At times, any of us can lose track of the broad view and function of practice, no matter how serious or dedicated we may be. As we observe ourselves over time, it becomes painfully apparent how rarely we are actually awake. We see that much of the time we’re lost in our activities, or totally believing our thoughts as truth, or acting out of our deeply conditioned patterns and emotional reactivity.
We also come to realize that we can’t stop doing these things just because we want to. From the naïve honeymoon phase to the dry spots, where our interest in waking up seems dormant, we need to keep raising certain questions: “What’s the point of practice? Is practice clear? Do I assume that I know what practice is, when perhaps a deeper look might be in order?”
A certain kind of effort is required, an almost dogged perseverance, to gradually counteract the seemingly relentless force of our habitual mechanical patterns.
Practice period sets up special conditions within which the necessary efforts can be specifically cultivated. This is an opportunity to revisit our current view of practice, and renew our aspiration. We can re-prioritize our commitment to waking up, and make it more practical and realistic by intensifying our practice in specific ways, both on and off our meditation seat.
This includes increasing the amount of time we prioritize for formal practice. As a minimum, participants are asked to sit each and every day for the entire month, for at least 30 minutes. If you already do this, consider sitting twice daily, or lengthening the time. For those living in San Diego, in addition to Saturday mornings, we also ask that you commit to the Saturday afternoon workshops, the Wednesday evening study group, and the added sittings on Sunday morning.
Additionally, an important way to deepen and clarify our practice is to look at where we may currently be stuck. Sometimes during sitting we can identify the repetitious distractions that block our ability to stay present or be genuinely happy. And in daily life we can notice where we get caught in familiar emotional reactions. Most important, we can reflect on how, specifically, to address these issues through applied awareness.
Practice Period can also be intensified by setting up a practice menu, where each day we choose a different specific area of focus. For example, on a specific day, you might choose to follow the breath for the entire day, or, the menu could be the practice of saying “yes” to fear—which means remembering to identify fear and invite it in, residing in it physically rather than trying to push it away or avoid it, as we usually do.
Other guidelines for intensifying practice are listed on the Practice Period Guidelines. However, we don’t need to limit ourselves to these suggestions; the point is to find specific ways to help make living wakefully a more central orientation in our lives. Consult with a teacher if you have questions about how to work with menus.
Whatever specific practices we choose, the point of all of them is to make being awake the central theme of our day, in very specific ways. For example, we can also include pattern interrupts, such as refraining from sweets, TV, coffee—whatever attachments are strong—to see what blocks awareness, as a prelude to returning consciously to the present moment. All of this, in the context of augmented commitment to the sitting schedule of Practice Period, helps us find a renewed enthusiasm for practice.
This can be seen as an experiment—in exploring ways to highlight and interrupt our self-centered dream, in prioritizing the practice of awareness as the central orientation of our daily lives, and in intensifying our commitment to waking up—waking up to the reality that is our deepest aspiration.