This article/blog entry will ask and address some of the naggingly important questions of why does Home Practice/Home Retreat seem so difficult to get started and then maintain. The article will then explore some ways of how to best support oneself towards a more continuos and wholesome approach to a meditative life. But first let’s ask the questions that might help to contextulize the bigger picture:
- What is meditation?
- What does it mean to the practice to cultivate generosity, virtue and clear comprehension? How important are these practices to the realization of relative and meditative happiness?
- What is habit of mind? Does habit of mind lead to happiness? Does habit condition the mind/heart toward wholesomeness or unwholesomeness?
- What is sati-sampajañña and how does its application and a better understanding of what is mindfulness, bare attention and clear comprehension have to do with establishing continuity of practice?
- When one’s meditation practice becomes pleasant and easy does this mean that this is skillful practice?
- Can a lay person use their everyday life as a field of practice? Can lay practice lead to meditative Wisdom?
- Is mindfulness wholesome? See article Sila Mandala.
- How can choice and leisure time become useful arenas of practice?
- Regardless of a particular lifestyle or circumstance how does one create a practice that meets you where you are best served.
- How to skillfully use the tendency to compare, judge, strive and laden the practice with shoulds and oughts.
First, both formal meditation and clear comprehension are not just allowing the mind to wander till it finds quiet, soft, comfortable places or establishes a truce with one’s conscience. These types of mental activities are just a mind seeking pleasantness. This is not meditation or clear comprehension. In fact this part of the problem, if one considers an untrained and untamed mind something of problem, is where the practice of sati-sampajañña meets the problem with tools that can have lasting impact on how the mind behaves.
Meditation is the training of the mind. It isn’t what everybody wants to hear or do. It isn’t for everybody, but training of the mind is for those who suspect or intuitively know that the path to peace and happiness is one that has the mind well trained, tamed, and balanced. To get the mind to behave in this way is a very difficult but exceedingly interesting and rewarding adventure. Every saint and most great people have well trained minds in particular ways.
It’s easy to let the mind flow and to rely on habit and pattern, after all, it is what has gotten us here, we’re alive and kicking, right? So why fix what isn’t completely broken? On the other hand, it is extremely difficult to train the mind to stay a course and to change the way it operates precisely because the ship doesn’t seem to be sinking in this very moment and it doesn’t appear to be completely broken. This logic allows us permission to flow with our old habits unchallenged and even not seen. And when moments of clear and distinct types of dissatisfaction arise and the mind cannot ignore the anxiety or fear or depression or diffuse angst that may be overwhelming our life we rely on the habits and patterns that have seemed to ‘fix’ the problem in the past. The joke is that trying to apply old fixes that were temporary or useless in the past to fix what’s going on now we are, in fact, in the clutches of the same patterns that led us to this place in the first place. To rid ourselves of the current unpleasant mental episode we try to calm the mind with promises of change, we externalize and go shopping, exercise, do an activity, try with will to suppress the thoughts and sensations, but in any of these strategies we are like fish in water, we are still swimming in the same sea without the clear understanding that we are wet. Each of these strategies are band-aids that simply cover a wound that is slowly infecting our capacity to live free and die at peace. We are reconditioning the habit of mind to stay fixed in patterns that lead us not towards wisdom, compassion and happiness but instead away and towards future problems.
We all know this. We all know how much effort it takes to do something out of the ordinary for our ourselves in our lives or do something heroic that takes more than an impulse to achieve. Have you ever trained for a marathon? Raised a child? Cared for someone with dementia? Learned to play the guitar? Attempted to maintain bare attention to the breath for 5 minutes without interruption? Each of these trainings are doable and have been done by many and each of them demand a type of determination coupled with a willing patient investigation and effort in order to allow the doing of them to retrain who we think we are. All are trainings, but all are not meditation. All will affect us psychologically, but not all of them will fundamentally change how the mind works.
Meditation is not about outcomes like learning to play the guitar or getting good grades are. Meditation, if outcome is necessary to explain what it is, is about training the mind to either stay one pointedly with one sense object without interruption for long stretches of time, or to have the mind stay with each sense object as it arises at the first consciousness of that object. Said in another one, medition is about training the mind to stay one pointed or to be with in a non-attached way whatever is happening on a continuous basis. Both techniques lead to remarkable immediate and potentially long lasting effects on how the mind works. Both teach the meditator different things but both have a few things in common and both are different than trying to achieve a relative goal. Each, in order to come to fruition, must be done without the interference of anyone doing it. The mind will stay one pointed on a single object or objects in sequence only when it is sufficiently trained to do it without the frontal lobes making stories about “I’m” doing it. Like a pianist or a shortstop. If either the artist or the athlete thinks, ‘I have to cut to my left, pivot, jump, and throw on this ground ball’ or ‘This next passage needs me to be very quiet in order to get the pacing’, he/she is already too late. Like the artist, adventurer or athlete there are similarities of brief outcomes between these types of activities and meditation, because like the skilled meditator, the skilled pianist or shortstop doesn’t think, they know. These types of mental activity differ from meditation in a very important and critical aspect; one type of activity is external and the other internal, one is conditional on situation the other on internal training.