Container PrincipleAugust 22, 2012 | 14 Comments | Add to favorites
When it comes to meditation practice, no matter how ambitious or committed we may feel, it is not easy to keep our practice going. Things get in the way. We have too many emails to answer. The kids need to get to school. We have an important meeting at 8a and there is still much to do to prepare. And of course in addition to too busy, there is always: too tired, too hungry, too uninspired.
At such points, it is very tempting to do one of two things: abandon ship or begin to beat ourselves up for being lazy, disorganized, hopeless and so on. I can tell you right now that neither of those approaches is useful. (In case you had any doubt.)
There is another choice. In my Shambhala lineage, we talk about something called “container principle.” This is the notion that the environment in which you take action can actually guide that action to completion, or at least support it to do so.
Our last post was about the 5 steps you can take to rouse confidence—clean up your space, eat good food, wear nice clothes, spend time with people who uplift you, and spend time in the natural world—and these steps all have to do with container principle, with the space we create for ourselves.
You already know exactly what is meant by container principle. Practicing meditation in a Buddhist temple feels different than practicing in an airplane or outdoors. When you eat over the sink, the food may actually taste and go down in a different way than when you eat at a dining table with good linens and soft music. If you watch a movie in a theater, it has different impact than when you watch it on your iPhone. The practice, food, and film have not changed—the container has.
Here are my suggestions for ways you can create a strong container for your practice. They are just a starting point. Feel free to add, subtract, embellish, ignore.
1. Practice at a set time. For most people, the best time to practice is the morning, but this isn’t true for everyone. Experiment a little until you find the time that is best for you. (A schedule is a wonderful example of a container.)
2. Develop a sense of ritual. If you were at a Buddhist meditation retreat, you would probably take your seat a certain time, offer an opening invocation, request the blessings of your lineage, do your practice, and then end that practice when the gong sounds. You can develop your own ritual and it does not have to be complex. It can be as simple as starting at the appointed time, saying to yourself, “now is the time for practice and I will commit myself to it wholeheartedly,” and then using an App to sound gongs to begin and end the practice. (I use this one.) Other suggestions are to read a page from an inspiring book before you practice, bring to mind everyone who loves you and feel their support, or even simply this: ritualistically turn off your computer, smartphone, television, iPad, and so on. I turn off my WiFi and somehow this signals to me: time to practice.
3. Select a set place for your practice. Whether you have an entire room in your mansion devoted to contemplative practices or simply a chair in a sunny corner of your studio, choose a particular spot for your practice. As best you can, reserve that spot for your inner practices: meditation, reading, journaling, and just thinking things over.
4. Aim for a consistent practice schedule rather than a lengthy one. In other words, 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week is better than 50 minutes once a week. In this way, the habit begins to weave a stronger container.
I hope this is useful! Do let us all hear of ways you have managed to create a container for yourself, or stumbling blocks you may encounter. The OHP community has amazing collective wisdom and maybe we can help. xo S
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