Chapter 5

Creating & Enjoying a Practice

house nestled on a verdant hill

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Idea #20: To Make the Most of Meditation, Do It Every Day

Meditation flourishes when done regularly—daily—instead of whenever we feel a need for it or are drawn to it. Natural Meditation engages a natural process, but nature does not make us meditate every day, or even every few days. We can go a lifetime without coming anywhere near it. So, if you are to become regular in meditation,  you will probably need some good reasons for doing so. Here are three.

Accumulative Exposure:Each exposure to the meditative function brings rejuvenating and developmental benefits, and these benefits accumulate. Each sitting exposes us to the spring waters of the meditative experience. The more we get, staying within the balance described in Chapter Four, the more value accumulates in the body, mind, heart, and soul. The paradigm for this is the bank account: You get much less invested doing a deposit-a-week than doing 14 deposits-a-week. While meditation is art, not accounting, accumulative exposure matters very much —as it does in any art.

Of course, we recognize that the bank account paradigm is mechanical. It misses the dynamic, ineffable, poetic nature of meditation. But we shouldn’t let that persuade us that meditation can only be effective when we feel inspired to do it. If you feel drawn to doing meditation only as a spontaneous act, ponder your reasons. You might just want to avoid schedules. Most spiritual formation traditions, as well as traditions of intellectual, artistic, and physical culture agree that growth is dynamic. It comes when, where, and however it wills. But, these traditions also recognize that the individual must be there to meet growth when it comes. We must be there regularly, putting in a real, heart-felt presence, in order to catch the moments when they come. This point leads to the next reason for regular practice.

Momentum of Learning: Although we repeatedly emphasize the naturalness of the meditative function, this should not mask the fact that when we meditate, we are learning. We learn the art of meditation (how to navigate the doing-returning cycles, leaving aside our project-making tendencies and opening awareness) and we learn about ourselves in many ways that simply cannot be catalogued. Meditation truly is ineffable and poetic in its inner reaches. Of course, so are music, art, and the pursuits of the spirit and intellect. Development in all of these areas depends upon a flowing stream of learning. Breaking out of regular practice interrupts the momentum and sometimes the direction of the flow of learning. The paradigm here is learning to play an instrument: a little bit every day is better than a lot every now and then.

This, let us note, is not an accounting paradigm. Music teachers tell their students that practicing 17 minutes seven days-a-week is much better than two hours once-a-week, although both schedules would tally the same amount of time in an accountant’s book.

In addition to learning an art, when you practice daily you also learn something important about yourself. You learn that you are serious about the endeavor. In your first month of meditation you learn this whenever you give time to meditation in a disciplined and invested way.

Body/Mind Rhythm: A practice that keys so directly into pre-wired physiological functions as does Natural Meditation cannot proceed on a purely abstract level. It is not like prayer, worship, reading a book, enjoying the sunset, practicing violin, or other actions that can take place at any time of the day (sunsets excepted). Natural Meditation must take into account the daily ways of the body. Although it is discretionary and can be done at any time of day or night, when you make it a regular habit and fit it into the existing daily rhythms of the body, you are being smart and efficient.

The paradigm here is going with the flow: Even a small, but well-timed, action that follows and contributes to a given rhythm can make an enormous difference. If you have ever helped a group of people get a car up out of a depression, you know the feeling that martial artists call "right timing." Your own contribution to the group push might be fairly small, but it will be quite effective if it is precisely timed to match the coming and going of the car as it rocks in wider and wider arcs in the ditch. If your timing is off just a bit, your pushes offer little help. If you are off a lot, obviously, you become part of the problem.

The daily timing of meditation is not quite so dramatic in its effect, one must quickly note. However, you should try to cooperate with the rocking, rhythmic flow created by your pattern of sleeping, eating, and work/exercising. Putting meditation into an efficient place in that cycle, and doing so regularly, is like making little pushes with just-right timing.

What is your schedule?

If your life is complicated or very irregular, the textbook schedule will not work for you. You will need to translate that textbook schedule into your own life. This might sound like you are diluting and compromising, but that is why we call these shifts "translations." You are taking the textbook standard and translating it into your native language, so to speak. Whatever that comes to, it is yours, and it is precious. Here are three translations that you will probably need to make at some point in the coming year.

A Warning: if you need to make translations but do not, you will not get into first gear with meditation. You will not know when to meditate and will not develop the certainty that you are giving it your best. Meditation can wither away in a week in such an unwelcome environment. So, whether you can do the textbook standard or will be making a translation, figure out what your schedule is, write it down and keep a log of it.

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