Friday, July 9, 2010

Five Steps For Cultivating A Meditation Practice

Beginning and maintaining a meditation practice can appear difficult and daunting. Remember, however, that this is just the mind creating a thought about an imagined future, and that this thought is not a fact. 

My five suggestions to help cultivate a meditation practice would be:

1) Be consistent. It is better to meditate for a short time every day than to sit for longer periods sporadically. Do some sitting practice daily, even if it is only for a few minutes. If you really have aversion to sitting on a particular day, just promise yourself that you will sit for five minutes. This will at least get you to be still and quiet. It will also probably lead to a longer sitting. It's the the same technique dentists use to get their patients to floss by having them commit to flossing just one tooth. It kind of tricks you into practicing longer. You may have to rearrange your life a little bit to make room for your meditation practice, but as Jon Kabat-Zinn tells us, "[Meditation] needs to become part of your life, in the same way that eating or working is. We keep the practice alive by making time for being, for non-doing, no matter how much rearranging it takes."

2) Be patient with yourself. Treat yourself with compassion, and bring wisdom and understanding to your efforts. You are not pursuing this practice to become the "World's Greatest Meditator," but merely to offer this gift of silence and introspection to yourself. Be careful of attachment to goals and outcomes. This kind of attachment can lead to becoming disheartened and will only serve as an obstacle in the way of your practice cultivation.

3) Find a practice that "speaks" to you and stay with it. In my many years as both a practitioner and teacher, I have seen students who flit from one practice to another, or even engage in multiple styles of practice all at once. This kind of "smorgasbord" style of practicing leads to confusion, and ultimately to disillusion, since pursuing multiple practices tends to dilute them. This style of practicing also indicates a mind that is desiring of some ultimate outcome, which as we noted above, is actually a hindrance. When you find a practice that interests you, or has merit in your life, stick with it and explore it deeply. Avoid the temptation to add more practices in the mistaken notion that more will be better.

4) Seek the guidance of a teacher. All wisdom traditions stress the importance of finding a teacher, someone who has experience on the path you are also taking, and who can keep you from taking wrong turns, or just be there when you have questions or problems. If you cannot find a teacher in your area, the internet now offers many options. For example, you can download Dharma Talks given by many great teachers at websites such as Dharma Seed - There are now dozens of other recordings and scores of books available on the subject, as well. I also strongly urge any meditation student to go on extended silent retreats with good teachers.

4) Find others with whom to share the journey. The Buddha said that the "sangha," the community of meditators, is one of the most important components of the entire practice. Find a sitting group in your area and go practice with them. Even if you are only sitting with two or three people, this kind of contact with other practitioners is very helpful in supporting your own practice. Several students of mine have started informal sitting groups that meet in parks or living rooms, and they report that it has helped them immensely.


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