Zen teacher Norman Fischer offers you a two-week trial to begin your meditation practice and examines how to deal with some of the obstacles you may encounter.
Over the years, thousands of people have asked me for advice on how to establish a daily meditation practice at home. Although there are thousands of Buddhist meditation centers around the country, most meditators are part or all of the practice in their home. In many cases, this is a practical matter. Most people do not live close enough to a Buddhist center to meditate regularly. Or, for one reason or another, they are not comfortable with any of the local centers that are within their reach. Or they consider that for them meditation is a private and personal matter, not a community religious practice. However, most meditators meditate at home for various reasons. I do it myself.
That was not the case when I started Zen practice. At the time, conventional wisdom was that you could never practice on your own. You had to practice with the others, that’s how it was done. You need instructions from a teacher. You need support; keeping the disciple alone would be too difficult. Also, meditating alone could be dangerous.
Conventional wisdom has changed. These days, many people find it completely possible to meditate on their own. It’s not that the lack of discipline is unknown: keeping up with the usual practice is still a struggle for some. But many go beyond the struggle to find enjoyment and ease in their daily practice.
“The biggest obstacle to establishing a meditation practice is the misconception (signed by most people who want to establish a meditation practice) that meditation should calm and focus the mind.”
When people ask me how to start a meditation practice at home, this is what I tell them: the practice starts the night before. Before going to bed, put the alarm clock on half an hour earlier than usual and say, “I’m going to sit up tomorrow morning. I want to do this, and it will be pleasant and helpful. “Bring that thought to your mind. Then, as you fall asleep, say this:” Will I really wake up early and meditate? “And answer yourself,” Yes, I am. “And then ask yourself again,” Really? “Take it seriously. Think a little more and answer honestly. But if the answer is, “I have to admit, I’ll probably reset the alarm and turn around to get that delicious extra half-hour of sleep.” you.
This little exercise may sound silly, but it is very important. It addresses the main difficulty we have with self-discipline: we are ambivalent. We both do and don’t want to do what we think we want to do in our own best interests. It is hard for us to take our good intentions seriously, especially when it comes to our spiritual life. We have confusion at our core about whether we are able to face ourselves on the deepest human level possible; perhaps if we do we will find ourselves unworthy and trivial people. Because we imagine that meditation promises self-confrontation at this level, we are deeply ambivalent.
Most of this complicated thinking is not conscious. That’s why autodialog is important before bed. It provides an easy way to deal with the problem. “Really?” It’s a way to bring to light what we really feel and, in a gentle and honest way, treat it. Otherwise, our long habit of self-deception is likely to prevail. We’re not going to do what we’re really not sure we want to do, which will give us more evidence that we can’t do it.
Assuming you get out of bed in the morning, splash your face with cold water, rinse your mouth, put on some comfortable clothes (or stay in your bedding if you want) and sit on the pillow immediately. . Do this before you have a coffee, before you turn on your computer, before you start your day, and you realize you don’t have time for it. Burn an incense stick to time yourself, or use a clock or one of the many excellent meditation chronometers on the market (which will prevent you from seeing the clock). Decide in advance to sit for twenty or thirty minutes. A little more is good if you can do it.
Try it for two weeks, taking a day or less each week. If you miss a day, that’s fine. Don’t fall into the unconscious trap that “Since I missed a day, I guess I can’t do it, so maybe I won’t even try, or try less tomorrow because that lost day has weakened me.” This is our way of thinking! So anticipate this and don’t fall for it. Be kind to yourself, but firm. Imagine you are training a child or a puppy, a friendly creature who has good intentions but definitely needs adult guidance.
Decide in advance that you will meditate for two weeks. It is much easier to commit to meditating almost every day for two weeks than to commit to meditating every day for the rest of your life. After two weeks, Dad, ask yourself, “How was that? Was it nice or unpleasant? What impact did it have on my morning, the rest of my day, my week? You usually see positive results and , seeing that the practice has been beneficial, you develop a stronger intention to go back in. Then, after a pause, commit to the practice again, perhaps now for a month, with the same pause built in for the practice. In this way, you can gradually become a regular meditator, and taking breaks from time to time does not change that.
