minimum, in the beginning even allocating 5 or 10 minutes will be productive and establish a foundation to build on.
The Bottom Line
I feel blessed these days that as each morning begins, I find myself taking a few steps across my bedroom to my little corner of the world to Sit Still for an hour. It's become a habit. Each morning, aspiration, intention, attitude and activity merge into One on that zafu. It's made a tremendous difference in my life.
Establishing a regular daily meditation didn't happen overnight. I had to begin anew any number of times. Yet, at this stage stage of the Journey, I can say with confidence: At a certain point, it Happens!
It just takes Practice.
Originally Posted January 2015. Revised