“How can I improve my practice?”
This question comes up a lot. There are a few key points I bring up when I’m asked this question:
1. Make time
2. Keep at It
3. If you had a positive or negative meditation experience leave it in the past
4. Always come back to that “Beginner’s Mind.”
At first adding a meditation practice can seem a bit daunting with all the demands placed on our daily lives; “me time” is probably near the end for most of us. I can assure making that five or ten minutes a day can make a world of difference. You can find spare time in many places. Gaming is fun and entertaining but if you’re an aggressive gamer (like myself) it can lead to more stress and frustration (you know because Mario won’t jump correctly). If you’re in the car rather than jammin to 2 Chains, or whatever the kids are into these days, find a good guided meditation or try a little Vipassana. A little head to toe scan of the body can be just the thing. Vipassana and mindfulness are so powerful due to their infinite mobility. The point is to find those little over sights in time usage a boom you’re in business. Persistence is another big key.
One of the most overlooked points on beginning a new habit—big secret here—is just do it! Persistence is key in all things. Some try to pull an over think of Buddhist philosophy saying “Oh well that’s just too much desire.” Don’t bring that weak garbage into my dojo! Don’t let meditation be the reason you exist, but there is a huge divide between the level of desire that would incur bad Karma and a healthy desire of a regular practice. The Buddha didn’t attain enlightenment because he quit; he didn’t just say screw it when it got too hard. He pressed on, he pushed through the knee pain, boredom and the monsters that live inside. If his persistence paid off, why not our own? You may not get that big E, Enlightenment, but you could always improve.
My next point on improving practice…leave past sessions behind you.
One thing we all do when we have an intense experience—good or bad—is cling to it. The experience you had was for you then. At that point in time the conditions were right for that experience, but now is not the time for yesterday’s business. Some of the things we dig up when we meditate can be scary, or make us feel overjoyed. Clinging to those things is just a waste of energy and effort. You didn’t start your practice to have the same experience repeatedly did you? Of course not, because the whole plan is to be that objective observer and watch these movie frame-like experiences roll on frame by frame. Both clinging to and averting things, ideas or experiences all serve to hold us back. Drop that baggage and level up. If a bad experiences comes up, shed those tears and get back to the hustle. Don’t sour today with yesterday’s BS.
The final, and probably most effective, pieces of advice I have ever received was to keep the Beginner’s Mind.
This means don’t act like you carry a full cup of knowledge. As we all know, a container is most useful under two conditions: first, it’s empty and second, it doesn’t have holes in it. So if you pick up a book, don’t be so quick to dismiss stuff as, “Well he’s/she’s doing it wrong.” Just because it’s not your norm doesn’t make it wrong.
The same goes for an in person teacher. If you come with questions, don’t try to teach the person you asked because you asked for a reason. Keeping the mind free and unattached to a particular pattern may be just what you need to bust a rut—now or even in the future—as they arise all at once, most times. Adding tools to the tool box is a good way to view it; meditation is an abstract and diverse practice. As such, there is really no one way, but there could always be a better way for you. So keep that head on a swivel and don’t lock in on a method while downing others.
Your practice as it continues to grow and change will look different from year to year, day to day, and, breath to breath. Following these simple little pieces of advice will not take you to the promised land or shangri-la, or whatever other goal you’ve set for your practice. It will, however, make you flexible and well rounded as well as more able to accept the good stuff the the universe is dangling out there.
As always. it’s your practice. OWN IT!
J. Martin is a a 32 year old father of three and has been married for 13 years. He was a mechanic for 15 years, then his true calling found him and he became a firefighter. He has been a practicing Buddhist for nine years, including two years of meditation class at the Theravada temple near his home. His teacher moved on and before he did he told him, “Remember, I don’t teach students, I teach teachers. So do something with what you’ve learned.” So J. went to do what he could to further the meditative arts. Check out his blog, The Unusual Buddha.
Editor: Dana Gornall