Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of May 7, 2012

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The Habit of Meditation

(Spiritual Habits: Part 1 of 7)

If we were to form only one spiritual habit, we would do well to make meditation that habit. The profound benefits of a daily meditation practice occur on multiple levels and accumulate over time. The perceptible benefits include peace, kindness, and joy in our heart, clarity and agility in our mind, understanding our patterns and reactions of thought and emotion, improved understanding of our body and its needs through direct, visceral, inner contact with it, improved ability to focus on tasks, more vivid perceptions in all our senses, improved relationships, the growing substantiality of our soul, moments of utter bliss, and so on.

But perhaps the most significant benefit of a regular meditation practice is that it gradually and steadily leads us deeper into the spirit. When we come back into ourselves for a set period every day, we find our inner world opening up. We enter the grand and unexpected hall of consciousness ó unexpected because we had no idea that our inner world is so vast. So accustomed are we to being absorbed in the noisy chatter of our minds and the tides of our emotions, that when all that subsides during our periods of sitting meditation, we seem to be left empty-handed, we see nothing of significance left behind. Slowly we begin to realize that what we thought was nothing is in reality the spacious peace of cognizant stillness, the very substance of our fundamental consciousness itself. What a surprise to learn that we live in that, that our mind is that! Not in theory, but in direct, daily experience. And then at times, we may even be touched by the sacred world beyond consciousness. Regular meditation lays the foundation for our spiritual path.

Now itís not all lights and bliss, especially in the earlier stages of our practice. Most of us have much to work through before we begin letting go of our identification with our thoughts and emotions. But dogged persistence works. So an important aspect of developing a regular practice of meditation consists of refraining from judging the quality of our practice. We just sit and do the chosen practice as best we can. Every day we sit for the allotted time, whether itís pleasant, unpleasant, neutral or boring. Indeed, the freedom we gain in learning not to be driven by what we like or donít like is another significant benefit of training our body and mind to meditate. Then there is the meditative freedom from the constant need for stimulation and distraction. By sitting with ourselves, we get to know ourselves, we get comfortable with ourselves, and we start to know what is beyond ourselves, what is beyond all things.

The best time for meditation is at the start of our day, typically in the morning before breakfast. That sets our inner tone for the day and makes an immense difference to our other spiritual efforts during the day, such as presence. Generally, the longer our sitting, the more deeply we can enter into it. Our inner fog, our immersion in the mental chatter, takes time to settle enough so that we can focus on our method of meditation, although we do begin our effort or non-effort as soon as we sit down.

Is there a minimum length of time? No. Any meditation, even a few moments, matters.

Is there a preferred length of time? Yes. But that is an individual matter, which we discover by ourselves through experimenting with longer and shorter sittings. And that preferred length of meditation can change over the years. To make it into an effective habit, we choose a set minimum period of meditation and then sit for at least that long every day. Occasionally, perhaps weekly, we extend ourselves by sitting for longer than usual or by sitting twice in one day. Evening meditation can quickly usher us into a deep and comforting peace.

We are fortunate in the amazing variety of meditation techniques taught through books, retreats, and teachers. We begin by finding one that suits us and staying with it, or several and alternating among them. But particularly at the beginning, we stick to one practice or one set of practices for some years, so that we can enter them deeply and learn from them. Over time, as we change, our practice will change: we may adopt new methods learned from others or adapt our old ones through experimentation.

Creating a positive habit takes effort. We have to make time for it, again and again. We have to choose to do it, again and again. We have to persevere through the ups and downs of our inner meditative experience. But once established, the habit of meditation pays great dividends. Instead of considering it a chore, we come to cherish our periods of meditation. They become a source of joy and solace, a steady, welcoming, and healing space we return to every day. And itís not just about us. In meditation we transform higher energies and thereby become the bearers of a beneficial influence for the society around us.

For this week, begin, renew, deepen, or extend your habit of meditation.


     

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