Friday, June 13, 2008

How to Live in Harmony with Your Meditation

Now that you know what motivates you to meditate, you may benefit from a few guidelines for enhancing and deepening your practice. In particular, meditators over the centuries have discovered that how you act, what you think about, and which qualities you cultivate can have an immediate impact on the depth and stability of your meditation.
Every spiritual tradition emphasizes right conduct of some kind — and not necessarily on the basis of rigid notions of right and wrong. When your actions don’t jibe with your reasons for meditating — for example, when you’re meditating to reduce stress but your actions intensify conflict — your everyday life may be working at cross-purposes with the time you spend on your cushion. (The Hebrew word for sin originally meant “off the mark”!) The more you meditate, the more sensitive you become to how some activities support or even enhance your meditation — and others disturb or discourage it. Of course, there is a never-ending feedback loop between formal meditation and everyday life: How you live affects how you meditate, and how you meditate affects how you live.
With these thoughts in mind, here are ten basic guidelines for living in harmony with the spirit of meditation:
  • Be mindful of cause and effect. Notice how your actions — and the feelings and thoughts that accompany them — influence others and your own state of mind. When you flare up in anger or lash out in fear, observe how the ripples can be felt for hours or even days — in the responses of others, in your own body, and in your meditation. Do the same with actions that express kindness or compassion. As the Bible says, “As you sow, so shall you reap.”
  • Reflect on impermanence and the preciousness of life. Death is real, say the Tibetans; it can come without warning, and this body, too, will one day be food for worms and other earthly creatures. By reflecting on how rare it is to be a human being at a time when physical comforts are relatively plentiful and the practice of meditation and other methods for reducing stress and relieving suffering are so readily available, you may feel more motivated to take advantage of the opportunities you have.
  • Realize the limitations of worldly success. Check out the people you know who have achieved the worldly success you aspire to. Are they really any happier than you are? Do they have more love in their lives or more peace of mind? Through meditation, you can achieve a level of inner success that’s based on joy and tranquility rather than material gain.
  • Practice nonattachment. This classic Buddhist counsel may seem on first blush like an impossible task. But the point here is not to be indifferent or to disengage from the world, but to notice how attachment to the outcome of your actions affects your meditations — and your peace of mind. What would it be like to act wholeheartedly, with the best of intentions, and then let go of your struggle to get things to be a certain way?
  • Cultivate patience and perseverance. If nothing else, the practice of meditation requires the willingness to keep on keeping on — call it discipline, diligence, perseverance, or just plain stick-to-itiveness, you’ll reap the greatest benefits if you do it regularly, day after day. Besides, the qualities of patience and perseverance translate nicely to every area of life.
  • Simplify your life. The busier and more complicated your life, the more agitated your mind will be when you meditate — and the greater your stress level. Pay particular attention to all those extra activities you tack on to an already crammed schedule (perhaps to avoid taking a deep breath, hearing your heartbeat, facing your fears, and dealing with other unpleasant feelings like loneliness, emptiness, grief, or inadequacy). If you stop running and listen closely, you may hear the voice of your own inner wisdom.
  • Live with honesty and integrity: When you lie, manipulate, and compromise your core values, you may be able to hide from yourself for a time —until you reach your meditation cushion. Then the proverbial you-knowwhat hits the fan, and every peccadillo comes back to haunt you. Meditation mirrors you back to you, and what you see may motivate you to actualize more of your positive potential.
  • Face situations with the courage of a warrior. Unlike their battlefield counterparts, “meditation warriors” cultivate the courage to drop their aggression and defensiveness, face their fears, and open their hearts —to themselves and others. Easier said than done, you may say, but meditation will teach you how — and then you need to be willing to follow through in real-life situations. Ultimately, every moment becomes an opportunity to practice.
  • Trust the technology of meditation — and yourself. It helps to remember that people have been meditating successfully for thousands of years — far longer than they’ve been using, say, laptop computers or the Internet. Besides, we’re talking low-tech technology here, something anyone can do — like breathing and paying attention. Just trust the technology, follow the instructions — and let go of the results.
  • Dedicate your practice to the benefit of others. As I mention earlier, the Tibetans call this dedication bodhichitta (“awakened heart”) and regard it as essential for meditation that is life-changing, rather than merely cosmetic. Studies of the impact of prayer on healing, cited in Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine by Larry Dossey, MD, have shown that prayers that request specific results are not nearly as effective as those that ask for the best for all concerned. In other words, the love you take is equal to the love you make!

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