Starting a Meditation Practice

Since I once started a meditation practice, I understand the challenge of initially keeping it going, especially when we wonder what it is we are actually doing.  It dawned on me recently that meditation practice does not have to be a slog, even in the beginning.

Depending on what tradition of meditation you are working with, there are many entry points into the practice.  In reality (such as I see it) there is only one true destination of all of them: you yourself, your mind.  If the technique takes you to the mind, then it’s a real practice.  If it traipses you off deeper into thought and illusion, then it’s just a game.

Ideally, a “practice” is consistent, something that we return to every day.  As Trungpa Rinpoche said, it’s so important that meditation become a source of strength for us.  If we can manage that, then when we face difficult situations in life, meditation is naturally the support we will return to.  It’s a way of conditioning the mind out of its conditioning, or at least to work more skillfully with what we’ve got.

So here is my advice: find a practice that is enjoyable.  This is potentially a dangerous instruction, so I will elaborate a bit.  The practice ought to be something that is based on true practice, and not something you yourself invent, or something quirky you dig up on the internet.  Rather, it should come from an established tradition, and ideally there should be a teacher to guide you through the practice and let you know if you are doing it correctly.

The first practice I really “connected” with was dream yoga, which is odd, because it’s not the easiest practice in the world.  But it made sense to me, it was fun, and I could see definite results.  I am not a skilled dream yoga practitioner, but it served as the entry point into other practices.  I began a regular sitting practice because I wanted to be better at dream yoga.  Now, the sitting practice stands alone and I would keep doing it regardless.  Dream yoga broke the ice for me.  What will break it for you?

The most important element in any practice is awareness.  G.I. Gurdjieff, one of the first teachers I connected with (through books), has one of the most striking instructions pointing out our general lack of awareness:

“Not one of you has noticed the most important thing that I have pointed out to you,” he said. “That is to say, not one of you has noticed that you do not remember yourselves.” (He gave particular emphasis to these words.) “You do not feel yourselves; you are not conscious of yourselves. With you, ‘it observes’ just as ‘it speaks,’ ‘it thinks,’ ‘it laughs.’ You do not feel: I observe, I notice, I see. Everything still ‘is noticed,’ ‘is seen.’ … In order really to observe oneself one must first of all remember oneself.” (He again emphasized these words.) “Try to remember yourselves when you observe yourselves and later on tell me the results. Only those results will have any value that are accompanied by self­-remembering. Otherwise you yourselves do not exist in your observations. In which case what are all your observations worth?”

As a Zen teacher said, “Every moment is perfect, but it takes you to complete it.”  So bring self-awareness to whatever you are doing.  Find a meditation technique that works for you.  Find a tradition that supports you.  And then do it!

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