It’s the Small Things That Support a Steady Practice          

There’s a funny thing that happens when I sit to meditate. 

All by themselves, my hands find a familiar spot at my waist, one atop the other, turned upward like an open cup, middle fingers nested together at the first knuckle, the tips of my thumbs barely touching, as if they could lightly hold a piece of paper.

I read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind when I started to meditate years ago, and that was how Shunryu Suzuki said to place your hands. Now, my hands take this position automatically, almost unnoticed. When I sit, this habit sets a quiet mood. Subtle signals to my brain remind me to relax and open.

This is one of the quiet advantages of keeping a routine in our practice. Our minds like the familiarity of patterns and will draw cues from repetition. Small routines work better than willpower in maintaining a spiritual practice. Setting up an environment that nudges our behavior is more effective than grit.

Practice is about regularity, ordinariness, and even monotony. Commitment to small steps creates a way of being over time. It’s like building a wall of bricks that goes for miles, but today, I am gently laying just this one with care. It’s like planting a field where the growing season is erratic. Sometimes, my interior space is stormy, restless, agitated. Sometimes, I readily settle into quietude. Sometimes, more rarely, I expand into a shifted consciousness where I glimpse something spacious and grand.

These states happen on their own. They can’t be coerced through effort or by following a recipe. But if we don’t lay today’s brick, the wall will not progress. If we don’t tend the field, it’s hard for anything new to grow. So I adopt simple routines that make it easier to practice. Keeping a regular schedule, such as having a period of stretches, meditation, or journaling first thing in the morning, helps build a habit that supports my steady practice.  

Another part of my routine is to assume the same posture each time I sit to meditate. My hands, nestled in my lap, are part of it. It’s a small thing, but when my hands come to rest this way, they are open and relaxed and gently remind me to be the same.

Maybe Suzuki knew what he was doing.

What supports have you created that help you maintain a fruitful practice? Do you light a candle, state an intention, adjust an altar, or just take a breath and note that you are entering an internal space?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below and let me know your ideas.

Photo by Mattia Faloretti on Unsplash

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