When we undertake a new project or begin a new class, we start out with energy and enthusiasm. We can’t wait to get to the studio or buy the books on the teacher’s reading list. Maybe we make a schedule and dutifully show up for the work. For the first several weeks, we’re flying and then the energy starts to peter out. We continue to show up, but it’s not as fun. And then the work gets hard or we get tired or the new shiny object appears in our peripheral vision and we get distracted. We feel guilty because we set out with an intention and didn’t quite follow through.
This can happen with Continuous Practice. We are excited to find a structure and a community to support us. We roll up our sleeves and dive in. Many folks fly through all one hundred days, no problem. But just as often, interruptions throw us off course. The kids get the flu or we take a vacation or we simply have a busy day and can’t fit in our practice. We feel guilty and don’t show up the next day, and then is starts to spiral and we feel like we’ve failed.
The problem is we think we’ve signed up for a marathon that we either win or lose. Like a race, a hundred day practice period has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The difference is that we’re not going anywhere, and aside from the people hitting the “like” button on Facebook, which we use like a bow of acknowledgment, we receive no external validation.
I created at least part of the problem by beginning with my own 365-day marathon. I showed up on social media every day of 2015 with pictures of my notebook, filled with my daily scribbling. It appeared that I was accomplishing something and that inspired people. If I’d begun with my 2016 practice of one hundreds days of meditation, folks might not have been so ready jump in. For one thing, meditation is just sitting there. But also, I wasn’t as “successful.” I didn’t show up every day.
Fortunately, I have taken my teacher’s advice. I have not let myself get tossed away. In the course of the past ninety-four days, with great humility, I’ve learned something about staying in there with practice, which I hope you’ll find useful in recommitting to your own practice.
A little backstory: While I’ve been meditating somewhat regularly for the past ten years, I could never commit to it on a daily basis. Having a child in the house was one obstacle. Not making it a habit perhaps another. I thought that by making the one-hundred-day promise, I’d create a habit and fulfill my desire to be a real meditator. While I realize that’s not a thing, I’m sure I don’t have to explain what it is to feel like an impostor.
The first week of my attempt one hundred day meditation practice went well. I announced to my family that I was going to need time every day to meditate and that would mean excusing myself twenty minutes a day on weekends. I sat every afternoon after lunch, coming to it with deep gratitude for the moments of stillness. Then I skipped an afternoon and had to fit it into the evening. While Steve and Shira watched television upstairs, I sat on the living room sofa in the dark. That was heavenly for a fee nights, but then one evening, I got tired and skipped. That led to lots of skipping and hoping no one would notice. At four weeks in, I regretted making the commitment. Fortunately, as far as I know, it did not stop anyone from pursuing their own Continuous Practice.
Things turned around when I invited Karen Brody to guest post. She wrote that before she found yoga nidre, she was “having a fight with meditation.” That resonated. Before having children, she joined meditation communities wherever she lived and traveled to study with Thich Nhat Hahnh. Then the children came and her struggle with meditation began. It ended when she discovered, yoga nidre, which restores body and mind through deep relaxation. It’s like a nap, but better.
What if I allowed myself to practice yoga nidre on the days I was too tired to sit up and practice Zazen?
And what if I returned to a practice I began a few summers ago, keeping my earbuds by my bedside and listening to a guided meditation on awakening?
Or listening at night before bed?
What if I gave myself the option of whichever of these felt right or fit into my day?
Once I let go of what I thought was an ideal meditation practice and created parameters that not only fit my life, but supported me during a difficult time, I started showing up everyday. And the more I showed up, the more I felt the benefits of daily stillness, which motivated me to keep going.
So what are the lessons here?
Whatever practice you select make it work with the life you have. If you have three children, you’re not going to practice like a Zen monk.
Watch for the shoulds. Because I study with Natalie Goldberg, I thought I should be doing Zazen every day. I love Zazen, but many days my body needs the rest that yoga nidre allows.
Give yourself the space you need. But also remember, too much wiggle room leads to wiggling.
Most importantly, a hundred day practice period is not a marathon, but a structure in which to cultivate a relationship with your practice. Some days you’re going to be madly in love and some days you’re going to want to break up. Good relationships ride the ebb and flow. Stay in there and see what works for you.
What’s getting in the way of your daily practice?How could you modify the parameters to make it work?
We are coming to the end of this one hundred days of Continuous Practice. Who’s in for the next round? Information here.