The New Year is traditionally a time to try to make positive changes for the year ahead. And yet most of us have had the experience of starting out with a rush of good intentions, only to find ourselves collapsing back into old habits very quickly.
Having recently finished teaching a seven-day retreat over the New Year, the same pattern can be seen after a period of intensive practice. Many people experience a wave of inspiration, and have the intention, post-retreat, to renew their commitment to meditating on a daily basis.
Yet again, these intentions often don’t last very long. The momentum of daily life re-asserts its hold on us, and we’re soon back where we started. When one retreat participant was recently asked on their retreat registration form to describe their daily practice, they wrote that it mostly consisted of “looking at their meditation cushion and feeling guilty!”
Establishing and/or maintaining a daily meditation practice
Most of us can probably relate to that description, at least at times. So this month, I’d like to focus on some strategies for establishing or maintaining a daily meditation practice.
“The days and nights are relentlessly passing; how well am I spending my time?”
(A question that the Buddha advised practitioners to contemplate frequently)
2015. Each year this changing-of-the-calendar-numbers seems to arrive a little more quickly. Each year, it seems that somehow there is less TIME … and so at first reading, the above reflection can seem to reinforce a sense of time-poverty: having too much to do, and not enough time to do it in.
Almost everyone I know seems to be affected by this particular form of stress, a kind of epidemic or collective disease that’s increasingly resistant to ordinary forms of treatment! Recently I received a newsletter from a wise friend, Sebene Selassie, exploring this same theme in terms of “the pathology of productivity.” Her questions struck a chord:
How often do I access the deep wisdom of simply being? Or is there mostly a low buzz of resistance to this very moment? A grasping connected to worrying, changing, solving, fixing, planning, getting, achieving, attaining…? The mind that races is a mind that demands certainty and security; if I plan it all out, everything will finally be okay. Besides being impossible, that demand makes it difficult to rest in the beauty and mystery of what simply is. This moment. Presence. … Whenever I pause and allow myself to reconnect deeply to my heart-mind-body, I can also remember the truth of interconnection. But this requires an intentional, sustained pause. Something we all seem less and less capable to allow.
See the whole article, plus a moving description of her experiences in relation to the recent grand jury verdicts in the US, here: http://eepurl.com/Y8XHL
Even though I mostly have the freedom to set my own schedule, I’m still not immune from the energies of worrying, changing, solving, fixing, planning, getting, achieving, attaining that Sebene writes of. As I was working on my teaching and travel schedule for 2015-2016, I noticed the thought: “Hmm, I really need to plan more spontaneity somewhere in here!” It took me a few moments to register the paradox of “planning spontaneity,” and yet I know from past experience that without some form of effort, the relentless flow of busyness will simply sweep me away again.
So I notice another paradoxical urge: to want to change, solve and fix this problem of busyness by making a New Year’s resolution to be less busy! Of course, this is a time of year when many people make New Year’s resolutions to fix – or improve – or overcome – or get rid of – some aspect of their lives that they don’t like, but perhaps because the resolution is rooted in aversion, it’s usually not very effective.
I started to wonder what a healthy resolution might look and feel like, and if perhaps using some of the ten parami, the ten (so-called) “perfections,” might be a more balanced way to approach this challenge? Since it IS the season of resolutions, the most obvious one to bring to mind is the eighth parami, usually translated as “resolution and determination,” but without the parami of wisdom to support it, resolution alone can easily be misapplied.
One way that wisdom develops is from learning to ask the right questions. So coming back to the Buddha’s original question: “How well am I spending my time?” I’m planning now to contemplate this every evening in January, just to see … to see if I can experience less busyness, as an antidote to what Thomas Merton named “the violence of our times.” The first time I read his words I felt a shock of recognition, and even now, when I re-read them, there’s a pulse of discomfort that tells me, reluctantly, that there’s probably something in it I still need to learn!
“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of our times.”
May we all experience freedom from ALL forms of violence in 2015 …