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Faith and discipline

tree growing in rockLong-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.

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About Vajradaka

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Vajradaka has been a full-time Dharma practitioner and meditation teacher since the beginning of 1973, and started practicing meditation in Japan in the late 1960's. Vajradaka lived for 21 years in a meditation retreat center in Wales called Vajraloka. He recently finished a year-long writing sabbatical and now lives in a Buddhist community in London. You can read Vajradaka's blog here. Read more articles by .

Comments

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Comment from …DV8…
Time: September 14, 2009, 5:51 am

…a mild preamble …body and mind are interlinked, meditation promotes awareness of this – a given…
meditation is training the mind – another given…when training the body, for example joggin, cycling swimming – a vital
component of maintaining positive fitness/health/self discipline is … complete’rest’ from the excercise for a day or even longer…otherwise the body may break down and illness or
injury may result…a given…
i would assume from a sense of logic that if the body and mind are indeed interlinked then it must
follow that a vital component of training the mind…. i.e meditation…is …(as in the case of trianing the body) …complete ‘rest’
from the meditation practise…for a period of time …otherwise as in the body – the mind may become harmed from overtraining
…i await any reply with interest as the mantra seems to be that we must try to meditate through whatever we feel at
any particular time of practise…i personally believe that we must incoporate a sense of complete rest from meditation from
time to time…a total break from it …in order to strenghthen it as in the body…regards…DV8…
meditation in

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 14, 2009, 11:01 am

I often make the analogy between training the mind in meditation and training the body through exercise, but it’s an analogy you can only push so far. Meditation often leaves the mind feeling more refreshed and energized, while exercise leaves the body feeling tired.

At the same time, it does take mental energy to meditate and people will find that they can only take so much meditation at one time, because the mind becomes increasingly restless. The mind as a whole isn’t exhausted by meditation, but perhaps certain “circuits” that are involved in meditating are. So even on intensive retreats there’s usually an alternation of activities, from sitting meditation to walking meditation and back again, with some free time, some work, and of course meals and sleep time. Alternating in this way can allow us to spend many hours a day meditating.

In normal daily life there’s no shortage of breaks from meditation. Most people can’t manage more than 30 or 40 minutes a day, which leaves the rest of the day for any parts of the mind that are fatigued by the gentle effort of meditating to recover. There’s certainly no need to have days off, as there is if you’re running or working out at the gym. The brain is not a muscle and doesn’t need to recover in the same way.

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