The "How to Meditate" issue of Shambhala Sun arrived just in time: my practice has lagged; my stress is on the rise with the upcoming departure of Babysitter and the beginning of school; and my back/neck/shoulders are bothering me. Related? Most definitely. And so, with the desire to meditate firmly in place but the will lacking somewhat, I was (again) motivated to practice by reading Norman Fischer's article on "Getting Started:" ". . . the main difficulty we have with self discipline: we are ambivalent. We both do and don’t want to do what we think we want to do in our own best interests."
Sound familiar? That sums up my often lackadaisical approach to much self-improvement, from dieting to exercise, NVC to meditation. I'm a good starter but then lose focus even though I think I want it, know I should. And then I wonder if I'm doing it right, though I've been assured that really there is no "right." Fischer, too, says:
Better to assume the Soto Zen attitude that meditation is what you do when you meditate. There is no doing it wrong or right. That is not to say that there is no effort, no calm, no focus. Of course there is. The point is to avoid falling into the trap of defining meditation too narrowly, and then judging yourself based on that definition, and so sabotaging yourself. You evaluate your practice on a much wider and more generous calculus. Not: Is my mind concentrated while I am sitting? But: How is my attention during the day? Not: Am I peaceful and still as I sit? But: Is my habit of flying off the handle reducing somewhat? In other words, the test of meditation isn’t meditation. It’s your life.
So, as with many things, I pick up and start again. And since pledges work well for me, as we saw this spring with the bread pledge and my continuation of baking our bread, I'm pledging here to meditate every morning for the next 40 days, getting up before the kids to do it or at the least, doing it when they are in school. First for 5-10 minutes each day, increasing each week by 5-10 until I can do 30. I'm following Karen Maezen Miller's writings on how to meditate, as I was first introduced to zazen through her: start small (just a few minutes), count my breaths, realize that the brain thinks and so it is impossible to turn off thoughts, better just to acknowledge them and let them go.
Fischer says to ask, “How was that? Was it pleasant or unpleasant? What impact did it have on my morning, on the rest of my day, on my week?”
So far so good, today. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.