How’s Your Practice?

We often greet people by asking, “How are you?”  Even if it’s automatic, it shows concern for their wellbeing.  Why not do the same with our meditation and daily life practice, which serves us so well in dealing with all our experiences?  The intention that leads us to meditate stays strong when we regularly ask ourselves:  how’s my practice?

A good friend compares the need for practice reviews to physical therapy.  Often trauma, or the way we move habitually, can injure muscles or joints.  By re-assessing what we’re doing, we can make changes that will improve our mobility and comfort.  Similarly, we can check every so often to see how we feel about the way we meditate or use mindfulness during our day.

My friend points out that doing things repeatedly in a way that doesn’t serve us can be counter-productive, possibly robbing our practice of the benefits it has to offer.  Exploring whether there’s any way we feel stuck, or have another sense of unease, gives us the chance to see how we might adjust our practice so it can keep helping us live better. 

It’s a long tradition in Buddhism for students to meet with a teacher who’ll help them review what they’re doing and identify changes that might serve them better.  Given the enormous range in personalities, one approach can’t fit all.   We’re each unique, so listening to our feelings is the most important part of this process.

Sometimes discomfort with one’s practice is actually a form of doubt, the sneaky fifth hindrance that deceives us into thinking, “I’m not doing this right.”  A good way to start is by assuming that if you’re engaged enough to review your practice, you’re doing OK.  When doubt is an issue, it can be a good reality check to review your practice with someone else , if not a teacher then a dharma buddy.

Over the years I’ve helped students in hundreds of practice reviews.  Some issues are quite common.  It seems everyone eventually wonders if they take time to meditate often enough.  Daily is the usual prescription, but most people have trouble because the momentum of a performance-oriented lifestyle makes it very hard to stop and “do nothing.”  Many beginners have aversion to the chaos they see in their minds.  For most of us, changing a habit takes some skill, dedication and self-acceptance.

Another very common issue is how much effort to apply to meditation.  Some feel they’re failing if their attention strays from the breath, but that’s normal in mindfulness practice, where most of what we’re doing is less.  If there’s tension in the mind or body, we’re probably trying too hard to hold onto something, rather than a more relaxed letting go of its opposite, like striving to stay with the breath rather than dropping a line of thought.

Daily life practice uses the skills we build during meditation to respond wisely to events.  Most of the time we learn by doing things we later regret.  It’s important to remember that as we build awareness, whether it’s of how untamed our minds are or how impulsive we can be, we keep learning, and developing a greater sense of ease and serenity.   We each have our own path to walk, and checking where we are on it will open new possibilities.

There is a dhama talk about this subject entitled “Reviewing Your Practice” on this site under Insight Teachings. 

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