A Gentle Approach to a Daily Buddhist Practice

A Gentle Approach to a Daily Buddhist Practice January 17, 2023

One hundred and fifty four days in a row. This was how long I had maintained my daily meditation practice, sitting cross-legged for half an hour of silence every morning. On the hundred and fifty fifth day, I woke up and had the thought, ‘I’m not going to do my practice today’. So I didn’t. And it felt okay.

For me, this is progress. Much of my life has been characterised by strong ‘manager’ parts of me that drive me like a coachman whipping his horses. These parts of me have brought me many benefits – I am self-motivated, I am productive, and I get things finished. These parts also have a tendency to get carried away, whipping me until I am exhausted or even injured. Recently I have had a sore lower back, and I can link this to a period of extra-hard work over the past few weeks.

These manager parts show up in all areas of my life, and so of course they have accompanied me into the spiritual realm. They (or maybe different, colleague parts) have unrealistically high expectations of me in my role as Buddhist teacher. They also have an idea of what a ‘proper’ Buddhist looks like – someone who is perfectly ethical and gives all their belongings away, someone who reads sutras before breakfast, someone who leaps joyfully onto their meditation cushion every morning for two hours of zazen – you can imagine.

Three thoughts

It has taken me many years to have three thoughts about this. One – I might not actually want to be that kind of Buddhist. Two – doing those kinds of practices might not actually help me to become a better person or offer me more connection to the Buddha. Three – and this one has made it more difficult to have the first two thoughts, as I have resisted it for a long time – I’m not actually capable of being that kind of Buddhist.

Buddhists come in many different shapes and flavours, and I am a ‘Satya-shaped Buddhist’. Because of the preponderance of manager parts in my system, it suits me to connect with the other-power practices of Pure Land Buddhism. The encouragement to acknowledge my foolish nature and to lean into the great compassion of Amitabha Buddha is the perfect antidote to my years of self-sufficiency and self-control. It has helped me to loosen my tight grip on, well, everything! – and relax little by little into the welcoming arms of the Buddha.

With this in mind, I waited before I started a daily practice up again. A couple of weeks went by. One morning I woke up and had the urge to chant a mala of nembutsu. I also listened to my body, which wanted me to do the ten minutes of stretching that had lapsed months earlier. I did this, and it felt good. A few months later, with a few days off for lie-ins and work pressure, I am still starting my day in this way.

Trusting the process

It doesn’t come naturally for me to trust the process (or the Buddha’s way) after so many years of my managers pushing me so hard. They are incredulous – surely, if we step back, you’ll fall into a puddle of laziness and never get up from Netflix again! I do fall into puddles of laziness, and then when I’m rested, I get the urge to go on a walk or do the washing up. I can trust my internal system to become more balanced, when it is held by the Buddha’s wisdom and acceptance. Little by little, I know that I am moving in that direction.

As a Pure Land Buddhist, I can also remember that I am accepted regardless of whether I get ‘better’ at not driving myself so hard, or not. I don’t need to be good to be loved. I just am. This knowledge is a profound relief and it sits underneath everything else. Maybe I’ll carry on with my mala of nembutsu. Maybe I’ll develop a taste for zazen when I retire and enjoy weeks of silence with the Buddha. Either way, I know that I can relax and get on with enjoying my life. Look – the valley through my window is frosty – a swathe of pale pastels, muted trees and mist. The sky is a painting. Isn’t it beautiful?

Go gently _/|\_

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What kind of Buddhist (or person) do you think you ought to be? What sort of Buddhist ARE you? What is the best medicine for you when you take into consideration the person you are? How might you explore this further?

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