Keeping Your Practice Fresh

I'm glad to offer anything that is helpful anytime for anyone who has embarked on mediation. My heart and efforts are especially spacious for the beginner, which is, if we are honest with ourselves, any authentic student to the practice:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” 
— Zen Master Shunryu Suzuk

I have students asking me constantly about resources I like and those I would recommend.  I am so grateful to relay that there are many meditation resources, more so than ever before.  More and more students and teachers of the practice are presenting valuable information from unique and brilliant perspectives. The list is endless! Those that I know are limited to whom I have been referred to or stumbled upon on my own.

I can attest to the importance of finding a teacher, a guide, a cohort, that sings to your heart. Stick with them and then slowly add more of those leaders to your repertoire of favorites. As your life adventure takes you to new places, new revelations and new connections will be made. This will help to keep your life [meditation] practice fresh.

How else do we keep it fresh? How do we stay engaged with our practice when we are noticing a need for inspiration? Where do we go?

I will give you a few suggestions of books, apps, and strategies that have worked for me and my students. Life is so dynamic, so my list is bountiful and ever growing.  In the truest sense on teachings, specifically on Mindfulness and Vipassana, all is to be observed and befriended, including disengagement, boredom, plateaus, and derailments to name a few challenges. There are deeper and valuable underpinnings to why these challenges are occurring. It is at these times that sticking with it is of utmost value.  

One of my personal and greatest indicators that “something lies beneath” is that I fall asleep during mediation.  Yes It could just be that I am tired, though lets say this is happening after I’ve just woken up and just had my cup of coffee or tea and I still fall asleep upon my early morning mediation.  This is where noticing and curiosity can be very useful. I can get curious and go deeper. We all have these indicators and to know ourselves is of great benefit.

I would like to offer my input based on inquiries from students who can feel a plateau and looming sense of disinterest hovering about.  We are humans after all and to know ourselves is to be able to construct a framework of engagement.

The most basic suggestion is finding an app, a book, a class, a podcast, or some connective source that is whipped cream on top of your daily practice. Many times the honeymoon period wears off and we are left with the truly mundane task of meditating. As Mark Warren says, "we don't have to like it, we just have to do it". The juicy interesting additives of apps and podcasts really help to submerge your world into this "life practice".

How can we make brushing our teeth after 50 years interesting and engaging recognizing the importance thereof and acknowledging the monotony? What keeps us doing it? Perhaps in truth, there isn’t anything that will make brushing our teeth, after decades of two-a-days, exciting.  The truth is that we recommit every time we sit on our cushion, every moment we have an experience that has woken us up from a trance into awareness, every time we realize our mind has wandered from the present…these are the times to be noted, because these are the moments when we come back to present moment awareness, which is precisely where the value of mediation lies. These are the times when we are living from the present. These are the times when loving-kindness, compassion, and joy are most readily, if not exclusively available.  

BOOKS: I have so many to suggest. Here are just a few:  If you want some juicy deep guidance on approaching life in a different way especially through challenges I suggest anything by Pema Chodren. She is a deep feeler and isn’t afraid to touch on subjects that are difficult and haunting for the human. Her perspective on how we can approach life challenges is absolutely refreshing, incredibly honest and supportive.

If you are seeking a globally loving net from a super smart individual who is steady and present and offers teachings on day-to-day challenges that we all face psychologist Tara Brach is your girl. She has a podcast and does weekly talks with meditations embedded in these talks weekly. On her website you will find oodles of guided meditations. There is not a week, and sometimes a day, that doesn't go by when I don't tap into her wisdom. Her offerings are so accessible. She loves jokes and intersperses them throughout her talks to break up intense heavy current happenings and subjects.

There is a broad book that I use more as a reference, a collaboration of authors called A Beginners Guide to Meditation.  It is informational and I appreciate that it is a consortium of authors from a variety of disciplines.

I'm somewhat of a brain/anatomy junkie and need lots of left-brain information to keep me engaged and on board and, if I'm honest, convinced that meditation is worthwhile and essential for me. The book Buddha’s Brain... The practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom, by Rick Hanson. 

I have a penchant for spiritual scientists who try to understand, study, prove, research, experience, convey, and distribute information about what is happening in the brain/body through meditation. Rick Hanson, Daniel Segal, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, Lisa Wimberger, Judson Brewer, Dan Harris…. there are so many of these brilliant folks! If you look, you will find them.

One of the first meditation books that I was required to read for a course is Mindfulness in Plain English by Buante Henepola Gunaratana.  This one was supremely useful for me on so many levels. It is very Buddhist, Vipassana oriented and text book-ey by nature. Not juicy, but good solid information. While reading this one I consistently fell asleep. I get a little bit of a chuckle out of that now, but huge learning took place once I noticed the tendency to fall asleep paired with a deep internal sophomoric resistance to this book. I got through it by noticing over and over again and coming back to non-judgmental observations. It is now an invaluable resource for me with my practice and as I teach.

APPS: Insight Timer is amazing.  It is a community of 1.1 million mediators with 3,951 free-guided meditations and music tracks from 982 teachers.  I love that it tells you how many people are meditating right now. It is precious, rewarding, and powerful to think that we have unknown and unseen connections with all who are meditating at the same time. 10% Happier:  Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics just makes me happier reading the name. This is a collaborative teaching community, which optimizes videos, present day experiences, guided meditations, and community sharing. They create notifications for upcoming events, which are based on apparent needs and/or challenges of current day society. I have used one app by Deepak and Oprah, a 21-day experience.  This was especially useful for one of my students who was recovering from brain changes brought on by a stroke in which too much talking and guiding was overwhelming to her.  There are so many, presumably good ones out there, but I do not have personal experience with many of them. I would love feedback from those of you who have.

GROUPS: For further and ongoing support and connectivity with and for my students, I have created a private Facebook group that is open to those who have taken my courses.  My intention in creating it is to serve t by forming a connective group to share about challenges, tribulations, and inspirations exclusively about their ongoing practice. IT is a post course work net that promotes the practice of everyday mindful awareness creating a community of and for like mindful individuals. There are many communities, seek and you will find the one(s) that will serve you well.

JOURNALING:  after meditation, daily or every few days  (not less than 4x/week at first) can help support meditation on a deeper level. It offers application to and from daily life allowing some reaping of dividends for your daily, moment-to-moment investments in mindfulness. 

A very simple format is creating a form that has columns for the date, minutes meditated, and a space for observations of about 3-5 sentences. You might note prep time, meditation time, objective experiences, and journaling time. This serves the reward centers in our brains, especially those of us who are goal oriented and like to keep lists, check off, and track our commitment in black and white.

You can also journal by stream of consciousness writing. Meditation cracks me open and some days lots of stuff just comes up and out. It's nice to have a place to put it, even if you never go back to it.  These are clearly two different forms of journaling, both valuable for different purposes. 

COURSES:  keep us on track and serve to provide a framework for creating space and intentionality in our life. Each student has much to offer the group, so a place where this is room for discussion is beneficial and in a very basic way, it is an opportunity to connect with and through the commonality of meditation.

Please comment and/or share if you find this information valuable. I am happy to help and guide in any way I can. All you have to do is.

Blessed BE… and so it is!