“Mere intellectual understanding is not enough. It is not by leaving the doctor’s prescription by the bedside or learning it by heart that we are cured. We must integrate what we have learned so that our understanding becomes intimately bound up into our mind’s flow. Then, it ceases to be theory and becomes self-transformation. Indeed, as we’ve seen, that is the meaning of the word: meditation: familiarization with a new way of being we can familiarize ourselves with all sorts of positive qualities in this way — kindness, patient, tolerance — and continue to develop through meditation.”
—Matthieu Ricard, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017.
Meditation is popular. Tim Ferris informs us in his book, Tools for Titans, that 80% of the +200 people he interviewed for the book have “some form of guided-meditation practice.” Physicians have developed an eight week plan of guided meditation that they have used in clinical trials to treat depression. Neuroscientists studying long-term meditators think that meditation involves temporal integrative mechanisms that can change the connections of neurons and the brain itself. Many different religious traditions have established meditation practices, whether it is the reading of the Psalms to the whirling dervishes of Sufism. The overwhelming consensus seems to be that some form of meditation is good for you.
In our society, our focus is often on utility. Will meditation make me more effective? Will it keep me healthy? Will it help me to manage pain? What can it do for me?
In the Zen tradition, there is sometimes talk of five stages/styles of Zen:
- Bompu Zen or “Usual Zen” is meditation undertaken for utilitarian reasons, such as increased personal effectiveness, the ability to focus, enhanced mood, etc.
- Gedo Zen or “Outside Way” is meditation used as a spiritual exercise, particularly for any religious tradition that is not Buddhist.
- Shojo Zen or “Practice of Jhana” is meditation to reach enlightenment for oneself.
- Daiju Zen or “Great Practice Zen” is meditation made for the benefit and eventual enlightenment of all sentient beings.
- Saijojo Zen or “Great and Perfect Practice Zen” is, as far as I can tell, meditation for the sake of meditation, without striving for any particular result.
All of these reasons seem like good entry points into meditation practice. For my purposes, this experiment is not attempting to achieve any particular result other than to develop a consistent meditation practice and document some of the experiences in making the attempt to practice every day over the course of one year, while holding out the possibility of extending the attempt further into the future.
“If you practice regularly for only five or ten minutes a day, without straining your body, you will soon want to extend the time you spend in sitting because of the increased feeling of bodily health as well as the great peace of mind that you will enjoy. Once you begin to experience bodily discomfort, stop sitting; otherwise, you will grow tired of doing Zazen [meditation] and come to dread the time when you think you should be doing it…Even in a big monastery, one does not normally sit for longer than forty-five minutes at a time without a short break. This is because the strain of keeping the mind taut at the beginning is very great, and this lessens the value of the actual sitting. Five to ten minutes done really well is worth a whole day done badly.”
—Jiyu Kennett, Selling Water by the River: A Manual of Zen Training. New York, Pantheon Books, 1972.
I am committing to doing at least one session of 25 minutes every day in the coming year. If desired and possible on any particular day, I will either do multiple sessions or do longer sessions of no longer than 50 minutes. I will use the Meditation Assistant app [F-Droid or Play] as both a mediation timer and log for my meditation sessions.
I will use the standard practices outlined as exercises in Ricard’s Happiness as a starting off point to focus my meditation practice. I will also look into other sources for understanding meditation, whether from traditional sutras, contemporary commenters such as Ayya Khema, Chagdud Tulku, Sharon Salzberg, etc. or other sources, particularly those in the Zen tradition.
I will also write a weekly summary of practice for myself including: questions that come to mind, trouble spots, failures to practice, etc. Anything I find particularly interesting I will post to this blog. Quarterly, I will briefly summarize my experience and edit the results section to reflect my experience. At the end of the experiment, I plan on discussing the experiment and provide some conclusions, if there are any.