A More Potent Practice
by Jill Sockman
I’m working with a student currently in the midst of some big life transitions who is using her meditation practice to help manage the anxiety that so often accompanies major change. She opened a recent session with “Am I doing enough?” That question resonated with me so deeply, as I’ve heard it many times before from others and have asked the same question myself. Once you have experienced the truth that every visit to the mat, every minute in meditation, every prayer uttered is a step in the direction of clarity and peace, it’s not surprising we question what else we can do in times of overwhelm and struggle.
You probably already know that I’m a stickler about practice, especially meditation. As my teacher says, maybe there are other ways to get there, but I don’t know what they are. Give me a group of people who meditate daily and a group who don’t. In general, the meditators are happier, more content, more at ease, more compassionate, on the whole, more of the time, than those who don’t. My own practice tells me this is the truth. While 5 or 20 or 60 minutes of morning discipline is absolutely essential, if that’s the only time you are dedicating to self-study, mindfulness and devotion in a 24-hour day, you’re missing out on the potential of the practice. Think about it. The root of that word is potent: powerful, mighty. Just the medicine we need for the challenges of this life.
The number of years you’ve been walking around on the planet is how many years your habits, neuroses, patterns and ego have had to set themselves comfortably into the driver’s seat of your life. If you’re only mindful to the presence of grace for 20 minutes a day and the rest of the time you’re on auto-pilot, while it’s absolutely better than nothing, it’s probably, possibly not enough to really get you there. So, what else can you do? How can you make your practice more potent? How can you get out from under the worry? How can you break free of the patterns that keep you in negative thinking and self-destructive habits?
The foundation is morning quiet time. In every spiritual tradition I know of, aspirants on the path are called to get up before the sun and devote time and attention to the heart, to the light, to the changeless One. As for the answer to “what else?” the following practice suggestions can help you reconnect to the clear space you create on your mat throughout the day- over and over and over. In this way, what happens in the morning isn’t left behind, rather it follows you, carries you, from hour to hour. It becomes woven into the tapestry of each day, eventually- hopefully- coloring every thought, word and action.
- Breathe. The breath is always there to remind us that spirit- that inspiration- is with us all the time. A minute of conscious breathing goes a long way to re-grounding us in what is real, what is present, what is important in the bigger picture.
- Look up. Literally. Whether it’s clear blue expanse of sky or building storm clouds, a bird in flight, or tree branches dancing on the wind, be reminded that you are simultaneously just a speck in creation and a unique and essential part of all that is.
- Listen. Stop the conversations in your head and hear what is around you. Voices, cars, air conditioning units, construction, birds chirping, dogs barking… life is going on right now outside of your internal universe, and it has nothing to do with whatever you are currently perseverating on. You are a part of the holy wholeness of this one moment. How are you participating? What are you contributing?
- Feel your feet. While there is access to so much freedom when you get out of your head, life in the body is a gift, and getting grounded in the body is a bridge to present moment awareness. Feel the steady power of the living, breathing earth beneath your feet, the power of your legs, the beat of your heart. Know that you are held steady all the time by the same force that makes the flowers bloom and turns the tides.
- Mantra. Whether you have a mantra you use in your meditation practice, or know a phrase, saying, word or verse that reminds you what is real and true, use it on the regular to replace the garbage that’s on replay in your mind. Any time, all the time, darkness cannot exist in the light.
- Be a Blessing. This has been one of the single most transformative practices I have ever worked with. Try it once and see for yourself. We all have to live, work and co-exist with people who challenge us and push our buttons (and it’s so good to remember that YOU are that person for someone else!) Instead of dreading those meetings or exchanges, instead of showing up closed, apprehensive or anxious, what if you took a breath (and maybe looked up to the sky and felt down into your feet) and changed your perspective? What if you created an intention that you were going to be a blessing to the person you’re about to meet? What if you decided that your presence in that meeting was going to be a bright spot in their day? That they have something to teach you? While I have no idea what effect it has on the other person, I’ve found that it makes my day better, my heart lighter, my mind clearer. I have to believe it’s sweeter on the other side of the equation, too.
- Good Boundaries. Holding your ground and taking care of yourself isn’t about keeping others out. It’s about maintaining your center, your wholeness, so you can offer yourself fully into your life. Likewise, it keeps you from collecting others’ “stuff” and perhaps even gives another person the opportunity take a look at the moment with more clarity as well.
- Stay Inspired. When you are in the car, walking your dog, or making the evening meal, turn off the TV and turn on a thought-provoking, inspiring or attitude changing book or podcast. Listen to music that you love. Your choices shape your mind. Your mind creates your reality. Are you making good ones? Use every opportunity you have to fill up with the light.
- Gratitude. All. The. Time. Even in the moments when all I can find is assurance that the current darkness will pass and the light will return, the more frequently and consistently I thread gratitude through my day, the more connected I am to the place where I started. The place where I want to be.
I wholeheartedly believe that having a daily morning practice creates the foundation for a happier, less stressed, more compassionate life where we can experience the presence of grace even in times of darkness. I believe it enables us to give the gifts we were born to offer into the world. And I’ve found that adding conscious practices and habits into the course of a busy day can serve to amplify that goodness, and keep the connection to the light strong and steady. And what our world needs, what our relationships need, is more light. Be that.