The Secret of Sustaining a Practice

runners

 

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.

 

 


6 thoughts on “The Secret of Sustaining a Practice

  1. Suzi Banks Baum

    Oh Saundra, I needed this post today. My newly established and regular meditation practice that I got up to 15 minutes sitting before my Armenia trip was completely uprooted by travel. And ideas. And momentum. I just stopped. I have been gentle on my self since I got back, but once I cleared jet lag I figured, okay, back to the cushion. I have tried chanting, meditation music, candles, and the other things that draw me. Finally, yesterday, I let go of my timer and just sat for what felt like enough. I have no idea how long I was there. But you know what? I am done with the timer. I think I had gotten a bug of achievement, as you suggest, the marathon idea, in my head and that made it an accomplishment, rather than a state of being in time. Also, walking meditation really helps me when my body is just itchy to move. I have no idea where this will go and really, I am done caring about it. I will sit or walk, quietly, and let that be enough. Much love to you! S

    Reply
  2. Marisa Goudy

    Oh, dearest Saundra! I needed this too. I have hit the wall with my own daily practice of #365StrongStories and I feel trapped by it. Was I nuts to commit to writing something publishable each day for a year when I have two kids, and a house, and a business that can’t be a hobby? Yep. I was nuts. A really sweet, inspired, creative kind of nuts, but if I am not careful, I will start writing posts about “the #365project that ruined my life.”

    Right now I am working hard to work less and not give it up. I feel especially driven to keep things going because so many great writers have been sending guest storyteller posts (like Suzi, above, xo!). I need to refocus on who my ideal readers are – the coaches and healers and psychotherapists who are perfect for my consulting and soon-to-be released online class. I am going to be expanding what “strong story” means even further to talk about how we need to tell ourselves stronger stories to be happy and successful and at peace. This will draw in the therapists and others who focus so much on mindset and shifting thought patterns – and it’s another way to draw in a community of guest writers without scaring them with “tell me a story.”

    And I am going to tell the story of reading THIS post as today’s entry – the story is in the sisterhood of all of us who try our best to show up everyday and forgive ourselves when it just doesn’t work.

    xo Marisa

    Reply
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  4. Peggy Acott

    Saundra, for me too, your timing with this post is spot-on perfect.

    I just finished my 365 days of writing, with very few “skips” but also with days where I worked on projects rather than simple writing practice….did I fail? No. I didn’t indeed show up for writing something almost every day for a year, and that has indeed set a commitment in motion…but hitting that marker was seriously anticlimactic; I found it hollow and empty and so-what-who-cares sad almost. I still don’t know what that was about, but trying to just be curious about it rather than judgmental.

    I am now about ten days away from the second, 100-day practice (you were right when you cautioned about carrying two #continuouspractice activities simultaneously!). This one I had intended to be about moving and living in my body more actively (hence the occasional photos of yoga mat or swimming suit and goggles), but it became mostly a snapshot from my morning walk with the dog – something I was already doing, so my original idea was to do “more,” which I realize looking back set me up for that smack of the unrealized resolution.

    But, as happy as I will be not having to remember to take and post a photo every day (after first scrolling back through to see which day I’m on), I realize now that the continuous practice WORKED. In both my writing and my living in my body, there is more and consistent awareness and attention, which I hope has set a stage of good momentum for the future…with more fine-tuned discernment of what each day requires and can contain.

    So, thank you, so much.

    Reply
    1. Saundra Goldman Post author

      Peggy– Thanks for your sharing your experience. I appreciate your candor. I, too, felt let down after 365 days of writing practice. We often think we are going somewhere, but it turns out that the pleasure is in the moment of practice, rather than arriving at some mountaintop of accomplishment. And it does change us. The trick is to show up with out that expectation and stay awake in the moment.

      Thank you for our tremendous effort.

      Reply
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