MAKING MEDITATION & MINDFULNESS PRACTICE WORK



Julian Daizan Skinner

Zen Master, Zenways

 

I recently wrote “Practical Zen for Health, Wealth and Mindfulness.” Supported by a website with audio guided meditations, the entire intention was to help the reader develop a sustainable and sustaining meditation and mindfulness practice. Here are some thoughts from the book:

 

The inner workout

We can compare mental culture and physical culture. The UK Government now advises people to exercise five times a week. I believe the research is at a level to justify an identical recommendation for meditation. So just reading a book or doing a little intermittent practice is frankly selling yourself short. The real benefits lie in action.

 

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Practice momentum

 A key element to your success is building a habit. Repetition is the only way to get the habit momentum working for you. Through the process you will have good days and bad days, guaranteed. But the more the practice becomes a habit – something you just do, regardless of how you’re feeling – the more able you become to gracefully ride out the ups and downs, not only in your meditation, but more importantly, in your life generally.

 

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Pure practice

You’ll find it very likely that as time goes on there’s a temptation to combine your meditation practice with time on the treadmill or while you’re driving to work or even doing the ironing. Everyone is really busy and there’s every reason to multitask, but in this case, try to avoid it. Try to keep the stillness of your meditation time sacrosanct. By all means make your activities meditative. The more mindful you are, the more alive, vivid and joyful your life can be, but there really is no replacement for the time on your meditation seat.

 

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Time to be

Doing is fine. Do do do, but maintain a little space every single day to be. It’s precious, valuable beyond treasures. Many meditators are keen readers. Zen author Red Pine writes, ‘Reading texts is no substitute for meditation and practising Zen. If you read a book about a place, and you want to go there, you don’t keep reading the book. You have to travel. That’s what practice is about. Traveling. Walking the path.’

 

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Life practice

At the end of the 19th century, Nanin was one of the most eminent Zen masters in Japan. A new Zen teacher, Tenno, came through the rain-swept streets of Kyoto to pay the master a courtesy call. Not sure on what element of the teachings he might be tested, the young teacher sat down with the grand old man. Without preamble Nanin asked him, ‘Before you came in here, did you place your umbrella on the left or right side of your sandals?’ Tenno was at a loss. Realising that his moment-by-moment mindfulness needed maturing, he put aside his teaching qualification and studied under Nanin for six further years.

 

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Beyond self-consciousness

Sometimes people get the idea that mindfulness is a quality of enhanced self-consciousness, as if you put a security camera on your shoulder and monitor your every move. Certainly things can feel this way at the beginning, but this is not the intention, nor the goal. I think a clue to what a developed mindfulness practice looks like lies in the Buddha’s original instructions. He refers to ‘mindfulness of the body in the body… mindfulness of the breath in the breath’, and so on. Rather than splitting the attention and its object, we bring them together.

 

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Making it normal

 In your own life, the more that this work is yours, rather than some exotic import, the better. We’ve already seen successful transplanting in other fields. The Indian-style cooking arising in the UK has worldwide status; Brazilian jujitsu is accepted as one of the premier martial arts in the world; acupuncture is as at home in Manhattan as it is in Beijing. The worldwide diffusion of the contemplative arts is just another manifestation of this planetary culture we now inhabit.

 

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Bear in mind why it’s worth doing

It’s no longer weird or even unusual to be a meditator. Everyone’s at it! Even the government’s getting interested. There’s never been a better time to jump in and get going. With the understanding of neuroplasticity, we now know you’re literally rewiring your brain, right up into old age. By shedding stress, you are keeping yourself younger than you would otherwise be. This stuff won’t make you ‘happy ever after’ – nothing will. But I can pretty confidently say it will make you happier ever after and healthier ever after and even possibly more able to transition through the end of life with more grace and equanimity. So, in answer to the question, ‘is it worth doing?’ I’d say, definitely, yes.