Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances

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Brandon Dayton, modified 1 Year ago.

Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances

Posts: 451 Join Date: 9/24/19 Recent Posts
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. 
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Jim Smith, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances

Posts: 953 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
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.
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Brandon Dayton, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances

Posts: 451 Join Date: 9/24/19 Recent Posts
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.
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Dustin, modified 8 Months ago.

RE: Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances

Posts: 103 Join Date: 12/28/17 Recent Posts
I'm with Chris on hell or high water. I've practiced two hours a day for the last year and a half. Dark funky territory, work or whatever can throw me off for a few days but I talk with someone about and get back to it quickly. I've just been going through a time of wanting to quit, getting up late and being just kind of lost. Really good learning experience for me. Took a couple of days to get back in line but back on. I think an hour a day is always doable. Just finding the right time and adjusting to the practice or season whatever it is. 
Tim Farrington, modified 8 Months ago.

RE: Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances

Posts: 2437 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Dustin:
I'm with Chris on hell or high water. I've practiced two hours a day for the last year and a half. Dark funky territory, work or whatever can throw me off for a few days but I talk with someone about and get back to it quickly. I've just been going through a time of wanting to quit, getting up late and being just kind of lost. Really good learning experience for me. Took a couple of days to get back in line but back on. I think an hour a day is always doable. Just finding the right time and adjusting to the practice or season whatever it is. 

Brandon,

Linda's advice here is gentle and potent. And I'm weighing in fully on the hell or high water contingent's simplicity. It is not a matter of how much, especially during funky or chaotic periods. It is a matter of getting to the asana and putting you ass on a-it. 

I am as you may know coming back from a big blitz period teetering on psychosis throughout, in which regular practice went to shit, after a long stable period of about three meditations of about an hour each every morning. At this point, coming back slow, i am sitting for three morning periods on somewhere around 4-8 minutes each. And it is remarkably stabilizing. Arbitrary, yes; OCD, no doubt; pointless and useless, perhaps. Like Ni Nurta, the first one is all about making the coffee successfully. Come hell or high water, i'm going to get that fucking coffee made and drunk.

hang tough amigo, you're doing just fine. let's do a podcast, with an 8-second delay on my part, lol.

love, tim
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances

Posts: 5309 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
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!
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances

Posts: 5309 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
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. 
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Chris Marti, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances

Posts: 3864 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
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.
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Jim Smith, modified 8 Months ago.

RE: Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances

Posts: 953 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
Brandon Dayton:


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 practice as I can. I'd be interested on other thoughts on keeping a steady practice when things get more challenging.



I have noticed that certain activities have a tendency to interfere with commitment and can reduce the effectiveness of practice. 

These activities have a common characteristic of causing "obsessive" or "compulsive" behavior. Examples include
  • reading novels that I might stay up late at night to read or to read all day. 
  • debating on the internet
  • following the political news
  • social media such as twitter, or facebook
  • I'm not a gamer but what I have heard leads me to believe some computer games can produce this effect.
  • Spending a lot of time on the internet.
  • etc...
I suspect many of these involve dopamine "addiction" where they produce frequent short bursts of dopamine that leave a person craving one "hit" after another. 

It is easy for me to notice when I have fallen into this trap, because it interferes with the pleasant relaxed state that is normally produced by the meditation and mindfulness practices I do. I find it also interferes with entering the jhanas.

I think if people are aware of this phenomenon they can also learn to notice the effects in their own lives.

In order to avoid this kind of mental turbulence I try to avoid these kinds of activities as much as possible (although I think it's possible there might be some situations where I can't or shouldn't).

Some activities I find are safe (don't interfere with commitment or effectiveness of practice) are:
  • Taking a walk.
  • Relaxing forms of tai-chi, yoga, and qigong exercises
  • Reading books that are relaxing rather than "gripping"
  • watching documentary videos
  • listening to relaxing music
  • playing a musical instrument
  • Housework
There can be exceptions so the best thing to do is to notice if an activity makes you tense or relaxed and whether you start to do it compulsively or not.
Georg S, modified 8 Months ago.

