If we’re struggling with our sitting practice, can we practise effectively with moments of awareness throughout the day?

A student writes:

“I am having considerable problems with really consistent sitting practice. I still find myself plagued by feelings of ‘things’ that I should be doing.

However, what you said in a teaching about the moments of awareness of failure, if you like, as triggers to re-frame what you are doing and re ground yourself struck a real chord with me. I’m aware that all the time I can be working with the Dharma.

However bad I am at it, however much I see myself as falling short and needing to let go of so many rather rigid attitudes, I find I’ve developed over the years – almost every five minutes really – those moments are moments of opening up for me.

Can this be an effective way to practise? Is it OK that this really is my major practice?”

Lama Shenpen:

Yes this can be your major practice. The important thing is to practise like this with conviction.

Make a point of remembering this is your practice every day (if not more often). Really reinforce your intention to practise like this in whatever way you find most effective.

Maybe you can make up little phrases to remind yourself at particular moments during your day. Maybe link the reminders to a time of day that repeats itself and so will automatically remind you (like when you walk through a particular door, make a cup of tea or even when you sit on the loo!).

Maybe link it to a particular thought that comes into your mind such as ‘I have too much to do’ or ‘I haven’t got time’. Or maybe link it to a particular physical sensation such as tension around the stomach, the forehead or neck. As you notice the tension, remind yourself of your overall intention and your key phrase or whatever it is that gets you to that spot – that place that is awake and sane and always there, when you remember it.

Maybe it’s ‘heart’ – maybe it’s ‘space’ – maybe it’s something else or maybe it changes sometimes or even every time. You have to find what works for you but you do need to work on it in the sense that you have to keep reminding yourself and bringing yourself back to your original intention.

So that will make it a major practice – perhaps sufficient practice if you can really link into it strongly enough. Usually setting time aside to do formless meditation makes it easier to link back into your original intention. Even five minutes can help – even better if it’s several five minutes every day!