The Impact of Formal Practice

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It’s amazing how easily my mind can convince itself not to meditate.

“I want my whole life to be more meditative”, it says. “I will practice body awareness while I exercise, I will practice mindfulness while I’m doing my work, I will practice compassion and kindness while I am around my friends and family.” Isn’t that what it’s all about?

This causes us to grow out of touch with the immense depth of inner resources that are available when the time and space are given. The remedial effect of formal practice, which I simply define as the time that is set aside for undivided meditation, seems boundless. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

I have a friend who has been pushing himself to run farther and farther distances each day. Today he told me a story about running farther than he has ever done before. His route was about 9 miles, and as he approached the last mile he ran past a man sitting on his porch. The man looked at him and said “run an extra mile for me today”. Taken aback and slightly annoyed at the fact that this man had no idea how long he had been running, my friend responded saying, “I think I just ran a couple of extra miles for you”. The man looked back at him, slightly smiling, and in a completely earnest tone told him this: “you need to get better”. At first, my friend was resistant. After all, what did this guy know about running? But after letting the experience settle, he obliged and ran the extra mile. He said that he basically limped home, and it was an exceptionally formative experience. I thought this was fascinating. I’ve personally never had an interaction with a stranger that remotely resembled this one.

About this time last year I attended a lecture by one of my favorite meditation enthusiasts, Jon Kabat-Zinn. He came to a church in Boston and they had set him up to address the audience from a great big podium. Instead, he chose to sit and face us from on top of a banister that was situated one level lower. It was an incredibly inspiring lecture and one of his central messages was the impact of formal daily practice. He encouraged us to set a timer, meditate till the end of the timer, and meditate longer than that.

The most disruptive trick I play on myself is the trick of forgetting to meditate. We have the time that we think we need, and if we use it right, we will often find that we have the answers to our own questions. Formal meditation is a resource that is virtually always available, and it is the resource that I have found to be by far the most useful for living a life more in line with my own personal goals and values. The beauty is that no matter what your goals and values are, meditating will help you live a life more in line with them!

For anyone who likes to listen to guided meditations and Dharma talks, I recommend Tara Brach, Joseph Goldstein, and Akincano Marc Weber. However, don’t forget that there is no substitute for silence.