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Lions Roar : March 2015
it is as though you’re inviting practice vibes into your living space. Some people like to create altars, hang pictures, or include statues or other objects in that area. which reminds them to maintain an attitude of respect and sacredness in life. Read something You certainly don’t have to become a Buddhist scholar to engage in meditation practice, but it is important to devote some time to study. As a support for sitting practice, sometimes less study is more, so reflecting on just a short passage each day may be more than enough food for thought. Personally, I like to go slowly and deeply when I read dharma, giving myself time to consider why something is being said and contemplate the many layers of its meaning and implications. I like to try rephrasing what I have read in my own words. Overall, it is good to balance practice and study. If you are too attached to words and intimidated by practice, maybe you need to lean into the practice side of things. If you love practice, but are intimidated by study, maybe you need to lean more into sharpening your intellectual understanding. Daily Life One of the best supports for practice is daily life. Here you have the opportunity to cultivate behaviors and attitudes that prepare you to be a better practitioner. By paying attention to your behavior and lifestyle, you can put your practice realizations to the test. It is a two-way street. Your meditative training is nurtured and strengthened by a loving and skillful engagement with the world. In turn, your engagement with the world becomes more effective when it is joined with the greater mindfulness and awareness developed in your formal meditation practice. Challenges Meditation is challenging. It is not so easy to stick with it, and for the DIY meditator, going it alone, it is even harder. But if you are aware of some of the challenges that may arise, it will be easier to deal with them and keep moving forward. Each of us is mixing our unique history, style, habits, and understanding with the practice, so different obstacles and breakthroughs will arise for each person. However, it may be helpful to go over a few of the common challenges you are likely to encounter. Hopefully this will help you to be less surprised or discouraged when they do arise. They are to be expected and are not a sign of failure. Actually, they are an indication that your practice is starting to cook. Traditionally, it is said that more progress means more challenges. Learning to meditate As a beginning DIY practitioner, the first challenge is to find clear instructions on how to meditate. There are many different schools of meditative training, and you need to choose a tech- nique that makes sense to you. Once you have decided, then it is important to explore that technique and become familiar with it through direct experience—through practice. Doing one thing repeatedly and well is apt to bear more fruit than dabbling in one thing after another, or taking a mix-and- match approach. Meditation practice is called “practice” for a reason: just like a singer practicing scales or a yogi practicing downward dogs, the point is repetition, doing the same thing over and over. Physical challenges The second challenge is to get used to meditation practice on a physical level. Most of us are not used to sitting still for any length of time; nor are we used to sitting cross-legged on a meditation cushion. It is common to experience physical pains of various sorts as your body adjusts to sitting practice. When that happens, instead of becoming disheartened or freaking out, it is useful to explore such sensations as they arise. Some pains seem to come and go. They are shifty: they’re there and then they’re gone. If they stick around, you can alleviate many physical pains by adjusting your posture so that it is more relaxed and balanced. Basically, when pain persists or grows, you have the option of either sticking it out or giving yourself a break. You could move to a chair, or stretch and regroup. As a guideline for responding to pain, try to find a middle ground between being too tight or too loose. You also might have a health or bodily issue you need to take into account. As a DIY practitioner, you need to find a posture and sitting set-up that works for you. Staying on track A third challenge is figuring out if you are on track or not. Without a meditation guide, how do you know if you are doing it right? This can be quite tricky and subtle. It really puts you, as a DIY practitioner, on the spot, for it is sometimes said that one who is self-taught has a fool for a teacher. But a few guidelines may be helpful here. One is to be aware of the fixed views and expectations you bring to the practice. As they arise, simply note them and return to the technique. Be wary of attempts to match your experience to what you think should be happening. Instead try to stay with your pres- ent experience just as it is. Traditionally, the only true measure of whether your medi- tation practice is on track or not is the extent to which your attachments, conceptual fixations, habits, and egocentrism are increasing or diminishing. SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2015 55