After I got out of the shower yesterday, I curled my arm to look at the size of my bicep. It had been a while since I had done this. I was impressed. It looked noticeably larger than the last time I checked. It looked like a tight ball under my skin with some definition of other muscle around it. When I checked it in the bathroom mirror this morning, though, it looked the same as it always had — sort of a round mass. Perhaps the gym has better lighting.
I’ve been going to the gym for four months now, lifting weights three days a week and doing cardio exercises five days a week. My intention was not to build a bigger bicep, although I hoped for it as a side benefit, along with losing weight (so far, not so much). If I did it for those reasons, I would have given up discouraged months ago.
My intention was merely to build a practice that would improve my health, mentally and physically. I resolved to focus not on the results, but on the method itself.
This is big change. I have always thought of practice solely as a path to improvement. You pick up a musical instrument or a foreign language so that you can play and converse, otherwise it’s a waste of time. That kind of thinking associates practice with wasted time. It longs for a machine or a pill or a shortcut.
A grudging practice must be continually justified. Am I learning fast enough? When will I be good enough to not make mistakes? Why do I even want to do something that requires so much practice? I quit.
If you learn to love the method, the results will arrive. I thought about this recently after a short but wonderful flight through space.
I’ve been adding all sorts of methods to my life — methods for cleaning my house, for writing, and most recently for flossing my teeth. My most cherished method is for meditation. I sit in my living room chair, wrap myself in a blanket, set a timer (first for 10 minutes, now for 20), close my eyes and focus repeatedly on one word that sets my intention for the day. I use every sound to reinforce the word. I breathe the word in and breathe the word out. My heart beats to the word. The clock ticks to the word. Sometimes my dog will bark the word or a loud car will drive the word up the street.
After months of daily meditation, I’ve had some “peak experiences.” Once I felt like I was outside my body. I often see colors and shapes. Mostly these experiences are in the form of a complete relaxation that straddles dreaming and waking.
But even more than those, meditation seems like a complete waste of time. I struggle with it. My nose starts to itch or I get distracted by something. I start to worry that I’m not doing it right.
But then I come back to my focus. That’s what meditation is all about — returning to your focus. You won’t get stronger by merely holding the weight, but by pumping it, bringing it back again and again in repetition, sets of repetition.
Meditation is teaching me to trust the method. Someday it will make flowers grow out of my pockets.