At the end of each 8-week course we remind the participants that diligence in maintaining their practice is very important. We like to say, “The half-life of the skills you’ve acquired in this class is about 3 months.” It may be anecdotal but it does seem that way when we meet in our Alumni groups. The Q&A on practice issues raises themes that are quite consistent over the various gatherings. Below are two areas that present the sticky aspects of practice after classes are over and we’re flying solo.
I’m fine when I’m meditating but as soon as I go out into the world I just can’t get back that feeling of calm.
This is really good! It’s great noticing and more than great that it is happening! Of course, you may feel surprised to hear that. The first thing we bring our attention to when we notice this fracture in our experience is that we have an expectation. I want what I had on the cushion/chair! I don’t want what is out there in the world! Meditation is supposed to keep me calm! All of this is true in a way. But – and here’s the gold nugget – it’s not the point of practice.
The second thing we do is return to our intention in practicing; it is to develop our awareness of how we get into these sticky spots, rejecting of and clinging to our momentary experiences. So, when we notice that we are fracturing off our life into good-bad spaces and times, we can meet that realization with kindness and understanding. Honestly now, who wouldn’t want to have the serenity of meditation and avoid the chaos of the world? We note that it is very understandable to want something different and we let ourselves be taught by that experience of “wanting.”
Who do we become when we don’t get what we want? Who do we become in the face of disappointment? Withdrawn? Blaming? Helpless? Curious? Motivated? Intrigued? How interesting!
How do I practice the meditations like the 3-minute breathing or the walking meditation from office to office when there just isn’t time to get it all in there?
We tend to have this idea about practice, that it is something extraordinary, sacred even. Again, although it is good to hold our practice and practice time as something of value, it is not separate from our life. If there isn’t time for 3 minutes of breathing, then go to 3 breaths or even one breath. One breath in or out, taken with gentle compassionate attention, is worth 10, 000 annoyed packages of 3-minute breathing exercises! Do what is possible. But also, make it always possible to do what is necessary. In other words, it’s important to be honest about whether we are truly crunched for time or whether we are reacting to the demands made of us – with mindfulness practice becoming the scapegoat “demand.”
As we mature in our practice, we begin to let go of the rigid structure of practice. But we aren’t there yet; at least, not a few months after the course. So it’s important to have a regular time and space in which to work on the skills until they are well-confirmed. Like anything – exercising, cooking, playing the piano – improvisation is only delicious to the senses when we’ve acquired some level of mastery. Otherwise, we’re just adding chaos to confusion!
We also want to acknowledge that life gets busy and that sacred and special time on the cushion/chair may get co-opted in very real ways. So we suggest looking at all the places we would not believe meditation is possible because it “just isn’t the way it should be”; check out those expectations.
There are no places that are sacred or defile for meditation.