This post, based on a worksheet I recently created, will guide you through a series of writing prompts designed to help you establish a regular meditation practice. The first part of the exercise helps you create a written plan with explicit goals for your ideal meditation practice. The second part of the exercise helps you identify counter-productive behavior patterns and the underlying beliefs that guide those behaviors. Take your time with this exercise and make sure that what you write down are your own authentic ideas. Especially when you are articulating your goals and aspirations, and analyzing your behavior later on in Part 2, it’s important to the process to make sure you’re not writing down someone else’s great idea, or something that sounds like it would be good for you. Make an honest attempt to sort out what you believe at the deepest level and work from that starting point.
Establishing a Spiritual Practice – Writing Exercise
Answer the following writing prompts with the most detail that you can. The act of writing things down can help you organize your thoughts and piece together complicated ideas. Formulating a detailed plan with explicit goals will bring the obstacles into focus and clarify exactly what needs to be done to succeed.
I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.Flannery O’Connor
Part 1 – Create a Written Plan
Question: Why is meditation important to you? Why do you care about meditation?
Question: What issue, reason, or inspiration brought you to meditation in the first place?
Question: What are your goals, aspirations, and commitments regarding meditation or spiritual practice? Describe the outcome you’d like to see in as much detail as you can.
(Example: I want to have a daily meditation practice of at least 20 minutes per day every single day. I don’t want to ever miss a day. I want to meditate first thing when I wake up, before checking my technology/notifications, and before the responsibilities of the day become my primary concern. I want to feel really good after my 20 minute meditation practice, I want to feel focused, calm, relaxed, and wide awake so that the rest of my day goes smoothly and I can be more happy and productive as a result.)
Question: Describe your daily/weekly/regular practice. When, where, what, how will you do it?
Question: What are the ways that the outcome you described in Item 3 will enhance/synergize the other aspects of your life (health & fitness, social life, emotional regulation, service to others, romantic and family life)?
Part 2 – Analyze Behavior
First, take a fearless inventory of behaviors you currently engage in that are counter-productive or contradictory to your stated goals, aspirations, and commitments in Item 3.
(Example: I want to have a daily meditation practice, but I procrastinate and never get around to doing it and haven’t meditated at all this week). You could try this format, identifying several counter-productive behaviors:
I want to _______________, but I end up _________________________ instead.
Second, identify invisible goals and commitments that underlie the counter-productive or contradictory behaviors. For every counter-productive or contradictory behavior there is an underlying commitment, a hidden motivation, that is almost an exact counterpart to one of your commitments you wrote about in Item 3 in Part 1.
(Example: I end up procrastinating and doing other odd jobs instead of meditating daily because of my competing commitment to work really hard and be seen as a productive member of society). You could try this format, identifying several invisible goals and commitments:
I end up ____________________ instead of ____________________ because of the
competing commitment to _____________________.
Finally, feel around for some underlying beliefs about yourself that underlie the hidden commitments. This can take some time, and you might want to walk away from the exercise for several minutes or hours before filling in this portion. Think long and hard about your invisible, competing commitments – try to identify core beliefs you hold about yourself, other people, meditation, or the whole world, that might underlie your need to cling to these commitments that directly contradict your originally stated goals. These underlying beliefs are often very personal, are emotional in character, and could be seen as ‘defense mechanisms’ that at one time protected us from danger and stress. Sometimes these underlying beliefs are so deeply unconscious that when we discover them, we are completely shocked to find out what has been guiding our behavior all along. This process of identification doesn’t mean you have to give up these underlying beliefs; you are just allowing them to become visible so you can investigate, see if they’re actually true, and consciously choose whether the beliefs are still serving their purpose.
(Example: my competing commitment to work hard and be seen as a productive citizen seems to be driven by my underlying belief that “sitting around and doing nothing” i.e. meditation, is a decadent luxury and a frivolous waste of time. I feel guilty when I sit around and do nothing, I get this nagging feeling that I should stop wasting time and get back to work. My competing commitment to working hard and being seen as a productive citizen is also related to the underlying belief that I don’t deserve to have the luxury of relaxing, feeling open and free, calm and relaxed. Part of me thinks I’ve been a bad little boy and should have to work hard and be a little uncomfortable to make up for that.)