using the tools in the toolbox

(sorry for the delay posting this here – technical difficulties!)
I just found myself simultaneously listening to Sharon’s dharma talk, which I missed Sunday, and searching my email for the  blogging login — though I hadn’t even started writing this yet. Sharon was shedding her infinite wisdom on the practice of concentration – and I wasn’t even concentrating! So I started again.

I was thinking today about how we always talk about meditation techniques as tools in a toolbox, and how concentration technique is kind of like one of those screwdrivers with lots of different tips you can pop on the end. The tips are like the different objects of concentration – the breath, a part of the body, a mantra – but the tool itself is the same. One may work better for a particular job, so we experiment and get to know ourselves in relation to each tool.

But knowing the tools exist doesn’t mean you necessarily reach for the tool you need in a given moment and using it effectively. So we have to carry around the toolbox: the structure or routine that helps us make space in our lives to hold onto the tools (practice) so we can use them when we really need them. Sometimes it feels like I’ve left the toolbox at home on my mat when I need it most.

For me making progress in my practice had to do just as much with the practice itself as with lowering my expectations about it. I used to expect myself to sit for an hour every day. Then I’d either beat myself up when I zoned out for half of it or pysched myself out because of the enormity of the task and skipped it altogether. I started to realize this was a pattern – biting off way more than I could chew in life, then psyching myself out when I couldn’t live up to it. So I eased off. Now I aspire for 30-40 minutes, but I’m happy with 20 and content with 10. And instead of trying to carve out the elusively ideal time and space in my erratic life, I’ve started just sitting as soon as I wake up. I may not be as alert as I’d like; I may even have to get up halfway through to pee – but I sit every morning. As I lowered my expectations, keeping up a daily practice became simply a habit – not some monumental indication of my self-worth. I made friends with the practice – honest, imperfect but ultimately reliable friends.

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