Meditators are so serious about the word “practice.” All its connotations seem to fit so well with what it is we do on the proverbial cushion. Meditation is a “practice” in the sense that it’s practical — that it’s primarily about doing it rather than believing in it. It’s also a “practice” in the sense of rehearsal, a focused time to hone a skill in preparation for deploying it in the situations of our lives.
Here’s where my faith in that word tends to break down, though: When you practice with your band, you play the songs the way they’re really played. You pretend with the full force of your imagination that you’re playing the real show right now, and you’re playing the music the exact same way. Later, when you’re up on stage, the performance feels familiar — because you’ve practiced it — so your body and mind know just what to do.
Isn’t that the opposite of meditation practice?
How often do you find yourself in a situation — hours or even minutes after a lovely, quiet, mindful period of meditation — where you realize that all that lovely, quiet mindfulness has gone completely out the window? It happens to me daily. Some mundane situation — even a completely minor one — gets me so spun up that I react in exactly the opposite way I’d want to if I were fully present. Well, that situation is usually the polar opposite of sitting cross-legged in a quiet room with my eyes closed. So where’s the practice in this?
Maybe meditation is really more like exercise than practice, at least in this sense. You work on fundamental skills, leading to incremental improvements and — crucially — to faster recovery. Meditation is not for rehearsing life; it’s for building strength.