RE: Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances

Posts: 25 Join Date: 12/8/19 Recent Posts
Hello Brandon,

maybe you will find something useful in this thread: 

https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/view_message/19521371#_19_message_19521371

I'm interested in how others have responded to periods where practice has been difficult, and how you have maintained a commitment. 


Mostly when such periods occur, I'm overlooking something. Pretending to "medidate the same way" as if nothing has changed. Ignoring the fact, that indeed something has changed. Ignoring the hindrances that arose in the background while still trying to meditate the same way like before. For me it often takes some time to become aware of the desire for things not to change, even if they did already. Then I sometimes try to hold on to them by getting back to my old tendencies: trying hard(er). This always leads to more frustration and aversion. If not already before, but at least then the reason of suffering becomes more obvious, but I'm still confused about what to do (and maybe this is the point, where you may be at the moment?), till I come to the point where I'm realizing, there is nothing I can do, because there is no I, no control. And then the drama, the aversion, etc. goes away by itself. Why? Because of the "accepting" or the clear seeing of the three characteristics. 

The last weeks I've been in an quite stable state of equanimity, which was enjoyable at first, but after a while boredom (subtle thinking about not much going on, subtle disliking that the mind has nothing to do, not accepting the nothingness, desire for action) set in and brought me back to a state of aversion to the practice, more boredom, which lead to distracting myself by playing computer games for a while, not meditating regularly formally - only 2-3 times a week). The point here is: not seeing the characteristics clear brings up hindrances (aversion to a boredom-state), which lead me to even more distractions and reactivated old patterns how to (not)deal with them. This brought up even more suffering. But I guess sometimes, at least for me it is necessary to get back in old patterns (like letting go of the regular practice, or distract myself by old habits) to see them more clearly and to experience that they are all not helpful in the end.

I don't know if forcing yourself into practice is helping you at this point right now. Maybe you give it a try and do it the other way round. Maybe you first have to let go a little bit and have trust that the practice will find you (Otherwise it may be doubt and personal identification about loosing "your" regularity of practice, which only lead to only more suffering).
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Ni Nurta, modified 8 Months ago.

RE: Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances

Posts: 622 Join Date: 2/22/20 Recent Posts
My minds object of concentration in the morning is always "making cup of hot coffee" and I usually to do as much formal meditation before going to sleep. I assume mind will kinda repeat and integrate everything from within day and especially things it did just before sleep.

All this corona social distancing developed in me a kind of insomnia where I just lay there and have empty mind but with zero action to bring me to actually fall asleep. At first I worried about it because I wanted to go to sleep to not have begin work at later hours but then I just started to using it as my meditation time and I am still able to start work at 7am.

I any way my own opinion is that "practice" should be done during whole day doing anything. When I am working it is harder because I concentrate on tasks I have to finish but in my free time I pretty much always concentrate more on my mind states, what prevent me from jhana I want to be in and finding ways to hit it. Being around other people makes it much harder because we mirror each-other mind states naturally but then the practice is to not give in to anyone and force them to go in to jhanic minds themselves. If you can do just that then you will never experience their own bullshit. People will be kind to you, even if they won't realize what is even happening. This is also a practice, and one always worth doing. People have mirror neurons and analyze subtlest things like body movements, tone of voice you use etc. and even the scent we generate from our glands also changes depending on your mind state and if you can react to your own sub-par mind states to move yourself to pleasant jhanic mins states then you can react to other people also and react in ways to bring them to these mind states also. Not in the same way which you experience but even light sub-jhana along with suspending certain activity in their minds is enough to make kinda synchronize with you and for you to have to deal with their dense emotions.

tl;dr
You always have 24/7 time to to do practice. Only specific type of practice in the time slot you always did might be unavailable and even if it is available it is never enough to just practice at this time.
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Jim Smith, modified 8 Months ago.

RE: Maintaining commitment under shifting circumstances

Posts: 953 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
One "trick" I find helpful is to schedule meditation sessions before some other activity that I always do at a fixed time. I am much less tempted to skip or shorten a session this way. 

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