Q. How can I fit Buddhist practice into my daily life? I hardly have time to meditate or study Buddhist scriptures. Where do I find the time and space?
A:This is a very important question. It is something we each face, every day–especially in this speeded up culture of ours. We each have 24 hours in a day. It all depends on how skillfully we manage to allot and utilize that time. It is not unlike trying to add an exercise regimen to one’s daily schedule. We have to actively make the time for it, on as close to a daily basis as possible; And if we miss some days, committing to getting to it three to five times a week year-round still fulfills the purpose.
We can also try to allocate a “Sabbath,” a whole or half day on the weekend to practice, to join a regular meditation group or class. We can also go now and then for a weekend or longer retreat away from home. But fundamentally, it is our personal daily spiritual practice that helps us develop the most in the long run.
One good way to create time for a regular spiritual practice–such as daily meditation, prayer, chanting, tai chi or yoga–is to do it at the same time in the same place every day. This kind of self-discipline helps create both a regular habit and a comfort zone, once your practice gets going. It will also help if you have comfortable, familiar, loose fitting clothes that you use just for practice. Getting up a little earlier in the morning can further help massage your daily schedule and other responsibilities into alignment. I like to do my meditation and chanted prayers every morning when I wake up. And having someone to practice with spurs you to do it when the getting gets tough–showing up is more than half the battle.
People usually think that practice means doing something quite special, like going to church, reading scriptures, praying and meditating. Of course these are religious activities and can help cultivate genuine spirituality, and even spiritual activities, but true spirituality is much broader, richer and deeper than institutional ritual. It also has an “everyday, every moment” dimension that is crucial to following the path. According to the New Testament, “the Kingdom of Heaven is within.” Buddhist scriptures tell us that “Nirvana can be found right here and now.” And a 12th-century Tibetan adept, Padmapa Sangyay, exhorted that everything we need can be found within.
Buddhism shows us how to exploit those innate resources by cultivating mindfulness in every action throughout the day–“meditation in action.” This kind of attention helps us to be more mindful, wakeful, conscious and aware every moment of everyday life, so that we are fully aware of reality just as it is. This miracle of mindfulness transports us beyond our selfish, egocentric concerns and ourselves, making us better people and bringing us an intimate sense of kinship with everyone and everything.
Beyond explicit religious practices, even an experience as simple as taking a walk can become a spiritual action. Buddhist monasteries in Asia alternate sitting meditation periods with walking meditation, placing equal emphasis on both. Identify mundane activities like this in your life, where a spiritual connection naturally occurs, and utilize them regularly. For me it is walking; for you, it might be dancing, singing, knitting, or some other form of creativity or work.
Buddhism teaches us how to slow down and simplify our lives, which in turn helps clarify and focus our energies and our minds. We can learn to integrate mindful living into daily life through bringing our conscious, intentional attention to such daily activities as washing the dishes or eating. In mindful eating meditation, we eat one raisin or one tangerine section at a time, thoroughly and completely, while letting go of all extraneous plans and ideas and just concentrating fully on experiencing every single taste, fragrance, physical sensation, and thought attached to the process.
Seclusion and withdrawal, I believe, are no longer the name of the spiritual game today. Rather, it is about inclusiveness and integration with daily life. Few of us will go off to remote caves, deserts, or mountain hermitages; and if we do, it won’t be forever. It is good to cultivate spiritual life intensively as I did in a Tibetan cloister for years, but you still have to live in this world, even if not totally of it. Everyday life is the Way. It is up to us to walk it, step by step. When the mind is free and the heart is at peace, every day is a good day.