A morning’s practice

I suspect it can be hard to imagine, from an outsider perspective, how practicing seriously in an everyday context works. There was a strong sense at the beginning of formal practice for me that ‘good meditation’ was done on a cushion, away from the cares of world, once I had done enough tasks to feel relaxed. Even when I found this wasn’t the case, it still felt very fragmented to do whatever worked at the time. I’m hoping a description of my morning’s practice might help, as an example of how to satisfy both a rational framework and what I intuitively felt I needed to do. It wasn’t the most hardcore of days with impeccable mindfulness and amazing insights; it was more a day where things weren’t so amazing and I did whatever worked.

The alarm clangs and after a day off, there’s that ‘oh yeah, it’s time to go back to work’ thought. I got just a little bit too little sleep last night and my body feels almost exaggeratedly heavy and sluggish despite the fact that my thoughts are clear and I’m immediately alert; the difference between mind and body here is obvious. It’s basic vipassana.

I launch myself out of bed and notice this subtle denial of my situation. I don’t want to get up and put in effort. I don’t want to be where I am. I do a bit of deliberate positive thinking: these feelings will pass. I want to go and help my clients. I don’t want to pretend to be elsewhere. I realise I’m checking my email as an excuse to absorb into something arguably worklike, and close the laptop.

I have a shower. I love hot showers. I open myself to enjoyment of it to counter this grumbly morning mood. I inhabit my body and feel how the warmth feels on my skin. I’m quite ascetic in some ways but that’s a blameless pleasure. Gratitude turns up and I give it to God.

I’m on my way to work on a bank holiday, and it’s quiet. Another thing I increasingly enjoy: calm. It affects my mind and my thoughts slow down a bit, not trying to somehow spin out a plan of getting out of all this low-level dukkha.

Waiting for the bus. There’s no use denying it: there’s definitely something up today. There is a tightness in the chest, the mind is lunging in an almost physical way: compulsively flapping about, creating a worse kerfuffle that invades my body unpleasantly. They’re not really a big deal, but I’m sensitive to these phenomena now, and they’re a subtle sign something needs work. It’s chicken and egg- is there an ‘underlying’ mood caused by any real situation? I ask God for help. It’s becoming a reflex. I don’t ask for any specific thing: I ask for whatever is necessary.

On the bus, I have a little chat with Him Upstairs. Whether it is projection or not is not important- what is, is that the interaction between two voices works out the problem-hunting attitude. I muse on this sense that there is some lack, something done wrong, something that needs doing, and right now. What is lacking? It turns out what is lacking is kindness. I am off to a job where I help other people, but there is some part of me hunting for flaws, recalling minor imperfections, and even beating myself up for the unpleasantness itself. It’s a long standing habit.

I know that habits are just habits, lacking any innate truthfulness, and I remember that I am as deserving of kindness as anyone. My own formulation of the metta chant passes through my head, a warm, wry feeling passes through me, and my interest moves to my surroundings rather than my inner environment.

There’s a pleasantness about just being here. I feel the solidness of the floor of the vehicle, take interest in the unknown language a woman is speaking into a mobile phone, the gentle anticipation of going to a job I enjoy. I spontaneously start to note: touching, hearing, thinking. The mind wants to speed up, note everything, and there is a subtle tension in the head as I prepare to race to note fast. I note slowly almost like snatching sensations from the air, in a very laid back way, tasting experience. The mind wants to accelerate, though. That’s not relaxing!

it’s clear there is some agitation in the mind today. Some particular conditions have come together to make me particularly grasp, more than usual. Off the bus, waiting for a second. I look at my mobile phone, and a webpage I was looking at yesterday idly and didn’t finish pops up again. ‘A letting go approach to jhana’. How synchronous! I read the rest of it, enjoying the clear, technical language of the writer.

The Hamilton Project
The Hamilton Project

So I try it out. Notice tensions, and then gently let them go, rather than trying to force them out. That’s very nice. Whatever is most obvious, I let go, without turning it into another game of seeking: bodily tension, fine, I accept that, I’m not going to bear down on it, not going to try to crush it. Thoughts arise: they’re fine. Pleasantness arises: that’s fine too. I start to feel a mild shimmering sensation that I sense is a precursor to jhana once my eyes are closed. I am startled out of it by the loud voice of a woman barking at her friend, not angry, just loud. It makes me smile. My stop is next anyway- she’s kept me from missing it.

I go to work. One of my favourite co-workers is here and I open to her, giving her some genuine warmth. One of my less favourite co-workers comes in late and grumbling. I notice my irritation, and let my mind slide past it to more generous thoughts. Not that I’m saintly; if anything, the irritation is painful to me- why hold onto that? I don’t grin at them falsely but I do smile and say hello.

I have a client to see whose needs are relatively new to me in terms of my training. It’s a bit anxiety-inducing, but I like a challenge, and I concentrate on that desire to help. It goes well and the rest of the morning seems easy and purposeful.