One of the messages that was repeatedly taught at Kopan durning the November Course was that the benefits of practice are subtle. Over and over Lama Zopa Rinpoche simply said "sooooooooo subtle, sooooooooo subtle." I have to admit, as with so many things, I didn't really get it. My intellect got it: there would be no lightening bolt or seas parting when the effects of meditation and practice sank in. It wasn't a dog and pony show, it was something way more human and mundane - but in a sparkly realisation way, of course was what I secretly believed. The actual unknowing of things is a dangerous vacuum that gets filled with all manner of potentials. So even though I knew I didn't know, I still created a spectrum of all the concrete things that meditation would bring me and how i'd know.
One of the things which is always noted about a meditation practice is that it gets worse before it gets better. The mind gets more manic and uncontrollable, and it feels like you are throwing serenity into a high speed blender. That's why you have to practice and do it more than once or twice. Chances are you will be rubbish at the start, and as you practice get better and better. It is the act of doing as much as the doing that embeds the value and practice in your neural pathways as a positive activity and eventually things move into place.
As is the way of things, a few of my pals took up meditation around the same time I did. While the ace in the hole of that is that I have a sangha of meditation buddies to connect to and relate with when i'm on the cushion trying to keep my blender under control, it also means that people who I regularly have discussions about the big questions of my and their life have all got a solid 12 months of very regular if not daily practice under their belts. I was talking to one of my dear buddies the other day, and she said something about herself that was so profound in its awareness that it stopped me in my mid shopping with her tracks. What she said isn't for sharing in this post, the key point is that I have known this gal for several years, and watched as she worked through some issues with the usual pendulum of grace and frustration. Her realisation about herself was so massive, and so insightful, that it cut across many of the blocks in her life, bringing her clarity about why things were the way they were, her part in it all, and the patterns that repeated because of her behaviour and beliefs.
But wait, there's more. It wasn't just that this awareness had surfaced, it was that with this knowledge, her response was to simply know. She didn't feel she had to rush out and dramatically change things, there was nothing to change as she and the behaviour were impermanent. She saw that now in any situation she had a new vantage point from which to observe what was going on, rather than reacting right in. By knowing she had already neutralised the situation. It was at this point when I understood through her the expression of awareness + equanimity that I moved from mere intellectual knowledge about what subtlety was, to an appreciation of how it arose and how it was integrated. Soooooooo subtle. Soooooooo subtle. I put this entirely down to my pals regular meditation practice, by making the space in her mind and compassionately observing herself, the dust of illusion had rubbed off enough to show the aperture of innate knowledge. She had begun to know herself, and not judge herself or shy away from what she saw.
I couldn't have been more excited about this turn of events than if a sea had parted or the sky had sent a golden beam down on her head. I'm consequently seeing many more tiny subtle shifts in behaviour and attitude as I look for the minute awarenesses and changes in behaviour in myself. It's like building a sand castle one grain at a time, and appreciating the perfect placement of that exact grain and the structural gain, rather than groaning with frustration at the mountain of work still to come. I've had my own small awareness in the last week about the payoffs of subtlety. While I rock a meditation practice day in day out, my yoga practice, despite spending two months in a daily immersion in 2016 to build a yoga neural superhighway, was still massively intermittent. It worried me. I'd sit in meditation, looking at my yoga mat and berate myself for not getting on it. I wouldn't get on it, just berate myself then head off to the kitchen for breakfast. Berating myself about not doing a yoga home practice became a substitute for yoga.
At the beginning of this year, I joined about 50000 other people on a meditation app that I totally love called Insight Timer in a 365 day meditation challenge. This felt a bit lame as I meditated every day and was kinda just gaming the rewards, but the group feel is lovely. The 365 day challenge started with one minute of meditation, two minutes the next day, three the next and so on until everyone was doing 20mins. The idea being that a little regularly was much better than none at all. On day 5/365 I had a little revelation. I needed a yoga 365 to get myself into a daily habit. The subtle part was noticing that I had a lifelong (adult) habit of doing things in a none too subtle way. When I thought about yoga, I thought I had to be doing a 90 minute class at full tilt. Even my approach to getting a practice hadn't been to simply do a practice it had been to spend 8 weeks smashing out classes to become a yoga teacher.
The answer was to just do a little yoga every day. So I started my committment of 10 minutes for 365 consecutive days. If i'm sick or tired I can just do savasana, but unless i'm dead or in a coma I have to roll out the mat and get on it and practice yoga. And I have, every day since I decided to do it. I can always find ten minutes, at both ends of the day and in between. And hey presto, I have a daily yoga practice and a mat that doesn't sit in the corner of the room giving me the guilts. This may seem kinda obvious, but I never would have dreamed of only doing 10 minutes of yoga. What was the point I would have thought - its not enough. Yoga is the point, and it is enough is the answer. And it is teaching me that a little done mindfully and with full intention and committment is enough, in all things, and far more valuable than doing nothing. All of these awarenesses cascade throughout the day to remind me that little acts, little thoughts, little words, they all make a difference, and when they are positive acts, they can make a big difference.
Dr Polly McGee is one part writer, and many parts assorted thinker, do-er, talker, eater, chef, explorer, yogi, kirtaneer and dog wrangler. She has worked in kitchens, bars and restaurants from frantic to fancy, managed multi-million dollar innovation grants programs, advised hundreds of start-ups on how to refine their business ideas and source funding, and championed causes from a variety of soapboxes, lecterns and stages. She is currently the Strategic Marketing Lead for Global Edtech Startup Prosper Education. Her new book, The Good Hustle, is coming out in February 2018