Question: “I try to practice daily since the retreat, so about a month (walking meditation, sitting, eating, awareness ..) and though there is definitely a global feeling of well being, I have sometime this feeling that it is getting a bit “obsessive/compulsive”. I was trying to let go control by meditation (which works!), but it is kind of replaced by “routines” like repeating “I have arrived”, “it’s just like that”, or counting my steps all the time, or saying “right/left” when I walk in the pool, or analyzing all my food. Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy to explore this extraordinary path, but is that a temporary “beginner” feeling?
Answer: I understand what you are talking about as I have been sucked into these mental habits many times myself. We seem to be masters at turning simple things into a hopeless mess. Sometimes we are even transforming our holidays into something stressful and unpleasant. You can try it out for yourself – just approach something happy and innocent with a critical and comparative attitude. Ask yourself constantly “Am I doing it right?” “Is this really working?” “Am I supposed to feel like this?” Give the critical mind more weight then the simple joy you are experiencing and you made yourself a real problem.
Singing at the Traffic Lights
Picture yourself happily singing in your car at the traffic light. You re having fun, right? Until you become interested in the idea that someone might see and judge you, that is. As you’re still singing you probably start looking around you for possible spectators. And to your big surprise (or shock!) you see someone looking right at you. Notice how this immediately kills your fun? The reason for this is neither found in the song nor in the harmless spectator.
It’s found within your attitude and your sense of purpose. At first you were singing for the sake of the joyful feeling alone. It feels wonderful and free as you are relatively unburdened by your social masks. You feel alone and you don’t have to pretend you are the “serious and professional adult” for a few minutes. What bliss – you don’t have to “be serious”!
Now let me list a few of those fun-killers so next time they pay you a visit you can joyfully redirect your attention to your benefit.
Lack of Guidance
I recommend you to stay in connection with your teacher or a study group for example. To have inspiring teachers and wholesome friends is very important. Positive exchange of wisdom is often a great way to overcome most of our basic hindrances. Reading good books or watching teachings can often be very inspiring and it keeps the flame alive until the practice really bites. In the beginning we often need to seek out inspiration actively.
It’s great to get out and consult with your teacher, ask questions, visit teachings or retreats or reading more about the topic of Meditation. Build the power of knowledge and inform yourself well about the path you are walking on.
Lack of Experience
This is a problem that every beginner faces. Until the practice really takes off we are depending on faith and determination. In the beginning the mind is especially wild and stubborn. Sometimes it suggests this and then suddenly that. We are a bit like a leaf blown around by the moods and motions of our mind. Be patient! You have to keep doing exactly what your teacher told you and if it doesn’t seem to work at all – then ask. If you follow the steps well there should be results. The results don’t show fast, they grow over time like a plant. Your job is to let go of the idea of a tree and keep watering the seed instead. Once your experience builds, you will grow in faith, confidence and happiness. Questions will naturally fall away in a gradual fashion.
“My practice feels like a routine” is a thought. The chattering mind loves to keep you stuck in old ideas. Instead of repeating sentences simply notice that there is resistance. You are not supposed to say a sentence in your mind like “there is resistance”, rather simply become aware that resistance is “like this”. It is part of the human condition and it arises for all of us. Notice that you are going through notions and ideas as your path unfolds. There is boredom, annoyance, happiness, joy, sadness, tears, forgiveness and hundreds of other states every day.
Simply notice that those states arise and pass – they say nothing about the quality of your practice. You don’t judge your practice by the way you feel – you simply notice that you are resisting your inner experience right in this moment and let go. “Ah, anger is like this!” – Let it be, let it go… “Ah, obsession is like this!” – Let it be, let it go. “Ah, judging myself is like this!” – Let it be, Let it go. Open up to your own experience without attaching, grasping or directing it – leave it be. Give yourself the space you need to grow and leave the growth up to mother nature. Cultivate Kindness, Openness and Release.
We often have these amazing ideas of how the path will unfold for us. It’s actually just another thing to let go of. The path is never unfolding in any way that matches with our expectations and fantasies. They are actually in the way of enjoying the pleasure of release right here and now. Whenever you hold expectations you are actually telling yourself that you re unhappy with the way it is. You give yourself a confirmation that you would be better off somewhere else. Notice as you are breathing and notice as you are resisting the presence of life – this is suffering. It is the first noble truth. Have a look at it and understand that it is like this. Let it be, let it go.
Watering your spiritual plants everyday has a particular purpose. The more you become aware of your life, death and tension or internal contraction as a response to experience the more you start to understand the value of real practice. This understanding has nothing to do with theory. In fact you are nourishing your purpose by reflecting deeply upon what you are doing and where it leads you. Once you start to experience the meaning of stress and release nothing will stop you from going deeper down the rabbit hole every day and night.
In your particular case I recommend you to read “Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond” by Ajahn Brahm and practice.
How to Practice
Step One: Train yourself in the ability to remain aware of the body feeling in the present moment. Just feel the body. You can label things if you like. Let go of past and future thoughts more and more until you feel less and less burdened by the idea that there’s routine. There’s no routine in the present moment. Routine is established by comparing this moment to the other moment before. Having a problem with routine is established by seeing this moment being like the one before and fearing the next moment might be the same. Every single feeling in the body is different every moment. No feeling can ever be the same as the one before. That only appears like this to an unclear mind. Look closer at your physical sensations.
Step Two: Train yourself to let go of all verbalization whatsoever. No commentary, no chatter, no words at all. Just experience how the body feels right now. This has to be based on good experience of Step One of course. Notice the gap between verbalization? Have a look at the silent moments between words where there’s just the feeling. Don’t try to fight your thoughts away – it won’t work at all. Rather start to pay attention to the silence between thoughts and learn to wait for it patiently. Appreciate stillness and it will grow. Do these two steps throughout your day and let me know when you are getting good at that.