Sunday, April 25, 2010

It's All About Practice

The other day I was talking with a therapist friend who has never been able to establish a regular meditation practice. He told me that after attending a recent workshop of mine, he’d finally been inspired to start meditating every day. He said the results were immediate and dramatic, notably that his blood pressure had dropped twenty points. He said he had also been able to lose weight and generally felt happier and more relaxed. All of this in a little over a month.

It’s all about practice.

I write books (and blogs) about meditation, Buddhism, and recovery, so I want people to read. But the truth is that my books and workshops, and all my work, is really directed towards getting people to do the work themselves. Reading is valuable, but it’s not a practice, it won’t lower your blood pressure. Meditation can and sometimes will.

How many books do you have on your nightstand that are supposed to help you?

It’s all about practice.

The hardest thing for people is to actually sit down and do the work. I hear over and over that people can’t manage to sustain a meditation practice.

I can’t do it for you. Nobody can.

What are you waiting for?

Sure, you can meditate occasionally, or go to a class or retreat and get some benefit. But for me the best analogy for a daily meditation practice is exercise. If you go to the gym once a week, you’ll get sore and tired, but you won’t get in shape. Sure, you might feel better afterward, but your overall healthy won’t improve significantly. The same is true of meditation.

If you only practice when you feel like it, you’ll have a very limited meditation practice. In fact, the truth is that meditating when you don’t feel like it is probably more valuable.

I think a lot of people get frustrated because they can’t quiet their minds, or they feel restless and can’t sit still, or they keep falling asleep, or they get bored. All of these experiences are the practice! If you can sit with your noisy, rambling mind, you are meditating; if you can stay in your seat when it feels like you have to jump up, you are meditating; if you can keep pulling yourself back everytime you nod off, you are meditating. The essence of mindfulness is simply to be with it, whatever it is. Can you hear that? Whatever it is. That includes everything.

Last week I was doing my morning meditation when my chin began to tickle. I’m not the most disciplined meditator, so there are times when I would simply scratch, but I chose not to this time. I just focused my attention on the tickle. The urge to scratch was intense, but I restrained myself, and in about a minute my mind went still. It was amazing! I’ve had this happen many times, when I paid attention to a pain in my knee or a noise outside, or some other “distraction.” These strong stimuli are great meditation objects because they are strong. They hold the attention if we are willing to stay with them.

This kind of practice depends on a certain letting go. We have to allow ourselves to surrender to the experience. For me it feels almost like sinking into the sensation or the sound. At a certain point, you become immersed and the experience that seemed unpleasant transforms.

This is practice. And it works. But you have to show up on a regular basis.

Does this mean that if you miss a day you’ve blown it? No, that’s just another rationalization, another way of giving up so you don’t have to do the work. It’s “progress not perfection” as the AA Big Books says.

The old Nike slogan is a cliché and it kind of irritates me, but in this case, it is the key: “Just do it”: Get out of bed early; or sit in your car during your lunch break; find a meditation group in your town; or listen to a guided meditation (there’s a bunch on my website, You can do it! If you really want to grow and change, if you want the benefits of serenity and openheartedness that come from meditation, find a way to make it happen.

It’s all about practice. . .