One of my mentors used to say to me, “you get good at what you practice.” We don’t get good at playing the piano by playing it once, it takes many hours of repetition and practice. And of course there are the actions we keep repeating that we don’t want to be doing, which we also become better and better at.
We can have the highest intentions of meditating daily, or learning to play an instrument, or any other goal. But at the end of the day, we just get good at what we actually do.
However often we meditate, meditation can help us see our habits more clearly. But whether or not we are meditating, we are always practicing something. What habits do you notice you are practicing, and getting quite good at?
Habits manifest themselves in our actions, our speech, our interpersonal relationships, and even our relationship with ourselves. I’ll share a personal story about recognizing and transforming an internal habit of mind.
I’m the child of “tiger parents” — where you might get all A’s, but it’s the A- that gets the attention. We internalize how we were parented, and develop “inner parents” in adulthood that echo those voices. I have noticed that even if I am doing a good job overall, I tend to focus on the things that I didn’t do so well or that didn’t go so right. This habit feeds a tendency to rarely feel content, and can lead to underlying feelings of sadness or never being good enough.
When I recognized this, I first felt a lot of compassion for the suffering this habit of mind was causing me. Through this compassion was borne a desire to become better at acknowledging what I have done well and right, to nurture an “inner parent” that is a cheerleader, not a drill sergeant. This wellspring of love made me want to nurture a sense of self-acceptance that is not dependent upon performance, and meditation practice has been crucial in making this shift in habitual tendencies.
Meditation helps us to see our habits and our own minds more clearly. There are two wings of mindfulness: seeing clearly and relating to what we’re seeing with compassion. I think of meditation time as quality time with ourselves. Our attitude in meditation sets the tone for how we relate to ourselves and the world.
Even if you are meditating daily, what are you actually practicing while meditating? Are you noticing every time your mind wanders and berating yourself, or saying “This isn’t working!” Or are you noticing and saying “Ah, my dear – here’s an opportunity to come back again to the calming gift of my breath.” What kind of inner parenting are you practicing during meditation, and in each moment of daily life?