A little while back, I was struck by something a teacher said during a meditation retreat:
“Your commitment to your practice is measured by the quality of investment of yourself as you are practicing, not by the length of time.”
Up until that point, I had most often “measured” my commitment level by the length of time I was practicing each day. My intention was to sit for one hour, either 60 minutes in the morning or 30 minute bookends, morning and evening. If I got there, GREAT (insert sparkly unicorn sticker). If not, I offered myself some compassion, reflected on what got in the way, and began again the next morning. When I heard the words “quality of investment” it really helped shift my emphasis to how I’m showing up to practice – is this another check box on my massive to-do list, or is it a precious and rich opportunity to nourish myself?
A metaphor that comes to mind is the difference between eating nutrient dense foods versus empty calories. The activity of consuming these two types of food, on the surface, looks pretty similar, but one is deeply nourishing and the other is a hollow endeavor. This same notion to our practice. In meditation, if we sit down, set the timer, and eagerly anticipate the liberating *ding* at the end (“Booyah! *check*….next!”) there’s a good chance that our mind will totally check out, and we’ll miss out on the real fruits of our practice.
That said, there are two things I want to clarify here:
1. Getting your butt on the cushion is alone worthy of celebrating, regardless of the “nutrient” absorption. Sometimes this can be the hardest part, so if that’s as far as you’re getting, keep it up. It’s also healthy to feel joy (and perhaps a sigh of relief) when you hear the ending “ding.” Sometimes it even makes me smile. The invitation here is to pay more attention to the quality of investment with which you show up. It matters, and you may find as I do, that when I approach my practice with a sincere investment – an honoring of myself – I notice it directly impact the quality of my presence. Right away, I tell myself it’s worth it to be here, in these next however many minutes. My monkey mind may still be swinging about the trees, but I feel myself more grounded in my seat and the space of my practice.
2. It's important to differentiate between “quality of investment” and “striving”. Often, we think fully investing ourselves in something means giving 110%. In meditation, we are learning to fully engage and invest in our practice, without the "striving" or forcing quality that is habitual for so many of us. We're also learning to bring a certain quality of attention, so our minds aren't just floating like flotsam. This is a fine line to walk, and often raises lots of questions – am I trying too hard to meditate? Am I not trying hard enough? Help, I’m confused!! In many ways, finding this balance is an enigma, and this goofy clip from Forgetting Sarah Marshall sums it up quite well: