Wednesday 25th March 2009
The little vows I’ve taken for the next couple of weeks are proving to be quite powerful exercises – As I battle the forces of inertia, laziness and resistance, I’m developing a more conscious approach to my practice and bringing it into sharper focus.
It’s so easy to get sidetracked and caught up in the daily dramas of work and home life when I don’t have a framework for practice imposed on me.
This is self-imposed and it’s also do-able.
On a purely surface level, I’m noticing how full to overflowing my days are, and how much I have to rearrange my schedule to fit in the extra time for writing or meditation. Not every day is like that – some days I can find an hour at night to sit, or a lunchtime to reflect and write, but it seems never enough. This is why seekers remove themselves from the marketplace for extended periods of sadhana and svadhyaya, and why my progress on the path is so slow. Sure, every situation is an opportunity to test our practice and our presence, but when we get caught up in daily dramas it over and over and over again, the pattern of ‘progress’ is one step forward and two steps back.
I’ve almost fulfilled what I set out to do this week:
I’ve been writing every day, but not necessarily posting it on the blog. Writing is a wonderful practice. It makes me sit down with pen and paper and actually reflect on each day, digging down beneath the surface of my thoughts to access the deeper motivations. I can feel this strengthening a mindstate in which awareness predominates, and as it gets stronger it starts to pervade and inform all the other mundane mindstates.
Very lovely to see it working.
My usual mindstate (the one that predominates at work) is a superficial coping mechanism, highly conditioned to respond to the demands of a full time working life.
The alternative mindstate is quieter, deeper.
It’s nice to feel this mindstate creeping into the other, as if a thick curtain is being pulled back to reveal a veiled one, less dense, transparent, one that allows a little soft light to filter into my life. And this is quite literally happening because I am making a space in my day for writing and reflection.
To outsiders it may not seem like a big deal to walk to work twice a week. Why not every day if it’s only half an hour each way? Well it requires a surprising amount of organising – on the days I walk to work I can only do minimal shopping, I can’t carry my usual loads of books and files, I can’t run errands at work on the way home etc…etc… And it’s a whole hour out of each day.
So it does take planning. I have to rearrange my day so that it can happen, but the planning is part of the discipline required to adhere to this little vow, and I love making it happen.
And where there is love, there is the seed of devotion, and discipline follows close behind.
Walking is great. The mornings are fresh and I arrive at work with bright energetic eyes. Walking home is slightly uphill so the exercise is a bonus and it’s also a nice break between my work and home life. Another bonus is less petrol fumes and energy consumption, reducing my ecological footprint even further.
I bought a bicycle late last year but have hardly used it because I love walking so much – I feel much safer walking on the footpath and through bushland than riding in the traffic.
The additional 6am practice is the only thing I’ve yet to do, but the week’s not over – Friday’s the day – the last day actually to fulfil this vow.
The purpose of the vow is not to add an extra practice to my week but to impose the condition of a solo practice which might help kick start my low level of motivation. For me it takes a lot more mental effort to overcome my resistance and initiate a yoga practise on my own than it does to go to a class or a practice with my yoga pals. So perhaps my practice at home on Tuesday fulfilled this one (I’ll only use that as a fallback position if I need it).
I vowed to sit 4 times a week and I’ve managed 3 already.
The pressures and concerns of work continually bubble up into my sitting time and all I can do is acknowledge how far I’ve allowed my mind to get out of my control. All those cares and concerns need to be placed within the bigger framework so their true size is revealed. They are such small matters in the context of a meaningful life – I marvel at how overwhelming they can feel. To sit in meditation and watch these obsessive thoughts gradually lose their power and fade, is to experience a reorientation of priorities.
The real work of this lifetime is to still the fluctuations of the mind so our true nature can preside over all proceedings.
Having 4 days off work over Easter will be precious, I don’t want to waste it on recreation or entertainment or escaping or even on catching up with domestic jobs and friends.
I’ve now decided to use the 4 days for a solo retreat.
What a test that will be of my commitment to my practice.
Setting aside four days to practice yoga, pranayama and meditation in complete solitude is not ‘whipped cream on top of garbage’. It will require dedicated hard work, and great discipline and devotion.
Here is the first draft of my retreat schedule which I’ll probably modify ten times over the next week to make it less daunting:
5.00 - 6.30am: morning yoga
6.30 – 8.00am: meditation
8.00 – 9.00am: breakfast
9.00 – 9.30am: walk dog (if I haven’t got a minder for her)
9.30 – 11.00am: meditation
11.00 – 12.00: meditation
12.00 – 1.30pm: Lunch break
1.30 – 3.30pm: meditation
3.30 – 5.00pm: meditation
5.00 – 6.00pm: Tea break
6.00 – 6.30pm: walk dog
6.30 – 8pm: evening yoga
8.00 – 9.30pm: meditation
9 hours of meditation and 3 hours of yoga each day.
I’m not sure if I should start off with such a rigorous schedule and just do my best at it, or whether I should ease up on the schedule to give me more chance of success (and therefore less guilt for not living up to impossible ideals).
These are all ideas in the melting pot at the moment.