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I was just having a conversation with someone who wants to deepen and strengthen her practice. She sits daily but wants more, wants to be more focused, wants to have less separation between her spiritual life and her work life. We explored a number of possibilities and the two she settled on are, to me, the best of the options available to "householders."

The term householder is an important one, because it acknowledges that there is a real difference between the practice challenges of a person living monastically and one living in the world of family, job, and society. Over the years people have asked me if it is better to live as a monk. My response has always been that practice is more a matter of sincerity than life style. Which I think is true. And, it is important to recognize the differences. Ironically, it is the difference that is the same. In the Monastery there is a constant influence toward attentiveness. The environment is designed to encourage, if not demand, a constant focus of attention in the present moment. This structure is supportive, yes, and can feel oppressive if one is in a stage of determinedly clinging to identification with a particular piece of conditioning. One wakes up at a prescribed time, meditates, eats, works, meditates, eats, works, meditates until time to go to bed. No questions, no decisions, no debates. Of course, there can be questions, decisions, and debates, but they don't get a person anywhere except frustrated because the schedule is followed, period.

In the world, nothing supports mindfulness--in fact, quite the opposite. One wakes up ."h and might be lured or distracted by any number of choices and options. Shall I do this, eat that, exercise or not, meditate, make a phone call, meet some need of a family member, do a few chores? This lack of support for practice, for being focused in the moment, can feel quite oppressive when one is committed to awareness.

The real difference, to me, is this: the monk has the schedule and the monastic life style to encourage her back to the moment. The householder has to depend on himself to bring him back to the moment. And it is so very hard to remember to come back, to find the strength to wake up when conditioning is hypnotizing one into unconsciousness.

So, what are those two excellent ways to tip the scales toward the side of ending suffering?

1) Start a meditation group and advertise it heavily. The advertising has two advantages: a) you remain aware of your desire to find others to sit with, and b) the more people know about the sitting, the less likely you are to be able to predict whether or not anyone will be joining you. The worst part of sitting alone is that the voices of sabotage will pipe up with every kind of idea about what you should be doing right now besides sitting. And goodness knows they can be convincing! But, if others are coming to sit with you, and if you don't know who or how many... you just can't risk not showing up. This is a very effective aid.

The person I was discussing this with asked in a slightly horrified tone, "But can I just start a meditation group?" The answer is, "Of course you can." Why not? As long as you don't claim to be anyone who is doing anything other than sitting and providing a place and time for others to join in, where can be the harm?

2) Decide on an amount of time each morning that can be your retreat time. Every morning might not be possible, so decide how many retreat mornings you can have each week, and decide which mornings those are. Then on those mornings, pretend you are at the Monastery or on retreat. Wake up at your scheduled time and do what you need to do to prepare for meditation— wash up, have your tea-then meditate (do a sit/walk/sit if time permits), have your breakfast in silence, spend a little time reading something that sets a focus for your day, do a little journaling if you have time and enjoy that, do your reassurances if you've done "There Is Nothing Wrong with You," and get on with the day.


Now, we must all keep in mind that the primary reason we set up such a schedule is to see how conditioning talks us out of it. Watch how you start out with the very best of intentions and then falter and fail. Remind yourself that this is not, in fact, failure, but success, because what you're doing is seeing how self-hate-conditioning-fear-egocentricity talks you out of what you want and into what you don't want. You're seeing it— that is success! As soon as you realize you aren't on your program any longer, remind yourself of what you want to do (have those retreat mormings) and start again. Keep coming back until you stop going away. Quitting is success as long as you keep starting again.

 
Copyright 2003-2011 Cheri Huber