Vipassana Practice • How the Tortoise Always Wins the Race
Do you know the fable The Tortoise and the Hare? Anyone can do "hare." Anyone can have bursts of ideas, inspiration, and shiny object syndrome!
But not everyone can do "tortoise," endure the long, long, long journey of discerning, selecting and following through on those ideas, with peace in their heart and joy in their bones.
Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.
– Angela Duckworth
The Hare Approach to Learning Meditation
I've attended a few Vipassana 11-day silent meditation retreats. After the retreat, the teacher recommends 1hr of meditation in the morning and another hour at night.
At home, on Day 1, the majority will do exactly that.
Then by Day 3, "real life" sets in and one of those 1hr sessions vanishes.
Then by Day 4, the other 1hr session vanishes.
And by Day 5, a thin mist of guilt, inadequacy, shame, and/or feeling like a failure sets in.
On Day 7, the "real life" week has passed, and they decide, "Right. I'm gonna start over. Start fresh." So they re-attemp 1hr of meditationg in the morning, 1hr at night.
On Day 8, weekend brunch, family obligations, and/or feeling exhausted and/or lethargic knocks one of the 1hr sessions off the wagon.
On Day 10, when "real life" sets in again, the other 1hr session falls off the wagon. This time, instead of a mist, guilt, shame, failure start growing roots.
By Day 14, they'll feel soooooo guilty and angry (at self, life, all the people trying to steal their piece) that they'll take out the barbed wires and whip themselves onto the meditation cushion, and push a river up back into the dam, in one last attempt to meditation.
And when that (obviously!) doesn't work, they'll quit.
This is the hare approach, blasting out the gate with hyper enthusiasm, but not setting oneself up for success in order to sustain the practice with ease and grace. As Angela Duckworth says, "Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare."
The Tortoise Approach to Learning Meditation
I took the tortoise approach. On Day 1, I meditated for 15min at night. Nothing more. I did this for 30 days.
When I was sure I mastered those 15min consistently, meaning that my mind, heart, body and soul were all on board, on the same train, going in the same direction, then I increased it to 30min every night. I did that for another 30 days.
I then increased it to 45min, but 2 days in I hit a brick wall of resistance and a feeling of wanting to die. Eek! So the very next day, I brought it back down to 30min. Phew!
I KNEW, I just KNEW that if I increased the duration too soon, one or several of my parts would retaliate and press the big red "Self Destruct" button. I practiced 30min until I felt like when the bell rang at the end of my meditation, I could gladly sit a bit longer.
About 15 days later, I tried again to increase my meditations to 45min. Nope, my ego wouldn't have any of it. It held the barb-wire in its raised fist, ready to whip and shred my meditation practice.
So we struck a deal, "You back off, put the barb-wire down, and I'll promise not to meditate more than 35min." It agreed, we shook hands, and I meditate for 35min every night, for another 2 months.
Because the hyperachiever had died at my second Vipassana retreat, I thankfully didn't have the "You suck! You should have mastered 1hr in the morning AND 1hr at night by now!!!" shouting in my head.
I think I got lucky, because when my ego wasn't looking, I snuck the meditation up to 40min. A month later, when 40min became meh, just normal, I finally increased it to 45min, without triggering or threatening my ego.
Two months later, I attempted a big leap of faith: 15min in the morning AND 45min at night. As I maturated, my ego maturated and it was slowly but surely surrendering itself to my soul.
Three months after that, I upgraded to 20min in the morning and 50min at night.
Three months after that, I attempted 30min in the morning and 1hr at night. Nope, ego took out its barb-wire ready to counter-attack. So the very next day, I brought it back to 20min morning / 50min night, for another month.
Now two full years after my first Vipassana meditation retreat, I meditate 2-6hrs a day, anytime, anywhere, easy, peasy. Reading, walking, washing the dishes, taking a shower, even working has become meditative. I could meditate all day, for days in a row, just for the pleasure of it because it fills me with such peace and joy.
So, what will it be for you, hare or tortoise approach?
With infinite grace,
(First Published Jun 12, 2019)