The Joy of Homework
This month I invited a guest blogger, Diane.
Think to a time when you were in a class and couldn’t understand the instructor. If you were not interested in the material, probably you shrugged it off and moved on. But if you did want to learn, it was different. Maybe not understanding the instructor made you feel anxious, helpless, frustrated or even angry. Did you feel this way because the instructor was not very good, or was it that you didn’t do your homework?
In this school of life, we are here to learn our lessons. The master teachers—those at the level of Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Moses, as well as others not as well-known but nevertheless at a high level of spiritual attainment—teach how to behave in this Planet Earth classroom, and how to pass small tests, big tests, and the final exam (death). If we don’t understand our lessons, then we feel unprepared and overwhelmed when tests come, as inevitably they will.
When Jesus teaches, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), what lesson are we to draw? It sounds like an impossible command.
Confronted with a lesson we don’t understand, such as the one above, we must decide how to respond. If trust in the teacher is shallow, we will blame the teacher and disregard the lesson. But suppose you have reached that point where you trust the teacher. In that case, all you can do is say, “I don’t understand this yet.” Then do something about it.
A meditation practice will help you. Doing this “homework” will prepare you to understand at the level from which the masters teach.
Here’s the rub. Many books, lectures, and articles on meditation present meditation as easier than falling off a log. I think this is misleading and causes many people to quit in shame and discouragement, feeling that they are not good enough. For a few, meditation is easy. For most, it is not. As a longtime meditator, all I can say is that it has become easier. I continue because by doing my daily “homework,” I get glimpses into the states described by the master teachers and insights into their teachings. These glimpses are brief, sometimes very brief, and far between. Yet they are vivid, uplifting, and keep me going—and wanting to learn more.
For me, this growing understanding is meditation’s greatest benefit. The other benefits are a nice bonus. Researchers tell us that meditation decreases blood pressure, respiration, pulse, and stress hormones; that practice will improve mood, emotional control, memory, ability to learn, and provide a host of other benefits. (Google “benefits of meditation” and read up! You will find it inspiring!)
The next time you want to study your own scriptures, try this before you start reading. Say a short prayer for understanding. Then, sit up straight, chest lifted, chin level with the floor, be alert yet relaxed. Let your breath lengthen and soften as you breathe through your nose. Breathe deeply enough so your belly gently moves with each breath. Concentrating on its flow, notice that the breath feels cool as it enters your nose, and warm as it leaves. Continue for 2-3 minutes. Then, release your concentration on the breath, and breathe normally for a few breaths before gently opening your eyes and starting your reading.
See if this short meditative preparation makes a difference in your understanding. If you feel to, share your findings in the comments.