Thursday, December 31, 2009

Restraining yourself, both on and off the cushion

Broadly speaking, self-restraint is the quality of mind that keeps you from acting on every impulse or desire that flits through your brain and that helps you discriminate between behavior that’s useful and supportive and behavior that’s unsupportive or even harmful. If you’re an athlete, you need selfrestraint to prevent you from eating junk food or staying out late when you’re training for a big competition. If you’re a meditator, self-restraint can function on several different levels:
  • Before meditation: You may choose to eat well and in moderation or avoid mind-altering substances such as tobacco or caffeine because you want to keep your mind clear and fresh for your meditation.
  • During meditation: You can use self-restraint to keep pulling your mind back from its habitual fantasies and preoccupations to the object of your meditation, be it your breath or a mantra or some other focus. Be careful, however, not to confuse self-restraint with repression, avoidance, or judgment. You don’t need to criticize yourself for wandering off, nor do you want to push certain “undesirable” thoughts or feelings out of your mind. Instead, just welcome whatever arises, while gently returning your focus to the object of your meditation.After meditation: As your practice deepens and strengthens, you build a certain power or energy of mind — in the East they call it samadhi. You can blow off this energy by daydreaming or planning or obsessing — or you can use self-restraint to channel your energy back into your practice of being mindful from moment to moment.
Like self-discipline, self-restraint has a bad rap in our culture. After all, aren’t you supposed to say what you think and do what feels right? But what feels right in the moment may not be the same as what feels right in the long run —and self-restraint is the faculty that helps you distinguish between the two. For example, you may be tempted to charge those plane tickets to Hawaii because it feels right, but you may have different feelings altogether when you get your credit card statement. In the same way, it may feel great to spend your meditation indulging in fantasy — until you start wondering in a month or two why you still can’t count your breaths from one to ten. Above all, though, remember to be gentle with yourself!

No comments: