~ 7 minute read
I’ve been hearing a familiar story from friends, students, and peers lately. It goes something like this.
You’ve tried out meditation practice and noticed that it helps! There’s something that’s just good about taking some time out each day to practice. There’s a positive intention there towards training the mind and learning about your experience that has lasting implications throughout the day.
Some of the tangible and important benefits that you might experience while meditating and throughout the day:
- You feel more relaxed.
- There is more awareness and mindfulness.
- You can see situations and events more clearly.
- There is a bit more spaciousness in your experience.
- Emotions feel less sticky.
- More resilience.
- Better able to focus your attention towards what is important to you.
These are significant and meaningful shifts in experience. This is great for some time, until….
Suddenly the practice falls off.
Sometimes it quickly goes off the rails. Other times you’ll miss a day here and there, until the practice is happening less often, and maybe even completely stopping. Occasionally there will be some conflict with daily life events and commitments that means that practice just doesn’t quite feel like it makes the cut, so you just choose other things instead.
This can feel terrible, but please know that this is completely normal.
Practice will come and go. There will be ups and downs.
Buddhist teachings tell us that nothing is permanent. Things change. Nothing persists in exactly the same way over time. Everything is dependent on causes and conditions, which are constantly changing in a never-ending dynamic tapestry.
Our practice is affected greatly by our life circumstances. Everyone that I know was (and still is) affected in some way by the global covid pandemic. Sickness is clearly something we don’t have complete control over that can drastically affect what we are able to do and what our most pressing responsibilities are. But even our day to day lives change constantly, whether we are suddenly busy and working on an important deadline, travelling, going on holiday, or even really absorbed in a good TV show (!).
Reflecting on Practice
Often we feel conflicted about how our meditation practice fits into all of this. We both really want to meditate and don’t want to (or want/need to do other things). We know that practice is good, but life gets in the way, or it’s hard to find the balance.
We could roughly place people into two camps here.
- People who are unable to practice right now, or other things are more meaningful and important to them at this time.
- People who would benefit a lot from meditation, but they just need to overcome a few obstacles to get into it.
If you fall into camp 1), then my advice is that you have permission to not meditate. You don’t need me to say it, but maybe it will help. Of course you get to make these decisions for yourself! If the situation is out of your control, or things are going really well, or you are working on something meaningful with a short-term deadline — that’s fine, don’t worry too much about practising. See yourself with kindness and self-compassion. Have meditation as a tool in your toolbox that you can use when you need it. Come back to the practice when the time is right.
If you feel like you might be in camp 2), then it’s time to assess how things are and make a plan for how to get back into it.
For me, I got into meditation after an extended period of depression and anxiety. My realisation was that I needed to regularly do things that helped me with my mental health or else I would slide back down the slope into that dark place. For me that was enough. I knew the suffering that was chasing me and knew that I had to keep going. The key for me was realising that to stay ahead of it, what I had to do was to make practice a part of my everyday routine. The key to making this an easier task was to find inspiration, motivation, and support.
Ways to Reignite Practice
If this sounds like this article could be talking about you, then here are a few suggestions on how to reignite the practice and light that spark to get practice on track again.
- Go on retreat.
Find some time to go on a meditation retreat where you will temporarily pause all your other commitments and obligations. This is especially helpful if you can do this with others, but it can also be helpful to practice online, or even to do a half-day on a weekend. Putting aside everything else for a time gives you an opportunity to connect with the practice and with silence. This helps to put us back in touch with why we practice and what the benefits could be.
- Do a course.
Commit to attending a course where you will be held accountable, given support, and inspired to practice. Courses can give you precise directions on what to do that takes out the questioning and replaces it with support. Courses encourage establishing a practice so that you can make the most of the time and fulfil the commitment. This is especially good if the course helps you to find community, or helps you to see the practice in a different light.
- Find community.
The Buddha taught that the whole of the path is admirable friendships. When you have friends who are also practising and working on cultivating their minds, it is much more likely that you too will develop the practice. The key is to find a community that works for you and matches what you are looking for. There are many online communities filled with kind, considerate people who are keen to connect. There are local sanghas in many towns and cities. Check them out and see what might suit you.
- Read a book.
There are so many great texts on Buddhism and meditation practice. I personally love asking people for recommendations. If you’re looking for an in-depth practice guide there’s The Mind Illuminated. A clear explanation of the practice of mindfulness meditation is found in Mindfulness in Plain English. If you want a guide to Buddhist thought you can check out What the Buddha Taught. For those interested in a deep dive that is both poetic and systematic you can read The Science of Enlightenment. Picking up one of these can really fire up the wholesome desire to practice.
These points could be summarised as: find inspiration, support, and community. These help to overcome obstacles to practice. They help to move past lethargy, worry, and doubt and towards confidence and strength.
Shifting to Skilful Action
What we are trying to do is to shift our view and how we are thinking about the practice. We want to move from self-criticism, internal conflict, or unmet expectations, and instead shift towards a sense of doing what is skilful in that situation. We want to clearly see how things are right now, figure out what a good next step is, and then confidently take that step.
The question here is what is skilful? Thought of this way, falling out of practice is just a macro-version of the on-cushion technique. We get caught up, we wake up to that moment and see it clearly, then we return to our intention. We appreciate any moments of awareness, any moments of knowing. This intention is what helps us move towards what is skilful and leads to happiness and benefit for ourselves and for others.
If you are interested in courses, retreats, or personal instruction, or you have questions about how these can help you, please check out my current offerings and get in touch if I can be of help.