I've been working a lot lately with two of the thirtyseven factors of enlightenment, as they're called. Patience and Perseverence.
Back in July, when I was at the monastery, Sayalay recommended two hours a day of meditation based on my "constitution." Since then I've been working my way up to that, but it is hard to (a) find the time and (b) keep my butt on the cushion for that long. What I've found is that she's right -- I do need two hours. Have I met that goal yet in one sitting? No. Well, not yet at least. I'm coming close. I'm clocking in just at an hour, sometimes a little more.
But it takes a while to get to that quiet, still place. For the first twenty, thirty, even forty minutes of a sit, it's like battling the wind uphill, to wade through the thick current of the mind to a place where there's a clearing. It takes a great deal of perseverence and patience to keep with it, to keep going, in spite of sloth, in spite of restlessness.
What works the best? For me, I have found that beginning with the feeling of love in the heart works best. It provides a sense of joy, calm, and well-being. It also provides a terrific amount of easily-accessible energy and stamina. For instance, tonight I began my sit focused on Rita. I thought about her, about her pain, and I just began feeling love for her in my heart. I let it swell and build, I breathed it out, invisioned it surrounding her, soothing her, healing her broken sternum, easing her seizing muscles. Whenever the mind began to wander it was so easy to bring it back to the object of love and compassion, because it's for someone whom I feel so strongly. Thus, there was a tremendous wealth of energy to keep going, and an easier advantage of staying on the meditative object.
After some time of this, I turned my attention to the breath. The breath came more and more into focus until it seemed as though I was the breath, and the breath was me. There was nothing other than the breath coming in and the breath going out. The whole of me moved with its movement, with an intensity that only the present moment can unveil. I began to approach the edge of something much deeper than I've seen or been to... I wanted to follow this deepening further, but it's still new to me and so I wasn't able to sustain it for much longer.
I've also begun to understand, by way of experiencing, the teaching that virtue is one of the main foundations upon which meditation and concentration rests. Virtue must be something which is constantly cultivated in every moment. Some talk about it as "taking care of the moment." When there is any sort of disturbance within -- such as anger, impatience, aggression, etc -- at any point throughout the day, it creates a rift, a ripple effect if you will, that reverberates into one's meditation time. Imagine yourself to be like a pool of water. Negative emotions are like throwing stones at the pool. The bigger the stone, the bigger and longer the ripple will impact your ability to be calm and smooth inside.