Let’s get real! Not that I am particularly qualified to go into the subject of ultimate reality or truth. But it’s none the less a wonderful topic worth exploring. So let’s lightheartedly reflect on “real life” today. It’s one of the questions that I am confronted with at almost every single retreat here in Phuket. “Meditating here on a holiday is all nice, BUT how should I practice back home in real life?”
This question is a legit question, it’s important and valid. Since I am hearing it so often I shall explore it together with all of you today. I hope that it will be useful and help you with your understanding of this beautiful practice.
Two Ways to Look at Real Life
We can be pretty strict with our perceptions concerning meditation practice. Some might harbor the idea that real life practice is only and exclusively done in the here and now for example. We might also subscribe to the concept that real life practice means making time for seated practice each day. I think it’s more a matter of understanding and balancing our views. Then we can follow through with consistent and sincere action.
I found that there are two very helpful ways to look at this topic. On one hand there’s an actual time and place for real life practice. When should we practice? Now! Where should we practice? Here! I call that the practical approach. On the other hand we also have the conceptual approach. It’s based on having a strategy, a plan to implement. Having a plan is great as it helps you to be prepared and put something into practice efficiently. Both, the practical and the conceptual approach, can go hand in hand. They can be best friends!
The Conceptual Approach
A general leading an army into war will have better chances if he knows the terrain, the enemies’ weapons and the best time to strike. In a similar way, we will have better chances if we approach our practice with a good strategy. But before we go and plan our steps, it’s even more important to be driven by a sense of purpose. As my teacher often says: “The most powerful purpose is the one which transcends the self.” Ideally, we want to be driven by kindness, learning to look after ourselves with warmth. If you base your practice on the right idea, you will feel motivated to do it often and well.
Once you know why you want to walk on this beautiful path you can set up a simple action plan that works for you. Please make sure not to do too much too fast. It’s not about speed or quantity – it’s about quality carried by honesty and sincerity. Do it well, not fast! I sometimes recommend people to follow our Dharana 21 Day Challenge as it really helps you to organize the practice, work on specific details and improve meditative skills with a good system. So that’s one possible way to implement the structure of a solid and practical spiritual path.
Another thing that’s crucial: Regularity is important. Keep a certain consistency and stick to your routines. It will help you to build a healthy sense of self-respect. You are inspiring yourself and learn to stay true to your word. If you show yourself that your word can be trusted it will have powerful effects on your surrounding and make you more happy. If you set up a plan and promise to look after yourself with kindness and forget to follow through, you silently disappoint yourself. That’s unhealthy. So make small doable goals and stick to them. It’s a very rewarding and uplifting process!
The Practical Approach
That’s a simple one: Practice here and now. Meditation is not only about crossing your legs, looking like Buddha for certain times each day. Empowering your mind with a standard meditation routine is one aspect of the path. The other is about what you do when your legs are not crossed. The task could be to cultivate mindfulness of the body, your feelings and mental content in the context of the three characteristics. You could also deepen your kindness, compassion, generosity or sense-restraint. There are so many possible topics for reflection and cultivation.
First you need to know what you want to do. That’s the job of our conceptual approach up there. Once you know, practice with all you’ve got! Cultivate on the mat and off the mat. If you have fun with this, you will naturally build spiritual qualities and skills that are able to transport you to the “other shore” like a raft. Freedom, or liberation from suffering is a possibility and there for all of us to taste. Remember to play the path and find a way that helps you to integrate the techniques smoothly. Whatever you are working on at this moment, I wish you well and hope you have lots of success with it.