25 March 2009

Progress Report

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.


greenfrog said...

It was good to read this today. Yesterday a friend offered to let me use her family's vacation home in the mountains nearby for a solo meditation retreat, and so last night I started to consider what sort of schedule I might use if I were solely responsible for the discipline of my practice. Your schedule is exactly the sort of thing I was mulling over. I live my life in a pleasant household with my wife and our teenaged boys and a dog. Those are blessings, but they make a stay-at-home meditation retreat effectively impossible. So this offer (from one of my yoga students) has got me thinking quite a bit. Your post has furthered that process.



nobodhi said...

Hi Sean, this little article from yoga teacher Alan Goode might provide even more inspiration:
I'm now thinking of taking an extra 2 days off work before Easter to allow for a longer retreat...funny how these ideas take root and grow. I hope you take up the offer, it would be great to compare our experiences afterwards.

feenix allen said...

wow! thanks for sharing this as i have also decided to do the easter weekend silent retreat! i am glad i will have company out there.
the only difference, i will be doing it at home alone, but my hubby and roomie will be around too...
this tuesday is my test run. i look forward to reading your follow-up notes.

greenfrog said...

It appears you have to be a teacher training student of Alan Goode's to access the website. So I'll likely have to devise mine without his help.

nobodhi said...

You could try getting there from http://www.alangoodeyoga.info/
Go to 'Writings' and then to 'A Week of Sadhana'
I'm not one of Alan's students (although I did a workshop with him many years ago) but I've never had problems accessing his website...bit puzzled why the website won't let you in.
If you still can't get to it, send me an email to nobodhishome@yahoo.com.au and I'll email the article to you.
Alan doesn't go into great detail about his expectations or experiences in the article but for me the inspiration was reading about the difficulties and resistance he encountered during his period of solitude. And somehow it's comforting to be reminded that we are following in the footsteps of both ancient and contemporary yogis by doing such a retreat.

greenfrog said...

Thanks, I got it via your workaround.

I'm pretty content without the expectations or experiences. In recent months, I've found that reading others' statements about what happens and in what sequence has become more of a distraction and attachment problem than a help. Makes me wonder whether my own writings are a help or a hindrance to others.

Ritesh said...

Yoga is an art of discipline that was developed by an Indian Hindu named Patanjali. Retreat yoga about benefits of yoga exercises, yoga meditation, yoga practice.