Obstacles to practice:
Forgetting the Instructions

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Another obstacle to practice is forgetting the instructions. New to meditation, you’re trying to remember the basic instructions: to hold your body on the cushion and to hold your mind to the object of meditation, to recognize and acknowledge thoughts and return your focus to the breath with mindfulness and awareness.

As soon as the mind leaves the breath and goes elsewhere, you have encountered the obstacle of forgetting the instruction.

You've learned that we're always holding our mind to some object. What are you holding your mind to when you forget the instructions?

When we forget the instructions, we're holding our mind to discursiveness. We're so wrapped up in thought that we can't remember what we're supposed to be doing. The instruction to stay present seems weak compared to the power of our distractions.

Forgetting the instructions can happen suddenly or it can happen gradually, as if we're losing our grip on a heavy object. No matter how hard we try, we can't stay focused on the breath. The technique becomes blurry. We can only remember a couple of words: "sit," "breath/' "thought," "mind." Apart from that, we can't remember anything.

If we're employing the technique without the view, then all of a sudden, we can't figure out how to do it at all.

In addition to the simple instructions, we might also have forgotten the view—the reason we're meditating. One reason we forget the instructions is that we approach meditation simplemindedly. We think it isn't that complicated—only a point or two to keep in mind. It's possible for simplicity to work, if we're able to follow the instructions.

However, with a simple-minded view, our meditation becomes weak. When we're just waiting for thoughts to pop up like clay pigeons so we can shoot them down, we're forgetting our view and our intention. We're forgetting that we're here to cultivate the mind's natural stability, clarity, and strength. This isn't simplicity, it's lack of perspective. We have technique but we've forgotten the reasons for following it. We've forgotten that the view of meditation is to be one-pointed and spacious.

Based on this description of forgetting the instructions — and perhaps even forgetting why you're meditating — what tools that you have already learned might act as an antidote to forgetting?

Antidote to forgetting

We need to remind ourselves continuously of the details. If you've forgotten what you're doing with your mind, almost inevitably you've also forgotten what you're doing with your body.

If you find you've lost the instructions, start by remembering your posture. Is your spine still upright? Are you relaxed, or are you holding tension in your shoulders and arms? What are you doing with your gaze? Simply checking your posture and starting your meditation over—"Now I'm placing my mind on the breath"—can be the most direct way to invoke the instructions when you've forgotten in the middle of a session.

A reason to practice every day is that it's easy to stray from the view; everything else in our life pulls us in different directions. We can regard forgetting the instructions as an integral part of our practice. Mindfulness as an antidote means to learn it again. We need to keep remembering what meditation is, why we do it, and how.

Without having a clear idea of what we're doing and refreshing it regularly, our meditation will never be successful.

When we look at what actually happens in meditation, we see that it isn't simple. In fact, the power of practice comes from the details and the depth: the posture, the breath, the placement of our mind, the intention, and the view. If we lose even one of these threads, the fabric of our practice comes unraveled and we forget what we're doing.

When you face the obstacle of forgetting the instructions, the antidote is to trigger the remembering aspect of mindfulness.

Reflect on why you are taking this course, why you're beginning (or continuing) a meditation practice. Find your answer. When you're sitting and you find you've forgotten the instructions, remember your posture, your breath. And also remember "Why I'm doing this."