February 27, 2013

Meditation Month, Day 27: Trading Candy for Gold

With Each and Every BreathAs we near the close of Meditation Month at Tricycle, I thought it'd be nice to leave you with some good reading.

It's not easy to maintain a meditation practice for many of us. As laypeople especially, it's difficult to see ourselves through the clutter of life to the cushion. This is why it's important to make sure that our surroundings are conducive to practice. I find Thanissaro Bhikkhu's writing on this particularly helpful. As a busy layman, I need all the help I can get, and I've found the Thai forest monk's most recent book, With Each & Every Breath, particularly helpful. This is what he writes on how to optimize our surroundings for a steady meditation practice:

The values of human society, for the most part, fly right in the face of a meditative life. Either they make fun of the idea of a true, unchanging happiness, or they avoid the topic entirely, or else they say that you can't reach an unchanging happiness through your own efforts. This is true even in societies that have traditionally been Buddhist, and it's espcially so in modern society, where the media exert pressure to look for happiness in things that will change. The practice of meditation for the sake of an unconditioned happiness is always counter-cultural. No one else is going to protect your conviction in the possiblity of true happiness. You have to protect it yourself. So learn how to skllfully shelter your practice from the conflicting values of society at large.

There are three basic ways in which you can do this: choosing admirable friends, learning to live frugally, and finding seculsion as much as you can.

These three issues require a fair amount of renunciation, and renunciation is easiest when you regard it not as deprivation but as a trade. In trading the pleasures of an ordinary life for a meditative life, you're trading candy for gold. Or you may think of yourself as an athlete in training. The game of outwitting your unskillful habits is far more worthwhile than any sport. Just as athletes are willing to live under certain restrictions for the sake of their performance, you should be willing ot live under certain restrictions for the sake of true happiness. And just as an athlete restricted to a healthy diet comes to prefer healthy food to junk food, you often find that the restrictions you place on the way you interact with your surroundings actually become your preferred mode of being.

Like all Thanissaro Bhikkhu's work, With Each & Every Breath is free and available here. The passage above begins on page 118, and is followed by more detailed advice on changing your surroundings for the better. You can also read another special meditation month excerpt on the Tricycle blog from With Each & Every Breath here.

Meditation Month is coming to a close but make sure your practice doesn't!

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