Practice means always starting over

It is our attitude to practice which sustains us when we get discouraged or when the mind labels it “boring” or “difficult” or “going nowhere”. The best attitude to have is that of “starting over” which takes the focus off a prescribed outcome and places it on returning again and again to the practice.

So just how do you practice starting over? Think of it as shifting your attention away from controlling the outcome and abandoning your usual reactions – criticizing, judging, complaining, and lamenting – to getting off track. You don’t deny your thoughts and feelings, and you don’t try to make them go away. Instead, you acknowledge them without making any judgments about them and with compassion for how difficult this moment is. You then follow the acknowledgment with what I call “and” practice, in which you say to yourself, “Yes, I just got lost, and now I’ll just start over.”

You develop the strength to start over because you’re committed to moving toward your goal, not to being there. This is why I call it an attitudinal shift. Your goals matter because they give direction to your life, but your actual life happens in the endless stream of moments that occur between now and when, if ever, you reach your goal.

Ironically, the practice of starting over is a more effective way to achieve your goal than constantly fixating on it. That’s because most of us are not very good at simply delivering results. For instance, if you are trying to lose weight, curb your temper, or cease being a workaholic, you already know what to do to stop the undesirable behavior, but you don’t. Discouragement from your past and imaginings about how bad the future will be drain your energy and cause you to fail. When you embrace starting over as a practice, you focus instead on what you are doing right now and what you need to do or are failing to do. Thus, if you have agreed to take on yet another work project, you reverse yourself as soon as it dawns on you that it is too much. If you sense that you’re losing your temper, you just stop. No drama; you just get right back on your path and start over.

Philip Moffitt Starting Over

Transformation

Monday was the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. It is a very famous example of change: blinding flash of light, depicted as knocking him from his horse, in a solitary, blind state until meeting with a wise man takes the “scales from his eyes”. It is presented as very dramatic, almost instantaneous. And in some ways that is what we all seek – some event or encounter which will provide us with instant relief and comfort or the skills we feel we lack to make sense and success of our lives. It is as if we believe there is a secret chord out there somewhere that will be the missing part, and will complete the symphony which is our lives.

However, such a dramatic change is not the norm and was not even true for Saint Paul. We are told that he went out into the desert after this event to reflect and enter inside himself. Some writers say that there was a ten year gap between this event and his first activity. For him, and for us, change is a slow, gradual, patient process.

This evening, a new MBSR Course begins as we set out together on this slow process of change. Everyone comes with different expectations, from different places in their lives. It is true that sometimes a dramatic change or event in our lives can bring us to a Course like this, but it can also be a gradual growing awareness of the need for change or support. However we got here, we learn very quickly that we can begin afresh every day, every moment, because each moment, for the participants and for me, is a new moment, the only moment we have to live. This Course is a chance to turn towards what is deepest and best inside us, an opportunity to practice paying attention. Gradual paying attention, moment by moment, changes how we see life. In that sense it is a real conversion.

Meditation and Insomnia

Meditation may be an effective behavioral intervention in the treatment of insomnia, according to research presented in June 2009. Results indicate that patients saw improvements in subjective sleep quality and sleep diary parameters while practicing meditation.

The study divided participants with chronic primary insomnia into two groups. Primary insomnia is sleeplessness that cannot be attributed to an existing medial, psychiatric or environmental cause. One group practiced yoga and meditation while the other group, the control group, didn’t. At the end of the two-month-long trial, the patients who practiced yoga/meditation experienced improved sleep quality and sleep time. Sleep latency, total sleep time, total wake time, wake after sleep onset, sleep efficiency, sleep quality and depression all improved in the patients who used meditation. “Results of the study show that teaching deep relaxation techniques during the daytime can help improve sleep at night,” said Ramadevi Gourineni, MD, director of the insomnia program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Evanston, Ill.

Ramadevi Gourineni, et al. “Effects of Meditation on Sleep in Individuals with Chronic Insomnia” American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Abstract ID: 0874.

St Francis de Sales

Today is the feastday of Saint Francis de Sales. He is the patron of Geneva Diocese and was based in the lovely French town of Annecy. He was known for his gentleness and good humour. Sometimes religious practice can lead to a certain rigidity and severity of attitude. Not so Saint Francis.

I like this quotation from him. Sometimes inner peace is disturbed by one’s own mind, so mindfulness practice, in noticing our thoughts, helps keep an inner balance. It reminds me of the saying from Thich Nhat Hahn, Life is short so we should smile, breath and go slowly.

Never be in a hurry;
do everything quietly and in a calm spirit.
Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever,
even if your whole world seems upset.

Meditation

Sitting meditation is the most common kind of meditation, but we can also practice meditation in other positions, such as walking, standing, and lying down. When we wash clothes, chop wood, water the vegetables, or drive the car – wherever we are, whatever we are doing, in whatever position our body happens to be, if the energies of mindfulness, concentration, and insight are present in our mind and body, then we are practicing meditation.

We do not have to go to a temple, a church, or a meditation center to practice meditation. Living in society, going to work every day, looking after our family, are also opportunities for us to practice meditation. Meditation has the effect of nourishing and healing, body and mind. And it brings the joy of living back to the practitioner and to those in her life.

Thich Nhat Hahn