Three reasons people don’t practice

As a committed meditator, someone who believes in turning your life in the direction of the transcendent, I have had to come to terms with trying to get others to meditate. Acquaintances, family, friends, all of them. Like so many truths, the fact that you’re often warned against this, against proselytizing, against trying to get others to do your thing, or even believe your particular beliefs, hasn’t made this easier.

(So in this spot, as I wrote the first draft, was a longer section in which I seemed to complain about the small percentage of people who practice. On rethinking it, it seemed unpleasantly bitter, and basically a meditation teacher complaining about how hard it was to get people to meditate. So I took that out.)

Why don’t people practice?

The main answer is because they don’t think it’s important. Here are three smaller reasons.

  1. Being afraid of what they’ll find
  2. Being too caught up in life
  3. Expecting certain kinds of results

So I’ve been guilty of number two. I got a good session of sitting in last night, and I expect to turn it around from there. I haven’t missed full days, which is good, but my time on the cushion has been brief, so I look forward to getting some time in to sit.

The thing about this difficulty, getting caught up, is that life is important. Maybe, for some serious people, spending hours every day in a temple or in the shrine room is their life. If they have other stuff going on, ok, but that’s secondary, the main thing is using their time, when not making money, to train. I respect that, but I also know that as someone who wants a life, a family, an interesting life, I have to be a little careful about isolating myself in my shrine room. It’s not easy to figure this out, because those longer sessions are extremely important. I also don’t have a job where I can take a week or a month off to do a retreat, and a lot of poor people are in this boat. We don’t have vacation time, except for when our bosses are nice enough to let us have it. My main point, here, however, is that even “serious meditators” need to pay attention to the balance of practice and life, because your life could start to wither if you don’t, and then what? Will you spend 1000 hours a year sitting, and then try to come back to your world, only to find nothing there?

It is too convenient to say that the path is the only thing of value. We have real lives. We are not monastics. We have to do both- whatever practice we’ve found, and live well in community.

Let me get to the list. So number one, being afraid. This is one reason Trungpa emphasized basic goodness, in my opinion. Being afraid of being damaged, crazy, terrible, worthless- almost everyone struggles with this. Maybe some don’t, I imagine some don’t, but they’re in the minority, and the thing is- so many people don’t even know they have this fear of themselves. For this reason, it can be good for teachers for remind us that even in spite of the ego’s wildness, the mind’s never constant churning of nightmarish complexity, we can move forward and be present- with ourselves, with the world, with others.

This is such a difficult point to hash out. Here is one approach- the life after being with your own mind is worth it. The relationship with your own mind can change, and once this happens to some degree, things can be get very good, which is to say that life is good. It doesn’t need to be about “loving yourself,” but it’s not too far from that either.

Number two I’ve touched on already. I’ll put it this way- I have found that I don’t want to neglect my life completely in order to sit a lot (and I’ve honestly never been much of a meditator, in spite of having a consistent practice for over ten years), but I’ve also found that it is key that I spend enough time sitting. You can’t neglect either. They’re both important. It’s a matter of quality and quantity, but mostly the quality that comes from figuring out how and when to handle quantity. Time is something to enter into and dance with when possible, and it is more possible than we’d like to admit. It is about surrender, to time, and from this surrender some magic and angles can happen.

Number three. I have to scroll up here to see what I wrote for three. Oh wait, it was expectations. Practice will yield results, but the main one is being on the path itself, and moving in a certain direction, that of realization. To know that flavor of realization, which is probably not stable yet for most of us, it’s not for me, we need time around master teachers, and from there, we can recognize it when it happens. It’s not enough to just push ahead blindly and hope for the best, because that gets old fast, and leads to a kind of overly uptight discipline. There needs to be the right kind of forward movement.

I hope this wasn’t overly abstract. Time to go sit.



Discipline and Relax

Discipline and relaxation-

They go together. You need both. Let’s take meditation, first.

In order to learn this most difficult (yet somehow natural) of skills, you need to practice every day, at least once a day. Any less, you won’t learn it. More is probably better, although this is a fine point. (Push yourself too hard, and you may give up, get frustrated, or suffer other issues).

At the same time, a stern disciplinarian attitude can backfire. What about your life? What about friends, family, lovers? What about experiencing that magical presence you worked so hard to cultivate in real life? You don’t want to isolate yourself, or turn into some kind of pretend monk. You live in the world, we all do. Also, as said before, you don’t want the habit to backfire- meditate two hours a day every day, and after a little while, you may give up, and decide it’s time for a break, a break which could extend long into the future (meaning you would give up, definitely not the point).

The real problem is the disciplinarian attitude, which I can suffer from. The trick- slowly incorporate a wide variety of disciplines and practices based on what you like and what works for you, while avoiding uptightness and wrong attitudes. One measure is that you can be flexible and have fun. If you can’t, you may have become the disciplinarian.

Rowley today

I will be giving a talk at the Rowley Public Library.

It’s my pleasure to teach there, and I hope to see a few of you there. Copies of my book, Selfless Self Help, will be on hand to buy.

5:30 pm

Rowley Ma