Picking up where I left off last week; what brings us to practice, why we keep doing it, and what sustains us leads me to two of its fundamental requirements; dedication and effort. Not as a forced or grim duty and that’s an important point, but the kind of steady dedication and effort that has the space and flexibility to grow deep roots in well-nurtured soil that bears fruit season after season.
It’s so easy to put off practice until the “right” time. But right now is often the right time to pause, notice the breath, and get a sense of the body whether standing, sitting, walking or lying down. (I have found this especially useful while waiting in what I thought would be the fastest grocery check-out line.) This simple act, which takes less than ten seconds, relaxes the mind and momentarily stops whatever has captivated my thoughts. It brings me right into the present moment. And, it takes a dedicated mind to pay attention and tangible effort to remember to stick with it, to come back to this moment, this breath, a zillion times over.
With gentle persistent effort, a certain kind of meditation muscle develops. We become more skilled at settling the mind and body even in the midst of stress and distraction. Like training in any discipline, the mind-body gets to know that when it assumes the meditation posture, it more easily arrives, settles, and relaxes into present-moment awareness.
This is not to say that once we’re meditating our work is done. It’s just the opposite. Present-moment awareness requires steady continuous effort which is precisely what helps us notice the conditions of our minds; those that give rise to both the positive and negative, the wholesome and unwholesome; states like contentment, ease and happiness, or anger, resentment or even fear. While all mental states are true in the moment, in this training we develop the capacity to see these states for what they are, understand them sooner than later and learn to let go of what we don’t need.
Even if we can’t “let go” of negative or unhelpful mind states, we learn to let them be. I find this very helpful. When I am caught in difficult thoughts or emotions, if I remind myself to just let them be for now, the inflammation calms and my mind relaxes. There will be a time when I’ll likely have the perspective and skills to work with those thoughts and emotions, but I’m not required to jump off a cliff without a parachute. Meditation practice is about showing up, making the effort, and seeing what’s true.
Here are some beautiful meditation instructions from the Australian monk Ajahn Sujato.
When you meditate, just relax.
Don’t try to control your mind.
Don’t try to stop it going here and there.
Just be peaceful.
Don’t watch your breath.
Be at peace when your mind is still.
Be at peace when your mind is wandering.
Don’t judge one state as better than the other.
It is just how the mind is.
Let mindfulness settle down with the breath.
As you stop judging, stop trying, and stop controlling,
Peace will come to you.