“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
Comparing notes on Practice, most of those folks have expressed that there was an obvious improvement in the quality of their consciousness --and in their lives -- during the times that they practiced, but they had been unable to maintain a regular daily practice.
The inability to maintain a daily practice is quite widespread. It's fun to see a newcomer to the Circle mention, often somewhat sheepishly, that they hadn't been successful in establishing and sustaining a daily practice, only to discover when I ask for a show of hands, that everyone there has had -- or continues to have -- that same problem.
It only stands to reason.
In today's world we are individually and collectively awash in noise, stimulation, and activity. Creatures of habit, the entire thrust of our social conditioning operates against sitting still in silence. Often feeling stressed and fatigued, we scurry ahead, sometimes aware of a subtle (or not so subtle) discontent with ourselves and our lives. Taking the time to notice to stop, relax, and get in touch with what is actually going on inside of us isn't widely supported.
The Good News is that it can be.
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 some things that 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 simply as another "should," try to get in touch with your deeper motivations. Take the time to explore the reasons you wish to make the commitment. Sit with those for awhile. Writing about it may help.
Even if we are simply choosing to meditate to be free of stress and suffering, explore that more deeply. Why bother?
If you dig deep enough (and that might take some time) you may find that this impetus is emerging for a yearning to Connect to your Heart of Hearts, a space within and beyond you that is connected to an energy that is vast, mysterious, and fundamentally benevolent. In Zen, they refer to this as your True Nature.
From that (I call it the One Love these days), emerges the deep human aspiration to be peaceful, kind, compassionate and clear-minded. For many of us, this fundamental connection is our deepest yearning.
However you choose to conceptualize this search for Connection, bring your intention into your awareness each morning as you arise as a prayer, a stated intention, a vow. It is helpful to remind yourself. Write it down. Post a version in 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. Aligning ourselves with the qualities of an open heart, through Practice we are cultivating an unconditional friendliness toward ourselves and others by being present and accepting. Simply being aware of our experience without judging it, we are gently and diligently cultivating an open heart and clear mind.
Even becoming aware of how and when we are not open and accepting is important. It can be the leading edge of Practice. That is where the real healing takes place.
3. Creating the Container in Space and Time
Many people find that creating an altar helps. Having been influenced by Soto Zen, for decades I sat with eyes open and downcast, facing a wall with the altar to my side. Now, I sit facing an altar. (Admittedly I also "cheat" sometimes and raise my eyes as songbirds alight in the tree outside the window. LOL.) The objects on my altar are natural items I've gathered in walks, or more specifically "religious" icons that I've been given or found. They each resonate with feelings of love, the beauty of creation, and infinite wonder of the Sacred.
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. An evening meditation at the end of the day, providing an opportunity to unwind and reflect on the days activities is also encouraged.
Set a specific time for the duration of the session and use a timer if you have one. (Digital clocks, online 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.
It is also extremely helpful to begin taking "mini-meditations" during the course of the day. This can be as simple as remembering to open each door you pass through mindfully: being aware of your breathing, the motion of your body, the touch of the doorknob, the feel of surface under your feet.
You could set specific times at your desk to pause and become more acutely aware of your posture and the next three breaths. I used to set a three minute egg timer on my desk and flip it over a few times during the course of the day.
For some, necessary daily activities such as walking the dog or washing the dishes can be perfect opportunities to be mindful, to simply notice the nature of your own experience in each particular moment during that activity.
4. Join or Create a Weekly Practice Group
Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Where Two or Three are Gathered)
These days, there is a wide variety of opportunities to join an existing group. Some are affiliated with a specific form of traditional spirituality. Shop around. Explore. Find one that feels right.
If none of the local groups seem to work, create your own. I did. (I write about the Mindfulness Circle and offer a meeting agenda HERE. )
The Bottom Line
Above all, remember that it is all Practice. It is common to set ourselves up for continued failure by experiencing a missed meditation session as a failure. If you miss a morning session, just begin again the next morning! (Of course, you do get extra points for remembering a mini-meditation that day. LOL)
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.
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.