Developing a Daily Practice
It can be fun and expansive to go to a class, visit new environments, have conversations about spirituality and read books, but the main growth will be in two areas: 1) the stable, daily practice you cultivate at home on your own, and sometimes with family members if you are lucky enough to share such interests. 2) the trickle through effect and conscious application of this same expanding awareness to everyday activities and relations.
Daily practice is your insight, your connection to universal intuition. It is your best friend and your rock. Naturally it will evolve and change over time, but for each period, whether it is 6 months, a year of a few years, you will want to establish deepen and penetrate a daily practice that has consistent form. You might do a 1-hour practice of yogasana followed by a 30-minute sitting. The sitting will be a specific form of cultivation you are exploring such as breath counting, watching thoughts or sending love, in a specific way of doing so. IT will be one of these, same everyday, or two of these in a particular rotating way. This is how we get to know a practice and make progress. Classes, reading and talks are pointers to integrate into the slow-changing, stable thing you do every day.
Reasons to miss practice – it is a good thing to take a day off once a week or so according to your personality – no more than twice a week. With an established practice you may find this energizing in several ways. I recommend not skipping a day because you feel you are too busy. On a busy day, do your practice, and work your day around it. The mind plays tricks about not having time – you skipped a 45 minute practice but fit in a 90 minute TV show. Better to consciously skip a day for the purpose of raising awareness and strengthening practice.
As your practice becomes established it may become necessary to lengthen meditation sets in order to experience one’s resistance and refine the undoing of the habitual behavior you are beginning to heal. It may also become important to add a second practice session, or try doing several shorter sessions daily. Playing with these dynamics will reveal ways to deepen ones awareness and continue professing in presence and happiness. At the same time one does not want to become fanatical or lose sight of the need to become clearer and happier in one’s everyday life – this is all part of the process.
It is a real boost to take time out to absolutely focus on practice. Three days, a week, ten days. This kind of time is likely to bring you to very deep places and breakthroughs that will imbue your everyday daily practice and your everyday life. It’s one thing to sit for a half hour once in a day, another to do it twelve times every day for a week. Unless you are a monk this isn’t a lifestyle, but doing it once or twice a year will make the half hour once a day much more connected. You can do this with a teacher and a group to keep you on track, and later try it solo.
I have seen “yoga retreats” offered that do not essentially challenge one’s everyday situation. Here we are talking about more of a supercharge into depths of meditation practice, as per monastic tradition. It is a chance to go into a zone that will broaden your perspective and deepen your connection, by concentrating most of your time on meditation and re-thinking (or un-thinking) everything you do to explore a genuine instead of a conditioned response. Six or twelve meditation sets daily, each 30 minutes, plus asana yoga, chanting and mindful breathing all day long.
There will be some withdrawal, some pain and some pure joy not usually experienced. Some think of this as super disciplined or harsh. But if the participant is inspired and wants relief from some of the usual lifestyle obstacles , it is a great pleasure to be able to put it all aside.
My approach to retreating is – live the way you ideally would if you were to do all the practice you want, and apply all your ethical /right living ideals to all your actions. We are retreating form the destructive unconscious ways of our everyday lives in order to shine up and sharpen up so as to go back in with renewed energy.
I guess I’m using the work “retreat” form hanging around with Buddhists so much. I’ve always felt that term can imply something negative about our everyday life. Perhaps they are better called “intensives” or “immersement”. I find it a very rewarding activity and is a tribute to the rest of your life. You are setting out time to try live nobly, following your intuition about going deeper, 24/7 – a relief from that feeling of “I’m not trying hard enough” or ” I wonder what happens if you really go for it?” GO for it and find out! Vacations will never look the same.