Hello again! It’s been a while. I was ill for about three weeks. Then it was Christmas.
And now we are about to emerge once again into a new year. The world didn’t end (this is not a huge surprise since not even the Mayans thought it would) so here we are. A new beginning. Again.
This is me getting back on the horse. Service should be resumed in a pretty much normal fashion from now on.
Over this period of quiet, one of the things I’ve been reflecting on is the whole ‘getting back on the horse’ thing.
Interruption is normal
One thing I’ve noticed about Buddhist practice, and about life in general, is that it tends to get interrupted. Stuff gets in the way. Illness, work, a friend arriving from out of town. Snow. Tax return. Life.
We have an idea in our heads (at least some of us do) that life can be ordered. We can get in a pattern, work out a routine, and then just run it over and over. In this way, success is guaranteed.
This is a good plan. Unfortunately, in the words of John Lennon, life is what happens while you’re making plans.
Interruptions aren’t anomalies. They’re nomalies. Or whatever the opposite of anomaly is.
So if you’re a planning type, you have to plan for the interruptions.
I have noticed over the years that getting back on the horse is intrinsic to practice. Falling off isn’t an ‘if’, it’s a ‘when’. So you have to have a way of incorporating that reality into your view of reality. Otherwise what tends to happen is you fall off and never get back on again.
“I tried, and I failed,” you wail, as you nurse a whiskey somewhere grubby, thinking about what a failure you are. Hey mister that’s me upon the jukebox. I’m the one singing this sad song.
That ain’t the way to Buddhahood.
How to get back on a metaphorical horse
So here’s some tips for getting back on the horse without all the drama:
- Be nice to yourself. If you accept that falling off your routine is inevitable, you won’t give yourself such a hard time when it happens. And that means there’s less ‘stuff’ for you to work through in order to get back into your routine again.
- Practice meditation. Meditation is, for the most part, an exercise in falling off the horse and getting back on again. In one session you might do it a hundred times. Practice makes perfect! Your mind drifts, you realise you aren’t meditating but are instead fantasising about donuts. You gently, and with kindness, lead your mind back to the meditation object and begin again. No biggie.
- Work out plan B, C and D. Anticipate getting ill. What will you do? Meditate for 1 minute a day? Let it go completely until you’re well again? What about if friends show up. How will you modify your schedule to incorporate such things? If you have contingency plans, you don’t have to spend time thinking about it when the conditions aren’t ideal. You just switch to plan B, C or D and carry on. (This works sometimes, but there will be eventualities you can’t anticipate. Life just seems to be messy. Of course if it wasn’t messy, it would be pretty boring.)
- Remember that life may be short, but it’s also long. This is not a 100 metre sprint. This is a triple marathon. You need a different strategy for a triple marathon than you do for a 100 metre sprint. It may even involve stopping for a while. It will certainly involve rehydration. You may even need to pee along the way. If you keep in mind that Buddhist practice (or getting and staying fit, or getting and staying in your dream career, or whatever) is a long-term goal, you aren’t so freaked out by the little detours. You just have to maintain your focus and slowly work your way back onto the track.
- There are no failures, only results. The word ‘failure’ has so much baggage associated with it that I don’t think it’s worth keeping hold of. At least until you’ve fully realised anatta (not-self). That may take a while. In the meantime, when things don’t go according to plan, simply reflect on what happened and why, and resolve to learn from this. And then move on. Less drama means you’ve got more energy for the important stuff. I read somewhere that successful people don’t fail less than unsuccessful people. In fact they fail more. As long as you keep trying, and learn from mistakes, the failures help you on your path. So if you want to succeed, fail as often as possible!