Routine

‘The big things that come our way are the fruit of seeds planted in the daily routine of our work.’
– William Feather

One of the biggest problems people have with meditation is it takes a while for results to appear – which can can test our patience.
After all, we live in a world which caters to our impatience, so we’re all too used to instant results. We turn a key and the car starts. We turn a tap and water appears, or tweak the remote and the TV changes channels. We flick a switch and lights go on. We take pills and feel immediately different.
So it’s only natural that we would instinctively expect instant results in everything we do – and judge whether something is ‘working’ or not, by looking at what the immediate results are.
But meditation is different.
Looking for the results of meditation is a bit like watching a flower grow. If you keep staring at it, nothing seems to be happening. But if you come back a month later, it’s in full bloom
So too, the only time you’ll notice results in meditation is when, after maybe a year of consistent practise, you look back at the long winding road you’ve travelled – and it’s then that you will see how different things are, and how new abilities and strengths have gradually appeared in you.
This was emphasized by the Buddha himself, when he said:
‘Just as the ocean has a gradual shelf, a gradual slope, a gradual inclination, with a sudden drop-off only after a long stretch, in the same way this Doctrine and Discipline has a gradual training, a gradual performance, a gradual progression, with a penetration to gnosis (spiritual awareness) only after a long stretch.

So considering all this, what’s my advice?
Well, put simply, the only way for meditation to be effective is to let go of expecting results, and focus on the routine of doing it each day. It doesn’t matter if you’re rushed for time and only get a chance to do ten minutes – it’s important that you mark that spot in each day as ‘the time to meditate’.
Routine is the only way to push through impatience and doubt, and give meditation practice a chance to build it’s own habits. Routine gives meditation a firm place in your life – a space where your mind and body naturally understand what they’re about to do, and fall into stillness easily.

I’m reminded of a conversation I once had with a man who climbed mountains. He was telling me about the first mountain he climbed – Breithorn in the Apennines Alps in Italy.
‘It’s actually an easy climb,’ he said. ‘Which is why I chose it. But as easy as it was, the first climb I did, it defeated me, largely because I kept looking for the peak. And the more I looked for the top, the more demoralized I became, because it always looked so far away. And the more demoralized I became, the more tired I felt. So I gave up.’
‘But I assume you eventually climbed it,’ I said.
‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘And since then, whenever I’m climbing, I never look up. One step at a time does the trick.’
And so it is with meditation.
Forget results. Just do it. Do it every day, whether you feel like doing it or not. Routine is everything.
As my mountaineer friend said, ‘one step at a time does the trick’.
Mind and body respond to routine. They remember what they did in previous times, at certain times of day, and they instinctively make themselves ready to do the same things today. So if you meditate at the same time every day, muscle memory will help you fall into it seamlessly each time.