Practicing dharma is necessarily a frustrating business. What practitioners, especially beginners, often fail to realize is that frustrations are the signposts of our success. An exasperating lack of concentration, devotion, or inspiration might be just what you need to make the extra effort to tune in to your practice fully. Alternatively, of course, it may topple you in the other direction and stop you practicing altogether—a temptation you must resist at all costs. Always remember, though, that frustration with your spiritual path is often an indication that you are becoming a genuine dharma practitioner.

The key is consistency. Often what happens is that in the heat of inspiration practitioners overdose on practice, then feel deeply frustrated when they fail to experience a good dream, or cannot concentrate properly or control their temper. Having gorged themselves on practice, they stop for a few months, and when they eventually return to it they are right back at square one. At this rate, progress is slow. A far better approach is that of the tortoise. Each step may seem to take forever, but no matter how uninspired you feel, continue to follow your practice schedule precisely and consistently. This is how we can use our greatest enemy, habit, against itself. Habit clings to us like a bloodsucking leech, becoming more rigid and stubborn by the moment, and even if we manage to flick it off, we are still left with an itchy reminder of its existence. By becoming accustomed to regular dharma practice, though, we use our enemy against itself by countering our bad habits with the good habit of practice. And as Shantideva pointed out, nothing is difficult once you get used to it.

Adapted from Not for Happiness: A Guide to the So-Called Preliminary Practices by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse © 2012. Reprinted by permission of Shambhala Publications. www.shambhala.com.

Illustration by Mike Taylor.

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