Ideas Presented in Chapter 5
Idea #22: Establishing a Practice Requires Patience and Persistence
Perhaps in reading that last sentence you are thinking, "Mastery of meditation?! This is just an introductory course." True enough, and you certainly do not need to take on meditation with any heaviness of purpose, if that is what is implied by "mastery." At the same time, it is important to recognize that modern cultures tend to look for quick results and have lost much of the old-world inspiration for long-term refinement of skills and arts. The cultures that gave birth to meditation practices hundreds of years ago were set up quite differently from our own. Any skill, it seems, that could be developed over a lifetime, would be by someone in the nearby region. Whether or not one personally participated in an art as an apprentice to mastery, he or she would understand that the art held an opportunity for greatness and mystery. They would see that embodied in the old man or woman at the other end of the village who had mastered the art. Today, by contrast, we try things out for a while, glean what we think we can from them and toss the remains away as useless. Stage two, of almost anything from lawn care to meditation, requires a good bit of the old-world approach. You need to get into a habit or practice (that’s stage one) and then ride that practice loosely-yet-tenaciously over the ups and downs of a year, and then a second year.
Stage-two skills are those of the bucking bronco rider. You must be loose enough to move and adjust with sudden changes, yet tenacious enough to keep yourself in the saddle as long as you want to remain there. The purpose of establishing a solid stage two is not to stay with Natural Meditation forever. It is so that you can stay with it as long as your wisdom dictates—which is usually much longer than one’s whims dictate. It is one thing to dismount gracefully and quite another to be thrown.
Since stage two is a discipline, we can find in it the same dynamics of discipline that operate within a single sitting. Let’s take a look at it in the terms we used in Chapter Four.
Doing: As always, the doing is defined by an installed intention. Whereas the intention during a sitting of meditation is to recall the mantra in a certain way, the intention outside of meditation is to have one or two properly placed sittings each day.
Forgetting & Wandering: From time to time, we all forget to meditate or forget to plan ahead for it. Planning ahead is often necessary. If you show up for a 5:00 p.m. dinner meeting at a restaurant, and as you are walking in the door recall that this is your meditation time, then you will probably need to skip your second meditation that day—unless there is time later on in the evening. A miss is really no big deal in stage two. The concern in stage two is not the technique of meditation as much as the intention. A wandering in this context is a longer period of skipped meditations in which the issue of skipping is not being consciously handled each day. This can happen when something big enters our lives and absorbs our attention. Just as a wandering during a sitting of meditation comes to an end, so do these periods of long absence. Succeeding in your practice hinges on identifying the end as soon as it happens and grabbing the opportunity for re-dedication.
Deciding & Returning: The difference between a strong handling of stage two and a weak one is in making a clean, uncluttered return. After a missed sitting, simply get back on schedule the next day. Do not spend time worrying about it or making yourself feel guilty. If you have been off on a wandering of several days or longer, then you might benefit from a pause to reflect and to re-establish your intentions regarding daily sitting. For example, if you have forgotten to meditate or have been lax about it during a 10-day vacation, create a moment of intentional re-dedication to your schedule on the day you get back home. The key point is,
Do not take your having missed meditations as a sign that you have un-installed your intention to have a meditation practice.
Unless you remain in charge and mindful of the inner voices chatting at you, a pattern of missed meditations will begin to sound like a changed mind. You can, without realizing it, hear your behavior as an intelligence whispering things like, "I must not be serious about this." "I have unique situations to deal with." "Maybe later in life." "This is not really me."
Thoughts like these might ultimately prove to be the truth, but they can also be defenses against feeling weak. The logic behind them may be no more insightful than, "If I am skipping meditations, then this must be what I intend…because Lord knows I always do just what I intend!" Give such voices an open hearing. Don’t let them creep around the house. Listen to the way they make their case and argue with them. You had some good reasons for taking up meditation in the first place. This approach serves in every area of mindful navigation in life. It is the essential skill required for long-term riding of any discipline and therefore is a key ingredient in mastery.
Be especially watchful of the change in seasons. This alone can yield all kinds of excuses for skipping meditations. This is why stage-two thinking needs to be kept active for at least a full year. The seasons present such different situations that we need to meditate through them all to have learned the basics of our own psychology. For example, if you learned to meditate in the deep mid-winter when the weather and the surrounding culture were quietly contemplative, what will you feel like sitting in meditation when your first summer comes? Your whole body and soul could say, "This is not the time for going inward. This is a time for physical, outdoor activity. You’re squandering a beautiful morning sitting here with your eyes closed." The reverse might be true if you begin during summer vacation. When the brisk and busy fall comes, it might seem hard and out of synch to take time to sit in meditation. And then it will hit again when winter holidays arrive. "How can I meditate now? It’s Christmas!" So silly, but so human.
There is a
deeply personal dynamic going on here that is difficult to pick up at first. So,
it takes a full circle around the sun to see all sides of your practice. Like
circling a statue in the museum, until you have been all around it, you can be
surprised at what is there. Some of those surprises will be sweet…
Practice for the Joy of Practice:
Now that you have heard the "bad news" about working diligently to establish a practice, we can tell you the "good news" about this topic. Do not let all these details about establishing a practice suggest that meditation itself is a chore. The meditative function and Natural Meditation do not wear out or wear down. The meditative function is always fresh.
Although the gentle curve of growth and progress that meditative maturation brings will not generally be perceptible day by day, (it will show up in spurts and then go away again for months at a time) each sitting of meditation brings its own rejuvenating rewards. If you stay attuned to that, and happy with that as your motivator, your stage one and stage two will fairly well take care of themselves. You no doubt understand that the journey of meditative growth is anything but straight and predictable. Of course, all learning comes in spurts and suffers setbacks and long plateaus. Growth curves have a persistent upward trend when viewed over the long haul, but can be quite ragged when viewed up close. Like this line:
Nature creates lines like this at every turn. Mathematicians call them fractal. Fractal lines are the beautiful, meandering, surprising-yet-familiar, irregular lines found in everything nature makes from a grain of sand to a galactic cloud. If we graph natural transitions in complex systems, such as the weather, the lines also look like this. For example, as the seasons shift from winter to summer, the "niceness" of the weather would trace a ragged, fractal line like the one above. Viewed from a distance, it shows a persistent trend of increasingly "nice" weather.
It takes time to walk a fractal line and much of that time, George Leonard points out in his little gem, Mastery, is spent on the plateau. During time spent on a plateau, the power for the next growth spurt is happening beneath the surface—as long as you keep practicing. “How do you best move toward mastery?”, he writes, “To put it simply, you practice diligently, but you practice primarily for the sake of the practice itself.”Previous Idea — Next Idea