This weekend, I missed my regular meditation practice. I managed to meditate 40 days in a row – every day even while I was packing, moving, and hosting out-of-town guests – but I missed this Saturday. It wasn’t on purpose. Some friends were stopping by first thing in the morning, so I got up early, got myself showered and dressed, had some breakfast and made muffins to offer to my friends. My only rule for meditation is that I meditate before I leave the house in the morning, so I planned to meditate after my friends left. But then they ran late getting to my house, then they left later than we’d planned, and I knew I had to leave to go visit my parents, and I just grabbed my things and ran out the door. Completely forgot about my meditation. I didn’t realize until much later in the day, when I was heading home from my parents’ house, and I felt too tired and dispirited to try to meditate then. I felt like a company with a worker’s comp injury, changing the sign from “40 days with no injuries” back down to zero. Total failure.
In his book Passage Meditation, Eknath Easwaran advocates for meditation every day. He states that the only failure in meditation is the failure to meditate faithfully, and he quotes a Hindu proverb that says “Miss one morning, and you need seven to make it up.” He also quotes St. John of the Cross: “He who interrupts the course of his spiritual exercises and prayer is like a man who allows a bird to escape from his hand; he can hardly catch it again.” (pages 61-62) Mr. Easwaran advocates for putting meditation first above everything else, whether you’re on a jet, in a sickbed, or best by personal anxieties and problems.
Of course, knowing me, I started to make myself feel guilty about missing my practice. Clearly I’m not putting my meditation first if I could forget it so easily! 40 days in a row, and I ruined my record; now I’ll practically have to start over at the beginning. But in the grand scheme of things, missing one practice is not the end of the world. I do try to follow Mr. Easwaran’s good advice, but he also advocates for a full half an hour of meditation practice every day. I do five minutes and feel pleased that I managed to fit it in. And Mr. Easwaran also writes that we should be gentle in dealing with the mind during meditation. He writes that the mind “actually wants you to become angry and start scolding, because then it won’t have to return” to the meditation practice (page 45). He’s right – if I keep feeling upset and angry that I missed a practice, that’s going to carry over the next time I sit down to meditate. Instead, I need to be gentle and understanding with myself. I just forgot. It happens. Sure, I could have gotten up extra early to make sure to do meditation before my friends came, but I was tired from being out late the night before. (And why was I out late the night before? Yoga class!)
I’m doing the best I can, and it doesn’t matter how many days in a row I meditate, just like it doesn’t matter how many days in a row I floss. If I floss most days but skip it one night when I’m particularly tired, that doesn’t set me back to the point before I started flossing. And there’s no point to counting the days, really, it just makes me feel worse when I miss. In 2010 I flossed every day for 109 days in a row (see, I get weird about counting stuff like this) and then I ran out of dental floss and forgot to buy more, and I was really upset, but you know what? I bought more the next day, and that was in April of 2010, and I’m still flossing almost every night. I didn’t get a cavity because I missed that one time, and missing that one time didn’t mean that it was over for me and flossing. It’s the same way with meditation. I just need to stop counting, because counting the days when I do a thing puts more emphasis on the times when I miss, and in fact counting becomes almost like a good luck charm, like I’m doing the thing just so I won’t screw up my count. Better to do the thing every day because it’s right to do it every day.
Of course, it’s one thing to think these healthy thoughts to myself, and something else to really believe it. My head will say, here are 114 reasons why it’s okay, and my heart will whisper, you say all that, but we both know I’m really a jackass. I just have to keep working to believe it and keep telling myself the healthy things until I do believe them. I go on self-induced guilt trips all the time: Saturday’s was meditation, Sunday’s was chipping my brand-new manicure, and I’m sure I’ve got another one coming up any time now. And I hate guilt trips. The real truth (satya!) is that if I keep working hard and doing my best, I will make progress, and little failures are only that: little. It’s my overall hard work and attitude that really matter.