‘I’ve got a project due.’ ‘The garden needs attention.’ ‘Friends are coming to visit.’ ‘I’m kind of tired.’ ‘America’s Got Talent airs tonight.’ ‘I practiced yesterday.’ ‘It’s too noisy around here.’ So reads a quick - and truncated - litany of reasons we give ourselves for not meditating. ‘It’s too sunny out.’ ‘The room is cold.’ ‘I’m bored of meditation.’ ‘I’m not good at meditation.’ ‘Maybe after I read the news.’
Every one of us has a list we cycle through. While the exact content of these certainly varies, each and every one of us has a list. I know this for at least a couple reasons. People often send me email accounts, for one thing. “I want to practice,” the message commonly begins, “but…” Then there’s the fact that I am no different from anyone else in this regard. I too am counted among ‘every one’. ‘I’m not sure which practice to do.’ ‘Yesterday’s session was hard.’ ‘I’ll answer email first.’
I recall listening to the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Chogyam Trungpa’s eldest son. He was comparing meditation to the act of drinking water. “We all know why we drink water,” he observed. “Nobody wakes up thinking, ‘I don’t think I’ll drink water today!’ We need to feel the same way about meditation practice.”
At this point, it might be helpful to remember that not too many years ago lots of us didn’t really know why we drink water. It was considered a bit odd to choose that clear and rejuvenating liquid over milk or juice or space-age Tang. Water bottles were a rare sight in those days. Rare during amateur sporting events, non-existent in classrooms, offices, cars.
But we’ve learned something in the ensuing decades. Both individually and collectively, we have come to understand that water plays a significant role in human health and well-being. As a result, many of us now choose water over Tang. We drink it after tennis and carry stainless steel bottles near everywhere we go. And we can do something similar with meditation, if we are so inclined.
‘Why do I meditate?’
What would it be to contemplate these words every time I come up with a reason for not meditating? I think ‘It’s too hot to meditate’ - no big deal; as noted we all have many such rationales in our repertoire. On this occasion, however, rather than using this thought to prevent myself from practicing, why not allow this declaration to provoke a question forward?
‘Why do I meditate?’
All I need do is ask the the question and see what comes up. ‘I feel better when I practice.’ ‘My mind opens during meditation.’ ‘It’s something I’ve committed to.’ If nothing comes, I can reflect back on the talks I’ve listened to, the programs I’ve attended, the books I’ve read.
While scheduling my day not long ago - a process that involved pushing practice further and further down my ‘To Do’ list - I recalled the opening words of Pema Chodron’s Start Where You Are. “We already have everything we need,” she affirms. “There is no need for self-improvement.” Suddenly meditation rocketed to Number 2 on that list. I wanted to discover just what the heck she was talking about. I was curious and inspired.
‘Why do I meditate?’ This is a potent - and, in my experience, necessary - question for all household practitioners. Because momentum in the direction of not meditating is so habitual and so strong, we need to make deliberate counter efforts in order to find our way to the cushion. With gentle persistence we need to develop our understanding of the practice and lengthen our list of ‘whys’.
Following such exertion, there will eventually come a time when that thought arises - ‘I don’t think I’ll meditate today.’ - only to be welcomed as a simple reminder. A reminder that, like drinking water, meditation is something we do every day.