The Early Yield of the 40 Day Practice

One of the many things I notice when I am inconsistent with my meditation is that it takes me about twenty minutes to slog through the distractions and unconscious inattention to get to the clear, calm state of concentration. If this happens to you, simply persevere w/o judgement or frustration. With practice you’ll get there, I promise.

This is exactly why I’ve set myself the challenge of a 40 day practice. I’ve grown weary of of the faulty construction I’ve made of my life by inconsistent practice. Forty days of practice helps us to instill new habits, to compose a new song for our lives. As you may know, 40 is a significant number in spiritual traditions the world over.

Speaking of composing a new song for our lives, have you ever seen a metronome? It’s a simple time keeping device used by musicians to set the tempo for a certain time signature of music. The pendulum of the metronome sounds the beat as it sways back and forth according to the speed set by the practitioner.

The breath is the metronome of the human being. As we begin our meditation, we engage the breath not only physically but mentally, psychologically and emotionally as well. We settle into a tempo of slow, regular diaphragmatic rhythm. We sing the sensual song of the body and allow it to suffuse every cell of our anatomy. We find the natural cadence of being that lies in our souls beneath all the competing storms that disturb our peace.

The metronomic rhythm of the attentive breath sweeps away the seeds of potential disturbance before they sprout. We clean the soil of our minds so that we may sow the seeds of peace and steady attention that root and give rise to the creativity that invariably germinates from this fertile state of mind.

Now the garden of the mind is set to become absorbed in the neurochemistry that creates the deep foundational union of the human spirit with our cosmic origins. Persisting in meditation quite simply changes our brains. The work of Harvard neuroscientist, Sara Lazar, demonstrates how meditation stimulates growth in the hippo campus and parietal lobe where memory and empathy respectively reside. At the same time, the amygdala, the fear center of the brain, is soothed and pacified. When we develop a habit of starting our day with this kind of mindset, we open the doors of possibility to being the kinds of people we really want to be–the kinds of people who can make positive, permanent change in our lives and the lives of others.

Another wonderful benefit is the seeming contradiction between feeling elevated and grounded simultaneously. I love this so much because it gives me the assurance that I will be more likely to think, speak and act with greater awareness. I will be less likely to think unkind thoughts and speak and or act out of unconscious reaction.

I am only a four days into my devotional period of 40 days, and the results are already such a joyful relief.

Here’s a good example of how a clear, considered state of mind can make a big difference: I heard a story today on NPR about an airline pilot whose plane was disabled by a broken engine fan blade that tore a hole in the wing of the jet aircraft he was flying. His actions defied my comprehension. The report told of how he sat back, took his hands off the controls and closed his eyes. WOW! He meditated. The instant guidance he got for consciously controlling his response was to treat that big hulking jet like a small Cessna. Rather than reacting to all the alarms and warnings produced by multiple systems failures, he cut through all the noise and carried out the fundamental, necessary actions that saved over 400 passengers and crew.

We may never fly a jet aircraft in an emergency situation, but each day, we know there are triggers and traps that have the ability to make us lose our composure, depress us, or send us careening off into an emotional detour that may have significant consequences. By starting each day with the habit of meditation we reconstruct our minds so that we are able to set the stage for goodness before negative influences confront us. We are ready and equipped to overcome life’s challenges before they gain enough strength to defeat us. The habit of meditation is the guarantor of our ability to respond to life in victory.

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Self Possession,Soul Retrieval and Concentrating the Life Force with the Habit of Practice

With all the demands and busy-ness of life it is easy for us to get scattered in so many different directions. Our focus and concentration can get dissipated to such an extent that we begin to feel a loss of inner balance. When we get off balance we may feel a loss of confidence or effectiveness in the purpose we’re pursing in life.

My experience of this became very apparent in the irregularity of my meditation practice recently. As I’ve tried to expand my practice and service to my community, maintaining my inner balance with increased demands has been challenging. This has been a signal for me to practice what I preach.

For me that begins with a renewed devotion to meditation practice. Meditation, for me, is a way to call back the disparate parts of myself that can get lost when I’m trying so hard to do all the things I think I should be doing. It’s a way to reconstitute my energy, life force, or prana in the language of yoga.This is my essence, my true being, the genuine expression of my unique individuality.

Meditation is literally a technique to cultivate the power of the human being in body, mind and soul. As we carefully watch the breath at each stage of inhalation and exhalation, we focus until we develop unwavering attention. Pausing at the top and bottom of the breath to reset our focus will then naturally become dharana, or concentration.

As we hold fast to our dharana, we soon make an almost imperceptible shift into dhyana or meditation. I liken this to the process of distilling spirits. The spiritual energy we circulate in meditation is condensed and purified until it infuses our whole being with its power. This is the life force that helps us accomplish our goals on the spiritual path.

But, as I have seen, if I allow myself to lapse in this regular practice, my life force can once again be diluted.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us that spiritual success comes from constant practice. Like the New Testament admonition to pray without ceasing, we are encouraged by the Sutras to develop habits that become attitudes, always pointed in the direction of practice, faith and goodness.

We all have different ways to achieve our goals. One that works for me, and may work for you, is to make a written promise to your self. In your journal or any piece of paper, write a vow to yourself that you will practice at the same time for a particular number of days. Forty days, a particularly meaningful number in the Judeo Christian tradition, is challenging and meaningful. Persevering toward such a goal helps me build self respect. If there’s someone I don’t want to disappoint, it’s me. If I can keep my promises to myself, I’m more likely to keep my promises to others as well.

When you have fulfilled that promise it is easy to relax a bit. Personally that’s when I find that I begin to lose the potency that I had earned from concentrated practice. So, I’m challenging myself to renew my vows as they expire. This, I hope, will ingrain my spiritual habits within me to a point that they are no longer temporary but permanent.

Perhaps you’d like to try a 40 day practice as well. If you do, I’d love to hear how it goes for you. One thing is for certain: If we stick with our practice and renew our vows regularly, we will surpass our goals and find ourselves in fresh, amazing states of being that will lead to even greater fulfillment of our human potential.

All the best to you in your practice. May you be supported by the energies of all the saints past and present.

Om, Om, Om!