The coming back problem
You sit, let’s say for 10 or 20 minutes, and focus on your breath or a mantra. Suddenly, you notice that your attention has traveled 1000 km away, three months ago, or two years ahead, and you come back. This is basically what the practice of yoga and meditation is about: coming back. Maybe the number one challenge I hear from folks is not the content of the practice itself, but the returning to it and the establishment of a regular, sustained practice.
If you have tried yoga, meditation or some other type of mindful movement or attention practice and have come back to it at least once, out of your own will, it is fair to say that this practice carries something valuable for you. Maybe you felt quieter in your mind, healthier in your body, or happier in your heart. In other words, you have most likely touched a state of presence and found some benefits for your general wellbeing and fulfilment. If your practice has helped you see some light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, you’ll be more motivated to come back to it. So far, so good.
Now, the next step gets more complicated. Whether you are at the very beginning or have years of experience under your belt, the harder is to keep your practice (again, yoga, meditation, or some mindful and balancing activity) regular. Regularity starts with the first time you come back and it takes its whole sense when the coming back repeats itself again… and again, and again again! Not only is regularity the hardest, it also simply is necessary.
Where fulfillment really is… not
We live in a modern world where instant satisfaction and gratification have never been as available as of now. Instant rewards lay right there at our fingertips, just one click, one “like”, one voice memo, one article, one soundtrack or one entertaining video away. A practice we all seem to agree on keeping ongoing is to check our devices… ten, fifty, perhaps hundred times a day.
Is this truly the key to happiness? Is this a practice we honestly want to commit to? Most of us would answer no. If you would too, keep on reading.
If we could ask the ancient yogis—given that they could understand our latest technology boom—the answer we would get would most likely be a clear “no.” “The key to happiness,” I imagine they would say, “lies in the willingness to commit to a practice of presence and come back to it repeatedly, no matter what.”
Why is that? If I may attempt to answer a question that various ancient traditions have tried to answer for thousands of years in one sentence, I would say that a practice is what allows one to detach from the grasping of the mind and thereby reach a state of liberation, which feels pretty… awesome!
Another potential block
We humans, myself included, have the tendency to prefer both outstanding experiences (i.e. a big revelation, an experience that turns our world upside down, thus our taste for mind-altering substances of all sorts, from coffee to hard drugs) and the easy way.
Such preferences make sense and are understandable. Why work hard when we can achieve something similar more easily?
At the same time, we humans also are complex beings. We like making situations more complicated by creating or feeding drama, emotional or relational turmoil, or at least so it seems for our psyche and our unconscious. At a more self-oriented level, we tend to adhere to what Buddhists call “a negative bias“, or a likelihood to retain and choose thoughts and views that are not directly helpful or enhancing. The negative bias can be explained by human evolution given that thousands of generations before us strived to survive and had to organize themselves around avoiding danger (see an earlier post on the subject). Once the practitioner realizes the mind’s adhesion to such negative bias, they can choose a different way.
The fun thing with a practice is that it will tend to feel easy and provide remarkable experiences and beneficial effects early on. Yet as we come back in search of the same positive effects, they—to our dismay—might diminish or become less remarkable. This moment is exactly where most of us drop the practice. We know it is potentially good for us, but the commitment is missing or disappears quickly. We get swirled into the whirlpool of daily tasks and easy gratifications, biased towards negative thoughts, although these are clearly not leading to long-lasting satisfaction.
Practice to come back
The best remedy to this lack of commitment simply is… the willingness to commit! There exist tons of apps, examples of accountability partnerships, and other resources that can work great. Yet, in my humble experience, what truly is needed is the inner recognition of what we truly are looking for. What helped me tremendously is to shift the view on my practice:
I don’t practice to be “zen” or reach a state of uninterrupted inner peace—although all of that is great and might very well happen.
Rather, I try to practice to commit, to come back simply. Then the journey back to the practice, to the moment, becomes the practice itself.
One magical day, the coming back gifts us with a shift, tiny or not. It might not be a lightening experience with unicorns in front of our eyes and rainbows coming out of our hearts. The shift might rather be very subtle instead.
For example, you might start feeling less triggered when you speak to your dad.
You finally manage to say no to your boss in a direct and kind way.
You listen to your need to take a break and rest.
You finally decide to respond to your inner guidance to study a new passion.
You notice that your mind generally becomes quieter.
You realize that you more easily can shift your focus from what is not working to what is actually working, and even how it could keep working even better.
My point is that the gifts of your commitment, of your coming back to the practice are likely to reveal themselves quietly, almost invisibly, in your daily life.
Once in a while, you might experience a blissful moment in your meditation of complete liberation from your mind. However, if you keep coming back for the coming back itself, and not for the results, your practice will organically become a way to live… a more fulfilled life. Big, outstanding experiences will be easier to integrate into your daily life, where they truly can have an impact and a long-lasting, positive effect.
In sum, keep coming back to your practice, whatever you choose, and let yourself be drawn to the journey and not the destination: the movement back to the practice itself.
Safe journeys, and happy practice.