Ideas Presented in Chapter 4
Idea #16: Each Day has a Meditative Cycle and Rhythm
The skills of meditation include the ability to place meditation effectively into daily life. Having just viewed the anatomy of a sitting, we can now step back and view it in the wider context of a whole day and not just as an isolated action you pick up here and there.
As you know, most people live in a daily cycle or rhythm involving the major functions of the body and mind. Meditation develops most quickly when it is placed into this rhythm. You should aim at getting at least one sitting in every day. Two sittings is definitely better if you can manage it. (See Idea #20 for more details on why this is so). The following schedule shows the typical way of placing the meditations into a day. You must translate this into your own routine.
Although meditation may be viewed as an intellectual activity, like reading, or as a spiritual activity, like prayer, meditations such as Natural Meditation must also be understood as being functions of the body. The body is highly sensitive to daily rhythm and to metabolic activities such as exercise, eating, and sleeping. When you learn to meditate, you add another metabolic activity to your repertoire. Because Natural Meditation is so effective in eliciting the meditative function, it induces a significant lowering of metabolism. So, unlike a purely intellectual or spiritual activity, Natural Meditation should be scheduled with respect to the other metabolically sensitive activities, especially eating, sleeping and exercise. The following metabolic factors of the meditative function should be considered carefully when establishing a schedule:
During meditation, it's metabolic rest: Although the meditative function slows the metabolism, it must start from where you are, and if you start from a highly active state, as after a session of aerobic exercise, it will take longer to reach the usual level of rest. It doesn’t hurt to do this, but you shouldn’t make it a daily practice. Exercise and meditation should be buffered from each other by half an hour or more, depending on your physical condition and how strenuously you work out. If exercise follows meditation, you need to give your body enough time to ramp up to the raised level of activity. If it precedes meditation, you need to give your body time to cool all the way down.
Also if you meditate right after eating, you will be asking your body to do two metabolically contradictory things. It must raise metabolism for digestion yet lower it for meditation. What happens is a slowed digestion, which is certainly not something to do every day. If you are too hungry to meditate, eat something that will take the edge off without filling—or jazzing—you up.
After meditation, it’s a metabolic boost. The meditative function gives a boost that comes in a few minutes after meditation. You cooperate with that by following your meditation with the active phases of the day and evening, rather than the night’s sleep. If you do fall asleep after meditating, then you could wake up energized a little later. That is why meditation is placed in the late afternoon instead of late evening.
More Than Two per Day?
What about doing more than two sittings? This depends upon your lifestyle. If you can afford the time and live a quiet lifestyle, a short, midday meditation might seem attractive. Postpone a decision about this until you have become thoroughly comfortable with the practice and can keep up a twice-a-day schedule without much effort. In general, do not assume that more is merrier with respect to meditation. Again, this has to do with physiology, but there are other subtle issues of life balance and over-heating your rate of change to be considered.
Doing several meditations a day actually can boost growth and deepen the experience of meditation, but it requires a special environment and additional knowledge about the mechanics of meditation. If you are interested in taking meditation's boat for a full, lifelong ride, you will want to seek out opportunities for that. Participating in intensive meditation programs is a primary reason for joining an established tradition. Many such groups exist in the West offering weekend, weeklong and ten-day "intensives."
Don’t think that doing meditation only twice daily is a dilution or compromise. It’s living in a balanced and moderate way. The great meditation explorer and innovator, Gautama (India, c.500 BCE) struggled through many arduous spiritual paths, almost starving himself to death with austerities before discovering the wisdom of a balanced, "middle way.” Thousands in his lifetime followed his idea to great effect and continue to do so to this day in great numbers. That innovator was the Buddha.
Fitting two meditations into a lifestyle that has not previously included regular private time can be challenging on several fronts. While most of the challenges confront us from the inside, our environment never ceases to provide good reasons to skip sittings. If you live with others, you should engage them in supporting your entry into regular practice. You don't need to tell them exactly what you are doing, if that would cause problems, but they should know you are doing something thoughtful and meditative and what your schedule is. Even young children can be taught to respect your meditation time. You do not need to be physically removed from them for every sitting, but in the early months, you should give yourself plenty of sessions in which you will not be called—or crawled—upon. You also need to show the kids that you can sit in a corner and still remain available to them should a serious need arise. This teaches them and you that meditation is a resilient, natural process. You probably will need the support and encouragement of the other adults in your family to accomplish this.
Keeping a daily schedule is difficult. Take heart. There are millions of others who have worked through these issues, each in his or her own way. You can be creative in meeting the issues on your own terms. As with any challenge, it is best to make a plan on paper. As with any challenge, do not hurt yourself pushing for perfection.Previous Idea — Next Idea