Maybe You Already Have the Makings of a Personal Practice

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I teach a weekly meditation class, but I encourage my students to meditate on a daily basis as well. Some have developed a personal practice, others are struggling to find a way to carve out time in their over-scheduled lives to do so. When this is the case, I usually ask, “What other activities do you already do during the day that could, with some fine tuning, be a part of your practice?”

One student says she spends 15 minutes a day in a restorative yoga pose, with her legs up a wall and a sand bag on her feet. She also mentioned that she walks the dog twice a day, and in the morning when she walks with her dog, she refuses offers of companionship from friends, finding that she treasures that alone time.

All it would take for her to turn these into meditative practices is setting the intention to stay present in the experience, and then to continually bring the mind back to the moment, with great compassion and understanding, whenever she gets lost in thought.

While walking the dog, she can thoroughly engage in enjoying his antics, his interests, even taking a cue from his enthusiasm for his immediate environment, really using her senses to feel the air and sun on her skin, the smells of the season, the flowers and foliage, the light and shadow as it plays with the landscape, etc.

She left class feeling she had gained hours in her day and a great weight lifted off her shoulders. She doesn’t have to feel badly that she’s not ‘meditating’ enough.

Of course, I hope everyone makes a point of finding time to have a sitting practice. Early in the morning before the world is so much upon us is a perfect time to spend a half hour to forty minutes in silence. And of course, I hope everyone attends some kind of regular class where their practice is supported and inspired by a dharma talk and their questions answered in discussion. And I hope everyone gives themselves (and thereby everyone around them) the gift of going on an extended silent retreat, where they can really become intimate with their own inner experience in a safe and supportive environment.

But staying present is a practice we can do at other times as well. Many of us already have some regular solitary activity that can be tweaked to have meditative benefits as well. Another student of mine goes swimming. I advised her to pause before entering the pool to arrive in the moment, center in, and set her intention to be mindful in her swimming practice. Swimming has so many sensory elements, yet it is possible to be numb to the experience and think think think the whole time, multi-tasking ‘to get more out of’ this period. Actually in that mode she would get less out of her time. By setting the intention to be present, she can really feel all the sensations of the interaction of her body and the water, and the powerful movement of her body engaged in this activity. This ability to focus, to feel, to be present will serve her in all subsequent moments of her day to a much greater extent than the habitual thinking she would otherwise have done.

I advised her to stay present after she climbs out of the pool, perhaps sit with her eyes closed on the edge of the pool, and when she goes to her shower to let herself stay present with that. A total water meditation!

So keep that in mind when you look at your own day. Where are you already giving yourself the gift of solitude? How could you fine tune it to be more meditative? Could you put away your iPod or cell phone when you are out walking or running, and give yourself over to the experience of simply moving through the world?

When you are making yourself your breakfast in the morning, perhaps slicing a piece of fruit, can you really be present for the beauty of the experience, the engagement of so many sensations. Can you pause before eating your meal to give thanks to all involved in its creation and to set the intention to be fully mindful, savoring every bite completely? Can you do one thing at a time, giving whatever it your full attention?

These are the ways in which we practice, not just on the cushion, but in our lives.

Let me know your thoughts on this.

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