Many people ask, “Is it necessary to do this in the morning? Is there magic in the morning? I’m not a morning person. “Yes, I think there is magic in the morning. Monastic schedules around the world include morning practices. The world around you has not fully woken up, and you are more likely to do so in the morning, before your day commits and remember all the things you need to do. and at the end of the day you may feel too tired or too tired, you may feel more like a glass of wine than a meditation practice, which will probably make you feel quite uncomfortable as your body notices. all the pains, tensions and sprains of the day – in fact, the practice at the end of the day is very good for this reason: although it is often uncomfortable, it helps you to process all the stress and feel calmer. then.But if you are trying to establish an incipient practice, think that you will sit tran at the end of the day it probably won’t work, as well as being in your weakest (i.e., strongest): in the morning, when you’re both more and less yourself, before you’ve fully assumed the armored and heroic personality with which you feel you have to approach the world of work and family. (I have to keep in mind here the obvious fact that all this may not be true for you: we differ greatly as individuals, and in these intimate matters one size does not fit all. I am describing what I have found to be true for myself, and for many other meditators).
Sometimes this is the way to finally start a serious meditation practice – not to do it for ten or twenty years, until finally there is no other remedy.
There are many approaches to meditation. In my tradition, the Soto Zen tradition, meditation is not considered a skill that we are supposed to master. It is a practice that we are dedicated to. So if you’re meditating in the morning feeling half asleep, with dreams going on, and your non-crunching mind focused precisely on breathing, as you think it should be … that’s perfectly fine. It is considered normal and possibly even beneficial. The biggest hurdle in establishing a meditation practice is the misconception (strongly held by most people who want to establish a meditation practice) that meditation should calm and focus the mind. So if your mind is not calm and focused, you are definitely doing it wrong. Fighting with something you’re constantly doing wrong, and in your frustration it seems like you can’t get it right, doesn’t inspire you to keep going (unless you’re a masochist and there are more than a few meditative masochists).
It is better to assume the Soto Zen attitude that meditation is what you do when you meditate. No need to do it right or wrong. This does not mean that there is no effort, no calm, no focus. Of course there are. The point is to avoid falling into the trap of defining meditation too narrowly, and then judge yourself based on that definition and therefore sabotage yourself. Evaluate your practice with a much broader and more generous calculation. No: Is my mind focused while sitting? But: How is my attention during the day? No: Am I sitting still and still? But is my habit of flying off the handle a little slower? In other words, the test of meditation is not meditation. It’s your life.
Dealing with the various practical obstacles to regular meditation is easy compared to the deeper self-deception issues I’ve been talking about. Once understood, practical problems are easy. Do the kids get up early? Then get up half an hour before them. But isn’t that enough for sleeping? Well, that half hour of sitting will be much more important for your rest and well-being than the half hour lost sleep. Or you can go to bed half an hour earlier.
Is there no place to meditate? There is always somewhere; all you need is space for a pillow on the floor. But it’s best to have a clean, well-kept place, even if it’s just in a corner of a messy room on the other hand. Keeping this corner clean and clear is a prelude to the practice of meditation itself.
Does your spouse not want to meditate and it bothers you to get out of bed to sit? Patiently explain to your spouse that the main reason you are meditating is to become more loving and helpful. You are out of bed not to claim your independence but for the opposite reason: to be more loving. Have this (lovingly) conversation with your spouse. Ask them to help you do this two-week experiment and evaluate the results: Have you been more affectionate, helped at home, with the children, etc., more than usual, more eager, more joyful? (Of course, after having this conversation, you should do these things now.)
In short, if you want to meditate there is virtually no excuse for not doing so. But human confusion is very clever, so it is still possible to avoid it. If so, be my guest. Sometimes this is the way to finally start a serious meditation practice – not to do it for ten or twenty years, until finally there is no other remedy.
As the world accelerates and the trajectory of history becomes more drastic, more people feel the need to do something to promote well-being and foster a sustainable attitude. It’s hard to stay happy if you’re under stress, it’s hard to believe in kindness and happiness if the world you live in doesn’t offer them much support. Soft and realistic, the practice of meditation can provide the powerful attitudinal boost we need. It does not require pre-existing faith or excessive effort; Simply sitting in silence, returning to the present moment of body and breath, will naturally bring you closer to gratitude, closer to goodness. And as you commit to these virtues you will begin to notice, to your surprise, that many people in your life do the same, so there is a lot of company along the way.
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