Aug 28, 2009
Faith and discipline
Long-time meditation practitioner and teacher Vajradaka gives practical suggestions about how we can rekindle faith in our meditation practice.
Many people struggle to keep up a regular meditation practice, even when they really want to. Here are a few practical guidelines.
Most of those who have difficulties are not disciplined enough in the way they work in meditation, and a measured amount of discipline each day can make the process easier and more enjoyable. For example, you can set yourself the task of shortening the time it takes you to notice when your mind wanders off. At the start of each practice form an intention to catch yourself as soon as possible each time your mind wanders.
If you consciously decide to do this every day for a week, a positive inclination to acting in this way will develop. Your skill in noticing your attention wandering will increase and your concentration will benefit. Taking on a task like this is within your ability and if it succeeds it will increase your confidence, interest and engagement. It will make the practice feel more your own.
Take time outside formal meditation to consider whether you’re recognizing the hindrances accurately
In the following week you could take on another task for each meditation practice. This time have the general intention to recognize accurately the hindrances underlying your distraction. To call this ‘wandering off’ is not really enough. At this point it is worth mentioning that there is an important relationship between knowledge and discipline. It is helpful, for example, to be familiar with the traditional list of five hindrances — the varieties of distraction — and their antidotes. This kind of knowledge comes partly from reading and being taught by others, and partly from learning through your own experience. For instance, on the basis of knowing the symptoms of ‘restlessness and anxiety’ you can differentiate them from ‘sense desire’. Taking time outside formal meditation to consider whether you’re recognizing the hindrances accurately can be useful. Correct recognition of hindrances allows you to be more effective in countering them.
The next week you might take on building up and applying knowledge of which antidotes are effective in dealing with those hindrances you have recognized. For example, reflecting on the implications of sense desire can create a strong feeling of revulsion to that kind of distraction, (although it can also sometimes exacerbate restlessness and anxiety).
I suggest that you take on the practice of noticing distractions quickly, recognizing hindrances accurately, and applying antidotes effectively, in three-week cycles over three months.
A good habit to establish if you meditate within a busy schedule is to give yourself at least five minutes at the end of the meditation, before plunging into something different. During meditation, if you get even slightly concentrated, there is not much sensory input. You enter into the mind’s own experience of itself. If after meditating you suddenly listen to the news on the radio or even start to plan your day in a determined way, that original subtle experience of concentration will be jarred. Over time an inner rebellion to being put through such jarring can develop. The result may be that you feel resistant to meditating, without knowing why.
Discipline arises from faith — the confidence that if you apply yourself to your meditation it will work. And discipline strengthens our faith. When we engage intelligently with our meditation practice we experience tangible results and gain greater confidence in our ability to work with the mind.