This guest article from our Kadampa Buddhist dad, who has five young kids and a very busy job, is a continuation of Advice from a Buddhist dad on making practice a priority.
Making time for our daily practice
We have already looked at why our daily practice should be our priority, now lets turn to the second question of how do we actually ‘make the time’ to do our practice? The following are some basic tips that have worked well for me.
1 Do your practice when everyone else is asleep
Family life in particular places tremendous strains on our time. In the end, the only way around this problem is to just do our practice when everybody else is asleep. For me, I do it first thing in the morning because at the end of the day the only thing I can do is collapse. How do you wake up earlier to do your practice? Well, the easiest way of doing that is to go to bed earlier. If that is not possible, then you will have to make trade-offs between hours of sleep and hours of practice.
For example, let’s say you have an 8 hour block of time for sleep. Instead of sleeping all 8 hours, sleep for only 7 and do your practice for the other hour. I have found that I am more rested after 7 hours of sleep and one hour of practice than I am after 8 hours of just sleep. The reason for this is it is not enough to rest our body, we also need to rest our mind. Only meditation enables us to really relax our mind.
2 Have the only thing you ask for of others be the time necessary to do your practice
In any relationship, there is give and take. When your practice becomes your number one priority in the day, the only ‘take’ you will ask for of the others you live with is the time necessary to do your practice. The only thing I ever ask of my wife is she gives me the time to do my practice. If you waste your ‘relationship capital’ on other things, like seeing the movie you want to see or going to the restaurant you want to go to, then you won’t have any left over for your practice. Just as we have finite money and must spend it on our top priorities, we also have finite things we can ask for in a relationship and we need to save it for our practice.
3 Understand that habits take time to form
We need to make doing our daily practice a habit. Habits are initially formed through applying consistent effort over a sustained period of time. In my experience, it usually takes a good three months of forcing ourselves to do our daily practice before it becomes a habit. But once it is a habit, it is very easy to maintain. So if you can persevere through this initial three month period, you will establish a practice for life. If you can’t, you will probably never establish a consistent daily practice no matter how many times you try get it started. I think the reason for this is our practice has a cumulative effect where it is only after doing it for several weeks that we start to feel its effects. We need to overcome our mental inertia, and unfortunately when we miss even one day it can be like having to start all over again.
4 Once you make it to cushion, choose to let go of everything else and allow your mind to focus on your practice
It is not enough to get our rear-end in the right place, we have to bring our mind there too. We have worked so hard to create the space to actually meditate, so it would be a shame to then mentally not show up and actually do it.
One of the biggest obstacles to actually allowing ourselves to focus on our practice is attachment to immediate results from our practice. We meditated for five minutes, how come we are not blissed out yet? We measure the success of our practice against the feelings we generate as opposed to the causes we create. A pure practitioner is happy simply to try. It is by trying that we create causes, and it is by creating causes that results will come in the future. As Ghandi said, full effort is full victory. Full effort itself is our victory.
5 Finally, stop making excuses
We all think we are so busy and our lives are so hard that we don’t have time to practice. But the reality is it is because we are busy and that our lives are hard that we must find the time to practice. The reality is everybody is equally busy, just in different ways. Everybody’s life is equally hard, just in different ways.
The good news is once we get started in our practice, it becomes self-perpetuating. Whether we are aware of it or not, we all have goals we are working towards. Perhaps our goal is to simply ‘do as little as possible’, but as we practice the Lamrim we start to develop higher spiritual goals (avoiding being reborn in the lower realms, escaping from all suffering forever for ourselves, becoming a fully enlightened Buddha so that we can lead all beings to permanent freedom). Engaging in our practice functions to make these goals more and more central in our life. As these goals become more central, the ‘need’ to engage in our practice will only grow because we will see how it is only our practice that will enable us to accomplish these higher spiritual goals.
So in short, it is very simple: make a consistent daily practice a priority, then make the time to do it.