Building the Will: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

This week Chanel, from Petaluma, CA, shares some experiments she took away from a recent weeklong retreat.


Recently I attended a week long retreat with a wonderful mix of meditators. The discussions were rich as were the tips for moving forward in the practice. 

As a results driven person, I find myself a bit frustrated when I cannot quantify my progress in meditation. Sure, I can ask myself if I am more loving and less judging, but even that can be hard for me to gauge.

During the retreat, with the help of my retreat friends, I developed an experiment for each of the eight points that I could do to continue to work on building my will and to test my boundaries.

Meditation: the power of a voice

I often avoid looking at my written passages as a test to see if I can remember them. This actually makes it even more difficult to remember! A friend reminded me that there are recordings of Easwaran reading passages aloud ( I believe this to be a great way to memorize passages the same way I memorize songs or lines. Also, hearing Easwaran read the passages makes the activity even more powerful. Utilizing this has made memorizing passages more intriguing for me.

The mantram: weaving the thread

I find my mind to be most speeded up in the morning. Right when I wake up it is rolling from old song lyrics to the to do list for the day to the script from a movie I haven't seen in over a decade. In the interest of weaving the thread of meditation throughout the day I began switching on the mantram right when I wake up. It has been a challenge to make it the first and last thought on both ends of the sleep train, but I find it useful to try.

Slowing down: creating space

This one, I must admit I directly "borrowed" from a fellow retreatant. The practice of simply leaving spaces in my calendar. This applies to both work and personal time. For some reason, I had the proclivity to pack my calendar full both during the week and on weekends. I had to a stop and think what was I so afraid of if I didn't have anything to do? Making space allowed time for more reflection and re-charging. It is such a simple thing to do but for some reason I had been avoiding it. I now see the value in the added space for the mind and the calendar. 

One pointed attention: the art of separation

For this point, I believe my biggest issue is distraction. I have never been very attached to my phone but I found that over time, looking at it has become a habit and one that I am not proud of. To weaken this habit, I decided to come at it in two directions. At work, I started to keep my phone away in my drawer and only look at it once a day at lunch time. A home, I have been experimenting with keeping it downstairs and not bringing it upstairs to my bedroom/sleeping area. Since we are all friends here, I will admit that I did cheat on this one because I continue to use the phone as my alarm clock. In my defense, I do keep it on airplane mode when it is upstairs and my alarm is the sound of chanting mantrams.

Training the senses: the freedom of the pause

Inserting time between the desire for something and the action to get it has created a respite of space in which I forget what the desire was. This may be due more to my forgetfulness than actual strategy but, for the most part, if I make myself wait for something I want I will soon forget about it or my desire will weaken. As an example, I am a big fan of cake. If there is a cake around, I will know about it. However, at a social gathering I decided to put my cake eating on hold until later. I completely forgot about it until after the party. (It also helps if the cake is store bought and not very appetizing).

Putting others first: resistance with love

I have been reading a great deal about how putting others first can sometimes mean saying no to them. It's a detail I over-looked in the past but I now see the importance of it in healthy relationships. While I cannot claim to be an expert by any means, I can say that I have tried it a few times and while it was difficult at first, it overall made a positive difference in how I perceive my relationships. It also relates to self-care and knowing how and when I can give my best to others.

Spiritual fellowship: creating retreats at home

This is a really creative practice for me. Gathering with friends who are meditators and building our own retreats is fun. There are so many creative options such as: making mantram art together, writing healing mantrams for someone in need, memorizing passages together, watching Easwaran talks and walking/spending time mantraming in nature together.

Spiritual reading: book club bonanza

I am proud to say that I am 1/4 of a spiritual book club with my friends and being a part of it keeps me motivated to continue reading and discussing Easwaran’s books. It is comforting to know when I am reading that my three dear friends are also reading and interpreting the same words.

In addition, upon the suggestion of a fellow retreatant, I have been keeping at least one volume of The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living by my bed side and either opening up to a random page every night or specifically looking up a topic of interest for that day.

Overall, the more I experiment, the more I learn about the expression of forgiveness and gratitude. Forgiveness for myself, when I fail. Gratitude for the practice and for everything it brings to me including the challenges. Most importantly, I am grateful to be connected to so many dedicated and inspirational meditators that constantly motivate me to continue to do my best for all of us.