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Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances

Maybe it's a due to the phase of practice I'm in, or the season or the fact that I'm inbetween work, but I've been finding commitment to practice much more difficult lately. I have been practicing four about an hour a day for the last 6 months after a big A&P experience, and during most of that time I found getting up early at 5:30 am to practice to be fairly doable. 

This morning I wasn't even able to get out of bed before 7 am. With my schedule being open lately, I've been able to pick up an hour at another time during the day (usually), but with work starting again, the time that I'll have open to meditation will be much more limited. Morning sits would really be the best, but my confidence is not high that I'll be able to do so consistently.

I'm interested in how others have responded to periods where practice has been difficult, and how you have maintained a commitment. I attend a weekly group, I try and keep a log, and do as much reading and listening to books and dharma talks as I can. I also try and do as much informal, off-cushion pratice as I can. I'd be interested on other thoughts on keeping a steady practice when things get more challenging.

On a certain level, I want to accept things as they are, but I also want to maintain a commitment to practice. 

RE: Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances
2/16/20 1:28 AM as a reply to Brandon Dayton.
I don't know of a good answer to the question of how to maintain commitment and consistent practice.

I suspect the correct answer is that there is no perfect way to do it on your own and that is why there are monasteries.

But my approach to that problem is to practice a form of meditation that is pleasant and improves how I feel after doing it. That provides positive reinforcement. A fundamental principle of psychology is that you will do more of something when you get a reward for doing it. The type of medtation I do gives me such a reward.

That is one reason I have a different attitude to sitting meditation than a lot of people on this forum. My outlook is that the purpose of meditation is to help me today, it is not to help me get something someday in the future. I don't believe focusing on practice to get enlightenment is very helpful for an ordinary person such as myself.

The kind of meditation I do helps me to be relaxed, elevates my mood and gives me compassion and equanimity TODAY. It improves the quality of my existence TODAY. I get positive reinforcement from meditating so I want to do it. If I get too busy and don't do enough, I notice he quality of my existence deteroriates and I want to meditate to fix that. Instead of living in a dream of stress and anger, I want to be aware in a reality of serenity and goodwill.  When life gets "complicated", instead of wanting a beer, or a joint, or anything like that, I want to meditate.

And if my practice is not giving me the reward I seek, I examine it, identify why it isn't working, and change my practice or lifestyle to fix the problem. This often involves one of the many other factors in Buddhist training besides sitting meditation. Meditation is the 8th step of the eightfold path. The eightfold path is the fourth truth of the four noble truths. The four noble truths are the sixth stage of the six stage gradual training. Meditation is the last step of the last truth of the last stage of practice. There is a lot more to practice than meditation and much of that "extra stuff' most people ignore is there to help you live a quiet life that does not distract you from your meditation practice.

I also look at sitting meditation as a way to develop skills that I use in daily life and to quiet my mind so I can have the presence of mind to be able to practice in daily life. For me life is practice. Sitting meditation is not my main practice, sitting meditation is like lifting weights to be a better all-around athlete. If my mind is too turbulent to practice in daily life I know I need to do more sitting meditation or relaxation exercises.

I think this style of practice is best for the average person (not but not necessarily everyone) outside a monastery and that it also leads to enlightenment, but it's a gradual enlightenment not sudden enlightenment. Instead of looking forward to the day you get enlightenment, you notice every day how much equanimity and compassion you have and, hopefully, notice they are increasing over the years.

RE: Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances
2/15/20 4:41 PM as a reply to Brandon Dayton.
I would recommend deciding on a minimum formal practice time that you keep every day no matter what, something that is realistic. Maybe 30 minutes? Less if necessary. The important thing is being able to keep it. If you start skipping it, you loose confidence in yourself. If you keep it, on the other hand, you cultivate a habit. That will make comittment easier. 

Combine that with short mini-sessions during the day. Even a few seconds make a difference if you make a habit of it. Maybe you can take 10 minutes to practice during your lunch break. Maybe you can do some noting while going to a meeting. Maybe you can notice if you are falling into habitual patterns and take a few seconds to investigate that or tune into spaciousness or whatever practice does the trick for you.

Best wishes!

RE: Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances
2/16/20 4:55 AM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Also, in challenging times, if you have a really hard time maintaining a habit, I'd recommend that you find the type of practice that makes it easiest to keep at it. Nevermind what is most effective for some fancy long-term goal. If that doesn't keep you going, or if it isn't doable, it's not the right practice for you at that point in time. It may be later on, but one way of looking at it is that the best practice is the one that you actually do, here and now. If you are stressed out, maybe something that helps you relax and unwind. If you are bored, maybe something that is stimulating and fun. If you are overthinking things, maybe something that helps you see the emptiness of it. Something that you can see a positive effect from immediately. 

If you follow this, you may get some policing from people who think you should have different priorities. They haven't walked in your shoes. Ultimately their views are empty too. As is mine. 

RE: Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances
2/16/20 8:27 AM as a reply to Brandon Dayton.
Brandon, the only way I've found to practice regularly is to make it a habit and do it come hell or high water. Family, work, and all other activities can be put on hold for just a few minutes each day. Another way to put it is that I could always find 30 minutes here or there, even if it meant getting up a little early or staying up a little late. It helped most to make the practice time when no one else would bother me, like early in the morning.

RE: Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances
2/16/20 12:22 PM as a reply to Jim Smith.
I deepy appreciate the thoughtful responses to this question. Part of my practice is dealing with the conditioning that I bring along with it, and I am still sorting through old habits and patterns and trying to figure out what to refine, and what to let go. Particularly when it comes to things like "commitment" there is a very loaded, fraught past conditioning that makes it tricky to find the right balance.

Jim --

I really appreciate that perspective. It's been interesting to notice the subtle ways that I am fantasizing about getting someplace like looking forward to enlightenment or being a "better person" in some way. The lesson I keep being reminded of over and over is that the practice is about the present moment, and learning to open up to it. Fortunately, my practice this morning was very enjoyable, but I also need to keep reminding myself of the benefits I see everyday as a result of my past commitment, even when things get tough.

I'm appreciating all the links too. Perfect Sunday afternoon reading material.

Linda --

I like both of those recommendations. My current commitment has been an hour a day, but I like the idea of a minimum commitment. The recommendation from the teacher after the retreat last summer was to have a minimum commitment and then continue meditating if you still wanted to. I organically ended up sitting an hour a day this way. Maybe a good practice to return to.

It's good to hear you recommend finding a practice that suits my current needs. I feel like I am naturally flowing into doing that, but there has been a bit of doubt on my part about whether or not I'm doing the "right" practices. It seems that as I progress I am finding more and more that my mind has a good instinct about where to carry the practice. As I try things they are often confirmed as good directions for practice by others as a later time. 

Chris --

This is exactly what I needed to hear. This was my feeling when I started my commitment last year. Everything in my life has been better with meditation. Not just a little bit bettter, but dramatically, epically better. I love more, I am present more, I am happier. It's the most important thing I do, because it makes everything better. There is no justifiable reason for me to compromise my commitment, and perhaps it's time for me to reaffirm my commitment and be clear about what it means.