Developing a disciplined sitting practice is a matter of commitment and patience. For many practitioners, it is not easy, even for those who have been sitting for a while. Sitting every day must become a priority in our daily lives rather than just one more thing we have to do. This requires a great deal of dedication, because meditation is not supported by our culture at large. Watching television is rarely criticized as being selfish, whereas a common question that practitioners bring up is whether one “deserves” to sit, implying that it is selfish to do so. Here are a few tips:
Plan to sit at the same time each day. One of the benefits of doing this is that one gets to know the mind that doesn’t want to sit. Personally, I like to sit immediately upon waking up in the morning. For many people, this seems to be a good time, before we become engaged in the activities of the day. But if you have small children or a demanding job, this may not be possible. And some of us have rebellious natures, so any routine presents a problem. Then we need to be flexible.
Another common question is how long to sit. Generally it is better to sit for a shorter amount of time than to sit way beyond our capacity. If we are constantly struggling to stay still, we may find ourselves wanting to throw our cushion against the wall instead of sitting on it. This should be avoided; after all, our frustration is not the cushion’s fault. We should determine for ourselves the amount of time we sit – there are no set formulas. Too long, and we may never want to sit again; too short, and our practice won’t develop.
It can be helpful to set an electronic timer rather than having to watch a clock. Because the practice is to let go of thoughts about the past and the future, this will free you from having to think or worry about time. You can simply set yourself a specific amount of time to sit and rely on an external sound to signal when the sitting is over.
It is important to sit with the clear intention to be present. At the same time, we need to let go of expectations. In a very real sense, what happens when we sit is none of our business. The practice is to accept whatever arises instead of trying to control our experience. What we can control is our wise effort to be present with what is. We can spend a lot of our sitting time dwelling on memories of past sittings or fantasizing of those to come. When we read or hear about the benefits of meditation, it is tempting to dwell on the stories of wonderful outcomes instead of doing the work of actualizing these possibilities ourselves. There can be a big gap between what we have read about and what is actually happening. Sitting is a way of putting our bodies behind our aspirations.
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