Daily practice – keeping on keeping on

One of the issues with daily practice is sticking to it.  When you first get going there's a lot of enthusiasm, lots of energy and the novelty is great.  But after a couple of months its harder to muster the enthusiasm every day.

I was thinking about how to keep myself motivated and realised one of the reasons I find it difficult – and how it mirrors my experience of trying to keep up with regular exercise.

If you haven't been keeping fit for a while and you start to exercise regularly, the benefits come pretty quickly and are pretty obvious.  You find you've got more energy.  You find your body is changing shape in a pleasing way.  You often find you feel less lethargic.  You may well wander around, a I usually do, going "why don't I do this all the time? It feels great!"

That's because fresh in your mind is how it felt not to be exercising.  How it felt when you were wandering around the place feeling unfit.  The problem is that after a month or so of being fit you get used to it, and now what regular exercise is doing is moving you from a state of being fit to a state of being a bit fitter.  The difference is there – a bit more energy, a bit more stamina, slightly nicer muscles – but it's no where near as vivid as the contrast between not-at-all-fit and fit.

At this point it can feel like you aren't achieving an awful lot – the sense of progress decreases and the perceived benefits diminish whilst the effort remains much the same.  Of course if you stop exercising at this point you slip back down into unfit again – but it takes a while and you often don't notice the decline, don't let yourself notice the benefits slipping away.

I've found exactly the same process happening with daily practice.  When I start (whether it's regular meditation, a daily banishing, or whatever) I'm full of enthusiasm and will repeatedly be heard to say "Why don't I do this all the time? I feel so much better for it!"  But once again one adapts to that 'feeling better' and it becomes normal.  Regular practice brings further benefits, but the contrast between 'no meditation' and 'meditation' is again vast compared to the difference between 'meditation' and 'a bit more meditation'.

I'm doing pretty well with my regular practice at the moment, but a few weeks ago I got a burst of enthusiasm for concentration meditation.  I was determined to get a lot better at it, to really start pushing through the Jhanas.  I started off finding time for a couple of half hour sessions a day, but as these went well my enthusiasm grew.  Some days I was spending two or more hours in a concentration meditation.  It was great!  I can remember how enthusiastic I was – how focused my mind felt, how calm I was, how much more free time I seemed to have (an odd side-effect of regular meditation – the feeling of having more time.  This comes about, as far as I can see, because a lot of 'automatic' activities that we sleepwalk through (surfing the web, preparing food, watching TV) stop being automatic and we find ourselves making choices about them – so we do them more efficiently and appropriately and feel like we have far more time).

It lasted for a couple of weeks or so.  Then progress just seemed to slow… I wasn't getting much further into concentration states, I was adapting to the mental 'clarity' I was living with and I started to take the benefits for granted.  So I lost interest and my concentration practice petered out.

If I really think about it I can remember how good those days where the practice was at its height felt.  I can certainly remember thinking 'why don't I do this all the time?'  And yet that memory isn't quite vivid enough to get me motivated to get back to it.  There are just so many web pages to read, so many bits and pieces to tidy up, and – oh, look, a new Xbox game.  Shiny.

Whilst my concentration practice may have fallen by the wayside for the time being (I'll no doubt be back to it at some point) I have kept up my daily magickal practice, even though it's an hour out of my day.  I think one significant difference is how I've kept alongside myself the memory of how I was feeling without practice, so I can remind myself how much better it feels now. I just have to remember how this practice pulled me out of a spell of depression and suddenly got my life moving again after a long period of stagnation.  By repeatedly reminding myself of what not practicing feels like I can keep a grip on the (relatively subtle) positive effects of 'more practice'.  In the same way that I take the time to notice when I experience some evidence of the positive effects of being fit ('hey, I only slept for 6 hours last night but I still feel fine!') I try to notice the positive effects of a daily magickal practice ('yup, still not feeling miserable').  Keeping an image of our non-practicing self alongside, celebrating the ongoing benefits, and giving ourselves credit for our achievements (rather than growing complacent and thinking this is just 'naturally' how we feel) are, in my opinion, all essential to keeping motivated to practice of a regular basis.

2 Responses to "Daily practice – keeping on keeping on"

  1. My guess is that rewards and reinforcements are nowhere near as significant as issues of the will.

    From what I've seen, magick is an expression of your being; a core intention that wills you as much as you will it. You could no more forget that than forget who you are. Like family.

    Interests, on the other hand, we choose. They are the result of our core being rather than being an aspect of its formation, so they are free to come and go more like friends.
    Christopher Willmot recently posted..Perfectly Unreasonable

  2. […] In the third stage progress slows.  I can do the practice right, but I'm not really noticing the effects any more.  They are still there in the background, but there are no new fireworks, no new revelations.  I've settled into the long haul.  It's harder to stay motivated at this stage, because it's less obvious what I'm getting out of it… I tend to have to think in terms of 'just round this next corner, there'll be something great!'.  I wrote about the problem of keeping on keeping on earlier. […]

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