Taking regular steps to improve meditation practice

Long-time meditation practitioner and teacher Vajradaka gives practical suggestions about how we can develop essential skills in meditation and rekindle faith in our  practice.

Many people struggle to keep up a regular meditation practice, even when they really want to. Here are a few practical guidelines.

Most of those who have difficulties are not disciplined enough in the way they work in meditation, and a measured amount of discipline each day can make the process easier and more enjoyable.

For example, you can set yourself the task of shortening the time it takes you to notice when your mind wanders off. At the start of each practice form an intention to catch yourself as soon as possible each time your mind wanders. A neat little way of doing that is hone the skill of having a ‘subtle thought’ which asks “Here or away”? If you are   far away in thought or fantasy build-up your experiential awareness from a whole sense of being present then, the body and then the focus on the breathe.

If you consciously decide to do this every day for a week, a positive inclination to acting in this way will develop. Your skill in noticing your attention wandering will increase and your concentration will benefit. Taking on a task like this is within your ability and if it succeeds it will increase your confidence, interest and engagement. It will make the practice feel more your own.

Take time outside formal meditation to consider whether  what you’re doing in the meditation is working and have the intention to adjust accordingly when you next sit.

In the following week you could take on another task for each meditation practice. This time have the general intention to recognize accurately how you are going away. A simple of measure is ask in ‘ subtle thought’ “excited or dull”? If dull stimulate your attention up if excited calm your attention down.  Taking time outside formal meditation to consider whether you’re recognizing this simple difference can be useful. Correct recognition  allows you to be more effective in countering these tendencies to go away from direct experience.

I suggest that you take on the practice of noticing  quickly and accurately, and applying  a solution effectively for three-weeks.

A good habit to establish if you meditate within a busy schedule is to give yourself at least five minutes at the end of the meditation, before plunging into something different. During meditation, if you get even slightly concentrated, there is not much sensory input. You enter into the mind’s own experience of itself. If after meditating you suddenly listen to the news on the radio or even start to plan your day in a determined way, that original subtle experience of concentration will be jarred. Over time an inner rebellion to being put through such jarring can develop. The result may be that you feel resistant to meditating, without knowing why.

When we engage intelligently with our meditation practice we experience tangible results and gain greater confidence in our ability to work with the mind.

A way of thinking about discipline is that being present and alive to your experience helps you make better choices and follow positive mental states which in the long term make you happier. To be habitually away from experience in the long term closes you down and inhibits your ability to be choose positive directions.