Why do we forget what works for us? Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, throughout a lifetime we accumulate habits and reinforce the ones we have. Even when we know what works best or better, we do not always do that. Even worse, I notice that I actually forget how good something tastes or feels when I haven’t been eating or doing it for too long.
I forget how good I feel after doing something or eating something that is healthy, short-term as well as long-term. It’s not as if I don’t know what works best for me, for this body, for this life. I know and I do the opposite. Or, I know and I seem not to care.
Most of us aren’t pathologically self-destructive, so how do we form unhelpful habits?
When I first started practicing #meditation (#Transcendental, or #TM) I had just graduated high school. I had no habits around #meditating. I didn’t even know what it was. My newly acquired interest and commitment became a habit: for eight years, I #meditated twice a day for 20 minutes per session, 99% of the days.
Really? I was that disciplined, that committed at almost 18 years old? No. I became that kind of person. I developed a liking, then a respect, then an appreciation, then almost a superstitious reliance on my twice-a-day meditation sessions.
I meditated in cars (not while driving, since this type recommended closed eyes!), on buses, trains and subways, in airports and waiting areas of every description, in empty classrooms, on my bed (sitting up), on a chair, on the floor, by a pool or lake, at the ocean, alone and amidst people. I meditated in my shared dorm room and then apartments or houses even when others were right in the same room, talking. I just didn’t let anything stop me and I could do it that easily.
For eight years I meditated twice each day; then I had a baby. At that point, being a breastfeeding mom, I reduced my usual allotment to once a day and was grateful to have that 20 minutes. I then began to learn about other types of meditation, took some other classes (Wicca, Shamanism, “Eastern” but not TM-style, “New Age”) read some books. I tried each of these and would practice them for a while, still keeping to a schedule of doing some meditation every day for at least 20 minutes. As my son got older, I put in a hour in a row most days. Sixteen more years of “dabbling” but continuing to meditate.
At first, starting in 1996 when I had then been meditating in other ways for 25 years, I did have a daily practice because I committed to completing the Preliminary Practices (Ngöndro) in a timely fashion. This requires a large amount of time because the practitioner has to accumulate over 100,000 repetitions of each of 4 different mantras while doing each one’s visualization and sometime physical movements at the same time as chanting the mantra.
It took me 29 months, which is about the usual for someone not doing Ngöndro full time. By completing that, I was eligible for and attended a #retreat the summer of 1999. During that 7 weeks, I learned more practices, some of which required no mantra or physical movements, just sitting. But, only one was like TM. The rest were brand-new to me and some were difficult to adopt as daily practices.
One of these that is easy to do daily is Dzogchen, or the “Great Perfection,” as it’s usually translated. Dzogchen is not discussed with non-practitioners much, and I will not break that tradition. There are good reasons for that secrecy. However, I will say this: I really resonate with this practice and still have it as my main meditation practice.
After #meditating most every day for 25 years, I believed that I had a habit of meditating. Not so true, I found out, as I got more into #Buddhist meditation.
The problem? Me, of course. But, in my defense: there are too many types of meditation in my #Tibetan #Vajrayana #Nyingma Longchen Nyingtik lineage, too many possible ways to practice, too many commitments, too many choices to do them all each day. No one could. How to decide?
Having to decide, I realize now, is my main downfall in maintaining a habit. It is better for me to have a structure that I adhere to “no matter what,” that requires no decision-making, no choosing between this or that.
For my home retreat, there are too many choices and I am falling into bad habits already. I am allowing distractions (yesterday’s was having the internet be “down” in our area for more than 12 hours, starting at 7 AM), chores, my #writing and #editing, and the choices themselves to confound me.
I do not yet have a good schedule, or structure, for my home retreat days. I hope to develop that in the next several days.
Wish me luck.