Inside Out

Notes on seeking wisdom and crafting software

A note on Practice

My parents and grandparents have a common morning practice. They’ll wake up by 4.30-5.00 in the morning irrespective of the time they go to bed. My mother has another superpower - to wake up at 2AM on the days of festivities. I lay on the bed wondering how’s this even possible.

It clicked recently when a master illustrated with an example. How does a mahout so frail to appear swaying with the wind control the mighty elephant? Training, hints the master. A practice carefully designed and repeated for years together.

Inertia is a friend and a foe too.

How do I even gather enough force to overcome the inertia of laziness? Or pleasure.

The teachers advise to have a strong belief (shraddha) at the outset. A belief in the eventual good outcome of a practice. Then shun all the obstacles for the next 10 minutes and sit for practice. We need an external support to kick start the effort.

I also received this advice to be regular and tune the environment. “See you at the same time on the same channel” like the TV news person announces everyday at the end of news hour. Idea is to prime the mind to get into the mindset automatically. E.g., it should expect to meditate at 6AM instead of lying on the bed at the same time.

My hypothesis is there is another subtle element at play here. Mind is a whole person on its own. It loves to assert its presence and absolutely rejoices when the act aligns with its directions. If we tune the mind with two extremes I will meditate everyday at 6PM and disciplined people like yourself keep their word;1 can we make the mind maintain the right course?

If there’s a chance to lapse, the second constraint will help us stay on track2.

The holy grail is to reach an internal state of motivation. Instead of external support imagine the mind deriving pleasure from the practice itself. Similar to the natural urges, it will automatically shift towards more and more practice.

My grandparents and my mother seem to have aligned three principles. One, they have trained their body and will to wake up. Second, the motivation could be society or peer pressure in the beginning (everyone wakes up at 5AM, or folks who lay on bed at 6AM are looked down upon). However, they also truly enjoy the morning act. My mother and her friends group joyfully visit the temples together at 4AM on the festival days; on some days they will even wait for hours for the temple gates to open. Third, this joy drives them internally to do what they do.

Abhyasa (deliberate practice) turns that inertia of rest into the powerful inertia of motion. The act becomes our default.

Footnotes

  1. As I was reading this note on identity of a Karma Yogi, an interesting reflection emerged. Can I put a label to uphold a higher bar for self. E.g., wearing the hat of a Bhakta does indeed attach a powerful constraint. How can the follower of so and so not keep a simple promise? Will me not keeping a promise reflect poorly on my master?

  2. Isn’t it similar to what we’re doing these days with prompting the large language models? Provide a context, state the constraints and few examples. Let the LLM generate an answer.