I know from so many years of teaching that some of you might be feeling discouraged right about now. We are challenging a lot of deeply held assumptions about success and failure, about being in control, about the efficacy of judging ourselves, so there are always a lot of ups and downs on a path. I know it is not easy, but the best thing is to go through the 28 days and then assess, rather than judging ourselves every single second of practice, which is more what we’re used to. For one thing, that means continually separating ourselves from the practice in order to judge it. It’s good to evaluate and decide if we’re getting any benefit and want to continue, but February 28th (or even March 1st) is a very good day for that. In the meantime, don’t buy into those discouraging thoughts that you can’t do it – you are doing it, and the momentum will reveal itself by the end.
My Burmese meditation teacher, Sayadaw U Pandita, had a trick question he used to ask people, “How many breaths can you be with before your mind wanders?” The reason it is a trick question is that they believe it takes a fair amount of mindfulness to notice how distracted we are. So a good answer might be, “three breaths.” If you answer, “I can be with the breath for 45 minutes, and my mind never wanders,” they believe you are so lost in space, and you don’t even notice what’s happening.
We want to see that the number of breaths climb from 3 to 20 to 200 to infinity, or we feel bad about ourselves and our practice. That success is measured differently – in how we are learning to let go of distraction more gently, and we’re learning to begin again with more kindness towards ourselves – is awfully hard to believe. But it’s true. And it takes some getting used to.
Week Two of the 2020 Challenge is devoted to Mindfulness of the Body. Here we are also challenging the conditioning of judgment –“I’m not feeling the right things, I’m not feeling enough, I’m feeling too much.” Our goal is a balanced awareness of whatever sensations we discover through mindfulness. It is because of the balance we have room to look more deeply into sensations in our bodies – to discover our conditioning towards pleasure (do we allow ourselves to enjoy it or are we only trying to keep it for the future?) towards pain (are we adding fear and anger and projection into a seemingly unchanging future, or are we with our experience with compassion?) and neutrality (do we basically fall asleep or numb out whenever our experience isn’t intense?). There is so much to be learned through mindfulness of the body, and it is a sensitivity and groundedness we can bring into our everyday lives.