If you are like me and I would suggest most other people (that you know), you may find, at least at times, taking up a practice and staying with it to be difficult.
Maximilian Oeverhaus (https://www.pexels.com/@maxi/)
Can you remember who you were,
before the world told you who
you should be?
Welcome to my Field Note for April of 2023. If you are like me and I would suggest most other people (that you know), you may find, at least at times, taking up a practice and staying with it to be difficult. Presumably we get into a practice (whatever it is) because we are interested and feel that it offers something of value for us. But somehow, one way or another, we often enough find ourselves not doing the practice. Some familiar practice examples of this are diet, exercise programs, meditation, and the whole range of life and skill building practices that we are keen to adopt.
Yet, priorities shift, emergencies crop up, distractions creep in; and we find ourselves too busy and too tired. Sooner or later, the original flame of interest in the practice fizzles out or drops low on the priority list of things to do. Or, out of sight and out of mind, altogether. This is most regrettable since the practice could potentially have immensely enriched life and, even, enhanced your pursuit towards the high dreams you have.
From a Daoist perspective, there is an ebb-and-flow to everything in the river of energy that life is. Knowing how to work with and not against this river of energy, and practice of learning about this is the fundamental art that can support all practices. As such, it is a crucial part of the art of practice: the learning in and of itself Let us look a little more deeply into this art as a foundational practice that supports all practices. While I can write at length about Daoist philosophy and practice about this art, that will be for another context. For this Field Note, I shall focus on the practice of learning practices: how to work with the river of energy, and most centrally, the ongoingness of practice as a part of life.
The word, ‘river’ points to a continuous flow of energy that we as living creatures experience every moment, every hour, all day, and every day. And this flow is not constant but fluctuating. Nonetheless, as you are no doubt are aware, as long as you are alive, this flow does not cease. Our practice needs to increasingly reflect this fundamental fact. This means that, instead of stopping the practice, you can do the practice in ways that are in alignment with the particular state of the flow you are experiencing. And, to do this, we need increasing awareness of this flow and the possibilities of the origins of its source.
Working with ‘the’ Flow
For example, suppose you want to do 10 minutes of meditation practice each morning. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Or, does it? As many of us know, 10 minutes can be very hard to endure and your effort to engage in a meditation practice can become an endurance activity. For sure, we didn’t pick up meditation for an endurance training purpose.
Now suppose that you feel like not doing your 10-minute meditation practice ‘today’ because of the mental and emotional space you’re in and/or some complexities of your life that have arisen. In your current state, 10 minutes seems to be equivalent to climbing Mount Everest in your socks within the atmosphere of ‘thin’ air.
Because you set up your practice to be a 10-minute meditation, you think you “should” meditate for 10 minutes, and if for some reason you feel this is too daunting, you just don’t do it at all that day. And further suppose that this situation arises again and again, and you now “feel you are forced” to quit the practice that you were very keen on adopting. Worst of all, you become convinced that you are no good at meditating. You find yourself saying: “I am a failure as a meditator!”
Let us go back to the metaphor of “the river of energy.” Suppose that on certain mornings, you find yourself at a low ebb with your energy. What is it to flow with this particular flow state? Note again that the flow didn’t stop, which means that the possibility exists that you can practice your meditation in your current low flow state. For instance, do a very short meditation: even 30-seconds counts. The point is to continue the practice. Low flow? Flow low!
Personally, I have found that sometimes I will do this very short practice for several consecutive days, if my energy flow state is at a low level along with my ‘decreased’ motivation. But being able to continue to practise has proved to be empowering, and eventually and invariably, as I find myself in a fuller energy flow state and with renewed motivation, I am back to the desired time-frame. This way of working with flow-states applies to all my daily practices: my fitness program, my nutritional practices, study practices, and even my relationship practices.
Another observation I wish to share with you about difficulties with practice is something that I have experienced at times when I have tried to meditate by becoming physically still. I couldn’t sit still. Instead, I would experience a state of disquiet. What I eventually discovered is that my state of disquiet is actually an indication of body energy, my vitality. Thus, trying to shut that down in order to “meditate” would be going against the flow of my own energy.
When I experience disquiet during meditation, I experiment by paying attention to the energy I feel in my physical body and allow movement, sensation, feeling, and even sound to emerge.
I do not in any way want to minimize what you are up against in yourself when you are having a difficult time with practices. In fact, uncovering the inner ‘resisters’ and working with them, using your inner work skills, or perhaps with your therapist or coach is an important outcome of shifting the inner ground of your consciousness to what is in line with the flow in the current currents of the ‘river’ of life. (Perhaps, I will talk more about this phenomenon of the inner resister in another Field Note; what Don Juan, the Yagui Indian medicine man, famously called the Ally.)
I wish for you all, that you will find your unique and particular path to continue your inner, outer, and relational search to find the Flow of life, and centrally, your life! And I further wish that you will become ever increasingly able to greet all that comes your way with curiosity and even joy. May you all catch, along the way of working with the Flows, strong glimpses of what was written about by the Sufi poet, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi:
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
Shalom to you,
Many thanks to Heesoon for her steady support with this Field Note.
Before you go, and if you are interested in having a major and comprehensive learning experience about becoming the human being that you are, and supporting others in this endeavor, I encourage you to check out Heesoon’s message below about the upcoming Master’s program in contemplative education at Simon Fraser University.