Many of us begin meditation practice with some level of excitement and expectation. But like all things, those too shall pass. Rod Meade Sperry offers some encouragement for keeping on.
Perhaps you meditate occasionally, in the park or on the bus. Maybe you have a dedicated spot in your home and a regular time to meditate. Or you study with a teacher and sit with others who are also following the Buddhist path. All of this can be called practice, and it all has value.
As for that word, “practice”—you may find it helpful to keep it in mind. I know I have.
There’s no rushing what comes with practice. It’ll take as long as it’ll take. But it won’t happen at all if we don’t keep at it.
When we’re practicing, we’re literally rehearsing: we’re trying out, working on, and building up qualities that, while natural in us, might not come naturally to us. When we’re starting with meditation, for example, our minds are not stable. But that’s the deal—that’s why we’re there on the cushion. We start by building mental stability, getting comfortable with stillness. In time, this stability will free us up to go deeper and access true meditative insights. There’s no rushing any of it; it’ll take as long as it’ll take. But it won’t happen at all if we don’t keep at it.
As Zen teacher Teah Strozer has said about meditation, “It’s like playing an instrument. In the beginning, you’re just training your mind, as if you’re a musician playing scales. You don’t have to make judgments, you don’t have to think about how you’re not doing it right. Just do the scales for a couple of years.”
Or how about practicing generosity? That can mean actually sharing your time or resources with others, or mentally wishing them love and freedom from suffering. What if you feel that you have nothing to give? Or what if you’re unhappy, feeling put upon by the world, and you don’t want to deal with anybody?
It would be easy, then, to dismiss the practice of “making a mental offering to someone” as a hollow gesture. But instead, recall that practice is a form of rehearsal: if you keep at it, you might well find that being generous in the real world—becoming more patient, listening to others more carefully, being kinder to them and yourself, too—starts to happen naturally.
Not feeling like practicing is very common and completely understandable. But next time it happens, see if you can go ahead and practice anyway. Even in a bad period, there remains a part of your mind that is invested in developing and deepening our practice. Keep flexing it.
However you do your practice, of course, you want to feel confident that you’re on the right track—and that’s what LionsRoar.com’s Guides — like Buddhism & Meditation for Beginners, Your Guide to Going on a Buddhist Retreat, and 10 Buddhist Books Everyone Should Read are for. No previous experience with Buddhism or meditation? No problem. You’ll find guidance on starting and sustaining a genuine Buddhist meditation practice, and concise meditation instructions from trusted Buddhist teachers across traditions.