Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why I Sit Every Morning

Every morning, same thing. To sit, or not. Almost always, I end up sitting. 

In that split second of deciding, the mind has to be convinced of the benefit of practice. Remembering the merits already gained from practice, and the wisdom heard from teachers who 'know', those are the two things that get me to my seat.

I know how it feels the days I practice, and the ones when I don't, and the difference between the two. Taking the time to sit is a guarantee against subsequent reactivity, and mindlessness, and the danger of getting losing myself into dangerous thoughts. Simply put, it is good mental hygiene, same way I would not think of going out without having brushed my teeth first. After meditating, I feel more calm, more settled, more centered, and more in my body. I know I can go do my work and reap the rewards from 'showing up' and being fully present. On the other hand, skipping morning practice is a bit like starting the day on the wrong foot, haphazardly put together, and at the mercy of mind at its possible worst. History is there to prove what happens when I do not give myself the gift of practice to start with. Forgetting my wallet, a near miss on the road, feeling more stressed, less satisfying work interactions, wrong speech, and sometimes even wrong actions . . . the consequences can be sour. 

Taking a more long view, practicing every day is a bit like training a puppy. Only with consistency, can one hope to have the puppy fully trained, eventually. The mind is like that. This is why mindfulness goes hand in hand with practice. No practice, no mindfulness. Little practice, little mindfulness. Lots of practice, lots of mindfulness! I often look into the joyful faces of some monastics, and I say to myself, 'I want what they have'. Of course, there is only one way, and that is steady practice so that the mind becomes so sharp that it can see the reality of things as they truly are. From there to wisdom, only a long series of small and sometimes not so small steps. I have experienced enough to intuit the possibilities, and also know that this way of being that is most familiar and not very satisfactory, does not have to be so. There is a better way. I am just still too caught up in layers upon layers of mental fabrications. It has been most valuable reading the suttas, and more contemporary accounts from respected teachers, those who speak to me such as Ayya Khema, Ajahn Chah, and U Tejanyia. When the practice grows weak, I can fall back on their wise words, and make sense of doubt, and the other hindrances. 

In the end, I sit every morning because I don't want to be more miserable than I have to. I want to give myself a chance to live each moment of this day fully. I want to be happy. 

How about you? What motivates you to sit?


  1. As one teacher told me, when he is tempted to stay in bed and not sit, he learned that if you move your body, the mind will follow.

  2. I try not to rely on motivation. If I start to wonder whether or not to sit... it usually doesn't get done! Best, for me, to get to it without question, just as something that I do. Thanks for the interesting entry!

  3. When the bell rings, we get up. Suzuki Roshi said so, and we have an Ino who will knock on my door if I don't get up.

    I have to say, it pains me to hear "merits" and "gained." This seems like a trap.

    Did you know in our school the rhetoric is completely opposed to gaining idea?

    Are there any dialogs to point to between the elder's school and the bodhisattva's school? Is this an arhat-bodhisattva split?

  4. Thank you, Marguerite. This is a beautiful piece. I find that past experience motivates me as well. Days of sitting vs. not sitting bring similar results to those you've described. Sometimes it seems like there is some force at play (beyond mindfulness) but then it seems superstitious even to acknowledge that idea. Things really do go more smoothly, though, don't they? It's amazing.

    I had a weak daily practice until January 2012. At that point I signed up for the Spring Retreat in Joshua tree and started sitting every day in preparation. I find that a retreat on the calendar is wonderful motivation for me. The retreat went beyond all expectations and my daily practice has been quite steady ever since. Now the 2013 retreat is on the calendar : )

    I love your blog posts and tweets. Keep up the good work! And keep up the good work you do in the real world, too -- huge blessings!