At the Vagabond Temple we have a packed daily schedule of Yoga, meditation, talks and other activities. Our guests are supported by each-other and the teachers to attend as many classes as possible to make the most out of the experience. However, when leaving the retreat environment and returning to the “real” world, it can sometimes be difficult to keep the motivation to practice. With all the frustrations and distractions of the modern society, even with the best of intentions we can sometimes get carried away from the path – in the same way that the mind is carried away by thoughts during a meditation session. To help our students, and anybody else leaving a retreat or just wishing to keep up a spiritual practice at home, we offer the following eight tips.
1. Find The Others
Being surrounded by like-minded people who can motivate you is extremely helpful. In Buddhism the community or “Sanga” is seen as one of the “Three Jewels” (central principles of the tradition). Connecting with people who can keep you on the path will really help motivate you to keep your practice going. You may need to seek out some new friends, or make more of an effort to connect with people you know are on the same wave-length. You will also find that like-minded people gravitate toward you once you have committed to leading a more mindful life – so be on the look-out for opportunities to make new connections.
In the same way, you may find that some old connections drop away as they no longer serve you. This does not have to be anything dramatic such as falling out with people, or dumping anybody not “spiritual” enough for your new-found lifestyle. It is more like becoming aware of how other people influence you and starting to step away from people who are not supporting your journey, it is best done with gratitude for them having been in your life, rather than a sense of superiority or rejection.
There is no shame in asking for help or support from others, if you have supportive people around you, you will find that they will be more than happy to help in the same way as you would be happy to help them.
2. Get On The Mat
When you wake up in the morning to a beeping alarm clock and the prospect of a day at work, it can feel like the last thing you want to do is a spiritual practice. However, even in the most bleary-eyed state you can roll out your Yoga mat on the floor. One you get on to it, you will find that the hardest step has already been taken and practice can begin, as Woody Allen says, “80% of success is just showing up”.
3. Trick The Mind
Anybody who has practised meditation will have seen how the mind can play tricks on us. Now it is time to get your own back! Tell yourself you are just going to do a single, short exercise, like a single sun salutation or a 5 minute meditation. You may find you have ended up doing much more before your complaining mind has had the chance to figure out what is happening!
4. Embrace The Excuses!
Laziness is a major obstacle to anybody who wants to follow the spiritual path, so much so that it is identified as one of the 5 Hindrances in Buddhism (the key obstacles that curtail our freedom). You will notice the mind is great at coming up with excuses to avoid a Yoga or meditation session. “I’m too tired today, I’ll do it tomorrow”, “Meditation is not for me anyway”, “I did a great session yesterday so I don’t need to today”… the list is almost endless, it seems almost like the mind is a nothing but a highly sophisticated excuse-generating machine! The best way to deal with this is simply to not take the lazy mind too seriously, recognising that laziness is a false state of mind that will disappear once you get started. Watching the excuses the mind comes up with can be quite an illuminating and amusing method of self-discovery. You will find that the excuses you make to avoid your spiritual practices are the same you make in other areas of your life – this awareness can help you overcome them.
5. Make A Plan
Having a vague idea that you are going to do a load of spiritual stuff from now on may provide you with some comfort, but it probably will not lead to an actual program of practice. Using a calendar and scheduling in what and when you will be practising can bring you some of the order of the retreat environment to your home. Maybe you would like to do 3 Yoga sessions and 3 meditation sessions a week, or maybe a daily morning Yoga and evening meditation session. Having this recorded will motivate you and help bypass some of the mind’s excuses. “It is Tuesday evening, so I will meditate for 30 minutes” regardless of the million possible reasons not to. Of course it is important not to over-fill your calendar to start with, and also not to be hard on yourself when the demands of daily living mean you cannot do exactly what you wanted to.
6. Raise The Temperature
In the Yogic tradition, obstacles can be burnt away with “Tapas” – the Sanskrit word which can translated as “fiery discipline” or “burning enthusiasm”. This relates to a passionate intention to practice, or the passionate energy you bring to the practice. One way to ignite this fire is to set a strong intention to perform a certain discipline for a set number of days. For example, “I will practice a five minute morning mindfulness meditation every day for 10 days”. You can say this to yourself like a mantra, or write it down and stick it on the wall. Once the strong motivation is set, it is almost as if you no longer have a choice in the matter, the fire is already burning!
7. Remember Why
Sometimes we get so caught up doing (or not doing!) practices that we totally forget why we took them up in the first place. Or if a practice is particularly challenging, this may cause us to lose our motivation. In these cases we should remind ourselves for the reasons we practice. The strengthening of the body and calming of the mind that comes from Yoga and meditation is just the tip of the iceberg – really we are on the journey of self-discovery, seeking freedom for ourselves and others. Reading spiritual texts and talking with like-minded people can remind us of this.
8. Take It Easy
Following a spiritual path does not equate having no fun whatsoever and taking yourself too seriously (try telling that to the more fundamentalist followers of organised religion!). Softness, non-judgement, and compassion toward the self, are key attributes to cultivate (central in Buddhism and other traditions). This is especially important with meditation, which can reveal undiscovered parts of ourselves which we are not comfortable with, or bring up difficult past emotions.
Sometimes spiritual practice itself can give rise to self-doubt: “I’m not good enough at meditation”, “I need to practice more”, “I’m not improving fast enough” etc. This can just be thought of as the mind having a little trouble adjusting to a change of circumstances – you do not have to take these thoughts too seriously, they are just temporary like everything else. When we realise the truth of the spiritual metaphor that human mind is like a drunk monkey that has been stung by a scorpion, what can we do but laugh?
We are only human so there will always be times that we give in to the temptation not to practice: this is OK and no reason to feel guilty. Some sessions will go well, others will be challenging; sometimes we will feel motivated, other times it feels like we have to force ourselves. Accept these fluctuations as part of the path and remember to enjoy yourself! As G.K. Chesterton said, “Angels Fly Because They Take Themselves Lightly”.