Why Do We Stay With Our Meditation Practice? The Dialogue Continues
John: We left off last week’s discussion with Zen practitioner and psychotherapist Alexander Leuthold just after Alexander remarked, “One point is how we come to do a meditative practice, but the other point, which has become more interesting to me in recent years, is the question, why do we stay with the practice?
Alexander: Yes, people come because they are accompanying a friend, or they have heard something or read something, but many people, especially in Western countries, drop out.
Because we live in a Christian culture rather than a Buddhist culture, the whole structure of our society does not include meditation or meditative postures. In China, in Japan, kids are taught how to sit. In Germany, nobody teaches you how to sit. They tell you to sit up straight at the table and how to use your fork and knife, but they don’t tell you how to establish your body mind relation. In our culture, there is also a lot of distraction. Many people I used to know in the States have the TV on all the time, even though they are not watching it. This is common in Germany, too.
So, how do you stay with a meditative practice? I think that this is where the Profound Meditation Program does really good work, because it makes it easier to practice. For example, in a train people would look at me if I attempted to sit with legs crossed, and I would need a little more space than there is available. So, I just sit there, turn on my iPhone and throw in one of iAwake‘s tracks.
John: Yes, it’s like having your Zen temple, your cushion, wherever you go. And I think another reason that it’s easier to stick with the practice is that people start to feel the power and the benefits of meditation much more quickly. Most of us, in the West anyway, don’t have the patience to stick with something that takes a long time to really kick in. When you feel the powerful effects of your meditation the first time, the second time, or within a week or two, it gives you a lot of motivation to keep the practice up.
Alexander: Yes, that’s true. Well, actually, I cannot say so for myself, because I started Zen long before I started binaural beat technologies. But I can say for my clients, that every individual who practiced with PMP reported effects. Some of them didn’t even notice it, but I noticed. I would say, “I’ve been working with you for two years, and now you’re telling me this? Don’t you think there is some correlation with the fact that you just started with brainwave entrainment technology?”
John: I find the exact same thing with my clients. And when they fall off the wagon for a week or two and don’t meditate, they start going back to their old, habitual, conditioned behaviors. When I see them on Skype,even if they’re going through something painful and difficult, I can usually tell whether they have been meditating or not, because if they have been meditating, they are experiencing the feelings, but not from a place where they become lost in them. There is more spaciousness, more flow, and more mindfulness surrounding the issues. It changes the texture of the work.
Alexander: Yes, right.
John: Alexander, you are one of the heroic individuals who seem to really stick with a traditional type of meditation, unassisted by this powerful new technology. So, how did you stick with it over the years?
Alexander: Actually, I have asked myself this question quite a few times and come up with different answers. Why do people stay? There’s some mystery to it, I think. Maybe for myself, it’s a kind of wisdom that tells me, “Hey, you ought to do this.”
There are also people, like my former wife, who can tell when I have been on an intense retreat. When I begin to lose track, she’ll say, “Don’t you think you should go to your retreat center?” My business partner has also encouraged me. “Why don’t you meditate more?” he’ll say, for instance. So, there are a few people who notice. It’s partly that and partly my own wisdom. If I don’t meditate for quite a while and get in trouble somehow, or into a difficult situation, then this soft, inner voice says, “Hey, go to your cushion and meditate.” I have an inspiring teacher as well. Like they say in Buddhism: buddha, dharma, and sangha, right? You need a teaching, you need company, and you need a teacher. So, maybe that’s what made me stick with it.
John: That’s a great answer, Alexander. I like what you said about it being a kind of mystery; the wisdom voice is a good way of expressing that. You can tell when the wisdom voice is coming from a deeper place, from a deep connection with your essential self.
Alexander: Yes, and this is also when you start to harvest the benefits. When you become aware that you just performed in a way that would never have been possible without meditation—when you sit down in the evening and you look at your day, maybe during a stressful time, and you become aware of how you performed during that day—and you start thinking, would that have been possible without meditation? When the answer is, well, probably not, then you cannot stop meditating. Once you are into it enough that you feel that, then it becomes a must.
John: I absolutely agree. And regarding the other point you made, about harvesting the benefits of practice, in my case, my mind began functioning at a higher level; I seemed to be smarter; my creativity went into high gear; and I let go of a lot of the old messages, “You’re not good enough,” “You’re not smart enough,” “You don’t deserve success.” I started trusting the creative process and surrendering to it.
Alexander: Yes. What comes to mind as I listen to you is that at some point the state training that is facilitated by PMP turns into a transition to the next stage on a spiral, so to speak. That is when you become aware of the benefits in a new way. You live your life in a new way. And you become aware that this would likely not have been possible without meditative training of some kind.
I’d like to make a comment about not practicing or stopping using PMP. I think it is important that people don’t feel badly about it and that they don’t feel guilty. I know for myself that I’ve had times when my meditation practice was very irregular. There were weeks, and even months, when I didn’t practice. I felt badly about it until I understood that it is part of practice that we not practice sometimes. It can happen. It doesn’t mean you have stopped being on the path—it’s part of the path.
I have to emphasize again that this is why I’m really grateful that you guys have a program like PMP, because it is so easily accessible, in contrast to many rigorous traditional practices. You can just turn it on, even if you cannot sit upright, you can do it in bed, but you get started again. It is a good motivation in that it is simply easy to do, and you will feel the benefits, sooner or later.
John: Alexander, I so appreciate this time talking with you. You’re an extraordinary human being, and it has been an honor.
Alexander: It’s my honor, too, my pleasure. Thank you very much.
Artwork by Alexander Leuthold. Photo of Leuthold sitting facing the wall at the University of Erfurt.
Adapted from iAwake Technologies’ free, weekly teleconference call on January 23, 2013.
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Alexander Leuthold has many years of experience both as a psychotherapist and with Zen practice. In Germany, he teaches about mindfulness and Integral Life Practice, and he is currently iAwake’s own German-language Profound Meditation Program coach. Leuthold is also one of the few authorized to work with MAP (the Maturity Assessment Profile) developed by Susanne Cook-Greuter. Leuthold guides and inspires people from all walks of life, to manifest their highest potentials in both their professional and personal lives.
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