Ten Years

Ten years ago today I decided to keep a log and see how long I could go before I missed a day of meditation.

Ten years later it hasn’t happened yet.

I’ve made a post like this once a year for the past ten years. I was the most excited by the first year and the fifth year, as milestones. Well, now there is this one. Ten years.

I have a deep sense of being a beginner. I know I am not. I’ve gone to beginner’s groups. Their concerns aren’t my concerns. Things I read years ago that I thought I understood I realize I didn’t understand at all. After ten years I feel like I understand enough to
“finally start”.

People always ask me how I managed to not miss a day of meditation. I’m not a particularly disciplined person. Before my “experiment”, I was an “on again, off again” meditator like many people, with an emphasis on the “off again”. I learned every possible way a regular habit can fail, over and over again. I had a personal crisis where I felt nearly debilitating stress. I used my strong distaste for that stress as a motivation to apply all of those “failing forward” lessons.

It worked. Those lessons carried me through 9 years. I had challenges, but not strong ones.

Then the summer of 2014 happened. My last parent, one I had a conflicted relationship with, died. A relationship I had that started out as a friendship ten years ago came to a very toxic end. During all of this I had career stress and sleep issues. A full night’s sleep became 5 continuous hours for me, and for several months that only happened two or three times a week. I felt anxiety like I never had before. I learned what the term “panic attack” means. For several months, just getting through to the end of the day was challenge enough. Still, I kept up with my practice. I had to change it a lot, it was hard as hell, but I managed to do something every day.

I learned some more things about meditation.

I also learned some things about Buddhism.

I learned that despite years and years of reading and all of my other exposure I didn’t know shit.

The essence of Buddhism is learning how to accept the non-negotiables of life: unwanted change, loss, and death.

When it came time for the rubber to hit the road it became abundantly clear to me that I didn’t (and do not) accept any of those things. By “accept” I mean experiencing the reality of those things and while not liking them, not driving yourself into the ground with harsh emotions either.

As far as tips for maintaining a meditation practice goes, I could list many, many, little useful ones. Instead, I will list one big one. Learn what relaxation is. It isn’t “taking a break”. It is a set of very specific physiological changes. Learn what those exact physiological changes are and how to produce them. All of the things that people look for in Buddhist meditation will flow effortlessly out of true relaxation. Approach meditation as a relaxation exercise. Don’t take metta for granted either. Integrate the two.

Don’t forget the bottom line of Buddhism. Stay in touch with the reality of unwanted change, loss, and death — as much you can. Forgive yourself if you don’t. It isn’t easy. I still haven’t figured out how to do it.   Buddhism is about moving toward ever greater happiness, given the non-negotiables of life. Buddhists often forget that — that it is about happiness.  It matters.

Your mileage may vary, but the single most useful resource I have found for all of these things has been the teachings of Ajahn Brahm. While I like his books, his talents really shine in the videos and audios of his talks ( link, link, link, and link ).

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7 Responses to Ten Years

  1. Bruce J says:

    Thank you, Steve. You are an inspiration to all. Although our paths are highly personal and individual, the encouragement and wisdom that you share is very precious. You are a gem amongst the Sangha of this entire world. Let your light shine very brightly. Although converting others is not the way of Buddhism, sharing our own light is so important. It sometimes sparks the desire in others to seek a positive change, but it is gentle and non-judgmental. It is so great that you share without judging others. You have touched me deeply. Thank you.

  2. jlwilson58 says:

    Congratulations, Steve. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience. It was very inspirational and motivating.

    With metta,

    John

  3. Interesting since I also recently past the 10 year mark after not missing many days of practice. I did miss a few (about 3 or 4 a year) for different reasons at different times, traveling abroad, feeling that certain states of concentration and real life didn’t mix so well, keeping it fresh and lively, returning to that original enthusiasm and excitement of the first months of practice and not turning the practice into a habit or worse: a chore.

    I had that freshness when I started and striving too much, lost it. So, 10 years is great and I also learned a lot when a friend of mine and myself realized that she was a stream enterer in a previous life. She sat the first time after saying the Lord’s prayer because it calmed her down, made a vow of inner silence and joyfully started becoming acquainted with the first Jhana. She had about 30 minutes meditation experience but much wisdom, never a harsh word for anyone, working hard, supporting her widowed mother by herself even though other members of her family were in a better position to do so. For about 3 weeks, her practice was all bliss until she entered the Dark Night for about a week. Then she went on past the 4th Jhana and is now my teacher although she refuses the ‘title’.

    I just wanted to offer another side to the practice. We seem to think of the suffering as a good thing but like everything else, it is a matter of balance. My Dark night lasted 4 years so I’m not pretending to be better than anyone but my friend’s experience reminded me that when I was a beginner, I had the same experiences, but because of my lack of wisdom, I strived and made my life and practice much more complicated than was necessary. I came out of the Dark Night when I realized that the suffering was an illusion I had created and just dropped it.

    So keep it fresh. Remember those moments as a child when ‘you had it’ naturally. Bring the joy back to the practice. It is fascinating and exciting. Right effort is an art….
    .
    May we all be blessed with wisdom.

    • Steve says:

      Chris,

      Thank you for the very interesting comment.

      If you friend was a stream enterer in a past life, wouldn’t she also be a stream enterer in this life? If she is thinking along these terms I’m assuming she recollects at least some of her past lives? Reaching the jhanas after only a few weeks worth of practice is impressive.

      Is “Dark Night” a Daniel Ingram term?

      I never, and still do not think that suffering is good for us. The way I see it is that death, unwanted change, and loss are going to happen no matter what. Given that it is a certainty and that there is nothing to be done, it is better to learn to “accept” them so I don’t make the experience harder on myself with loads of fight or flight responses happening in my system…..as happened last summer.

      Thanks again for the interesting comment

      Steve

  4. Steve says:

    Chris,

    Thank you for the very interesting comment.

    If you friend was a stream enterer in a past life, wouldn’t she also be a stream enterer in this life? If she is thinking along these terms I’m assuming she recollects at least some of her past lives? Reaching the jhanas after only a few weeks worth of practice is impressive.

    Is “Dark Night” a Daniel Ingram term?

    I never, and still do not think that suffering is good for us. The way I see it is that death, unwanted change, and loss are going to happen no matter what. Given that it is a certainty and that there is nothing to be done, it is better to learn to “accept” them so I don’t make the experience harder on myself with loads of fight or flight responses happening in my system…..as happened last summer.

    Thanks again for the interesting comment

    Steve

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