When you commit to meditation practice, you begin on the path towards self-discovery.
And along this path you'll experience dozens of "little defeats" or adversities. Anyone that's ever worked to do something (anything) has encountered them. It's simply part of the process towards personal and spiritual growth.
Those little defeats don't point to your own inability, though. In fact, they serve as guideposts indicating that you're about to push beyond your current state to something "greater".
Your meditation practice, as well as your goals in the practice, will be unique to you. However, everyone encounters essentially the same types of adversities, or little defeats, along the way that threaten to undermine your efforts: the psychological barrier that convinces us we're being unproductive if we choose to meditate instead of work, the constant busyness that clouds our mind and leaves us asking, "what happened?" at the end of each day, and the fear that we're not practicing properly.
No matter which applies to you, eventually, you're going to lose focus. These adversities and the resulting loss of focus are a natural part of the process (of doing anything, really), so you'll need to know how to get passed them to be able to maintain a consistent practice that brings you calm and clarity.
A loss of focus could last a few hours, days, even months or worst of all if left untreated could lead you to quit on your meditation practice altogether. It's because of this that when these little defeats occur, it's important to treat them with a great sense of urgency.
Act like a fire just broke out in your home and unless you put it out now it will cause serious damage. This fire exists inside of your mind, it's a fire ready to burn any motivation and desire you have directed at continuing your meditation practice.
In these situations, you must reaffirm your practice. No matter what happened you need to get up, dust yourself off and refocus.
When I say reaffirm your practice, I'm referring to techniques that reestablish your focus, get you back on track with your daily practice in general and sometimes even further strengthen your commitment to it. There are two techniques you can use to reaffirm your meditation practice:
- Remember Why - First, with your thoughts, by reminding yourself of the reasons why you practice and why it's important to you.
- Get Back to Basics - Secondly, with your actions, by returning to the fundamental activities that make up the core of your meditation practice.
Ultimately, your reasons are your driving force. Nothing will ever help you as clearly defining your reasons, or "why's", and keeping them in front of you often. You need to be really clear about why you practice.
This might sound counterintuitive because we're told to let go of attachments and craving in meditation practice. However, the reality is we all come to the practice for some specific reason.
This also may change over time, but if we identify this clearly we can use it as a catalyst in the beginning to create a more consistent practice. The reasons why we practice are natural and ignoring them will only do more harm over time.
If you're clear about why you practice meditation you can come back to those reasons at any point you feel yourself losing focus and reaffirm your practice. By doing so, you bring the intensity level of your focus back up to 100% (near that, or even beyond). And as I mentioned above, at times reaffirming your regular meditation and meditation practice can actually strengthen your commitment to it.
Let's go over some examples. Your reasons, or your why's, could be:
- My meditation practice is my peace, it keeps me calm and centered.
- My meditation practice helps me better manage my stress and anxiety.
- My meditation practice helps me calm my overactive mind and keep my life balanced.
- I practice mindfulness and meditation to develop wisdom and move through the challenges of everyday life more skillfully.
These are just some examples. Your reasons might be something else altogether different. Take a moment and ask yourself: "what are my reasons? Why do I want this?".
Action Step: Take a moment to ask yourself: "Why do I practice meditation?".
Don't make it complicated, just find your top 1-3 most compelling reasons and write them down in a few prominent places so that you'll see them a few times a day.
This could be in your smartphone's notepad, on a physical piece of paper you keep in your pocket, your restroom, or your office for example. The purpose for doing this is to keep those reasons front & center in your mind. This is most important. Never forget what your meditation practice means to you.
Get Back to Basics
In Zen Buddhism, reaffirming one's practice isn't just important, it's vital. Few understand the importance of reaffirming one's practice as well as Zen Buddhists. In Zen Buddhism, practitioners reaffirm their commitment on a regular basis.
In fact, each and every moment is an opportunity to strengthen their practice and reaffirm their commitment. At the heart of Buddhism is a sort of peeling away of the illusions that are all around us centered around the illusion of an individual self.
Many of these concepts are difficult to come to terms with and even more difficult to live by. Not only that, much of it is opposite of that which we've been raised to believe to where you have to constantly remind yourself of what your practice means and why you do it.
The fundamental activities of Zen Buddhism- meditation practice and being mindful in all other daily activities, are treated in much the same way as the fundamentals of a sport for an athlete or sales principles for a salesman are, they're treated as the absolute most important thing of all.
Zen Buddhism puts its primary focus on the practice itself. A Zen Buddhist would appreciate my old bosses mantra of "keep the main thing the main thing" because they, in fact, follow the same principle.
This is what it means to focus on the basics or fundamentals. To get back to basics means to get back to the fundamental activities that make up what you do, the most important effort, when you become distracted or lose focus.
You've likely heard the saying "back to basics" at some point in your life. This isn't just some empty cliché. It's easy to get so enveloped in something that we lose our original way. When this happens we become less effective, less productive and more likely to quit on our goals or our practice altogether. To fix this you'll need to get back to the fundamentals of your activity.
Getting back to basics means returning to the fundamental activities that make up what you do, generally after having become distracted by something less important or intentionally veering off in another (less effective) direction.
This principle should be paired with keeping a keen eye on your actions. Which, essentially, is what accountability is for. By learning to pay close attention to what's happening both within and around you- the very essence of meditation practice- you'll be able to notice when you begin to slip. And then by keeping the largest part of your focus on the fundamental activities of your meditation practice you make that job a much simpler task.
This helps improve your focus and makes you more consistent, effective and overall productive. If this strategy sounds overly simple, that's because it is. It's simple and effective.
However, this principle isn't just used to get yourself back on track. It can be used to keep you from ever losing focus in the first place, or at least to help you catch yourself before you slip for too long.
Professional sports teams are incredibly good at not losing sight of the fundamentals in the first place. They stress the basic activities of their game and drill them relentlessly, practicing them more than anything else.
They understand the importance of not losing sight of the most fundamental aspects of their practice which are always the most important activities and what you should invest the largest portion of your time into.
What are those activities in meditation practice? Sitting in meditation is always the primary activity. Outside of that, and depending on how serious and dedicated your practice is, this may include doing certain key activities mindfully and meditatively such as walking, eating, and driving.
Also, sometimes, we can become attached to things like going to our local center or using an app to the point where we depend on them to continue our practice. But when we lose those things we lose our practice. When this happens, getting back to basics- just the practice itself in its pure form, us sitting on our cushion following our breathing (or whatever you practice is)- is exactly what we need to do.
Some Final Words
The reality is, it takes a long-term dedication to follow the practice of meditation with any success. You'll fall off from time to time, or if nothing else stumble, no matter how committed you are. So when it does happen, reaffirm your practice and get back to basics.
Other resources to help you along your meditation practice:
- Complete beginner's guide: How to Meditate for Beginners
- Not sure where to start technique-wise?: 5 Easy Meditation Techniques for Beginners (and How to Know Where to Start)
- Some of my best tips for beginning with the practice of meditation: 50 Awesome Meditation Tips for Beginners