Are You Up For a Challenge?
Clear Sky’s founding teachers recommend challenges as a way to make lightning-quick progress on the spiritual path. There’s more below about exactly what they mean by challenges, plus a link to download their free challenges worksheet from their website.
This blog also talks about how the challenges complement one of Clear Sky’s principles for a spiritual container, Structure and Routine are Your Friends.
Supportive Routine vs Keeping it Fresh
“Make a weekly schedule? No thanks, I get enough of that at work.”
We often see or feel this kind of reaction during the second week of our Integrating Mindfulness online course, which teaches our five principles over a six-week period. Week two is about Clear Sky Meditation Center’s second principle, structure and routine, and how it’s a supportive part of the mindful container.
Yet, mmm…, who welcomes the idea of more structure on top of what they already “have to” do?
Well, without some kind of structure or routine other than our start and end times for work, simple decisions and planning take up way too much energy. That’s when our lack of mindfulness, or ‘bad’ habits, can take over, and guess what doesn’t get done? –it’s often the things we care most about that slip away. That’s why we recommend a conscious routine or schedule that puts first the goal of having the energy we need for maintaining mindfulness, good states, and a regular practice.
Why We Resist What’s Good For Us
And yet, many of us resist being subject to additional routine, because we associate it with control or we expect it will lead to a more mundane existence, restricting our creativity and spontaneity perhaps–even though the opposite is true. It’s natural that any system that tells us what to do, and when, brings up resistance, our inner “No!”.
It’s understandable that we resist routine and structure, even one we choose to support mindfulness:
- it touches on the whole parental shadow of being told what to do
- we undermine our inner guide by inserting a “should”, and then we rebel against our innate wisdom!
- we associate such tools with keywords like efficiency and productivity, rather than good states and personal sustainability
It’s important, then, to build what you want into the schedule, not just things you have to get done. Ensure that meditation time, exercise, and fun happen as well.
Sometimes, though, even with things like “have fun” and “learn something new” on your schedule, it can begin to feel like you’re in a rut after following it for a while. That’s where challenges can complement a healthy structure and routine.
Challenges – keeping it fresh
Stuck in a rut? You could also think of the challenges as a way to keep things fresh when you’re coasting along, or living to a tight schedule that sometimes feels, “meh”.
How can we keep things fresh, awake, when our working days or lives look much the same, week in, week out? Or when we find that even with regular practice, we don’t seem to be going anywhere?
One way is through an exercise suggested by Clear Sky’s founding teachers, Qapel and Sensei. It’s called the challenges. This powerful yet simple exercise injects a fresh tone into our lives and propels our learning forward by showing us the inherent conditioning. Imagine that, a vacation from ourselves for just a moment–more useful to our growth than two weeks on a beach, which is sometimes what we crave as a break.
There are weekly, monthly, and yearly challenges
These names speak to the intensity of the challenge and not, for example, that you do something every day for a month. Rather, all of them are meant to be something we do just once–less intense things weekly, the most intense just once a year. And then we apply awareness, mindfulness to how our whole system reacts to the unfamiliar– from a simple shift in routine to something we didn’t think we could do, but did.
In Dharma if You Dare, a book compiled from live teachings recorded years ago in Japan, Qapel says of weekly challenges, “What is something that’s easy, but that you wouldn’t do unless you set your intention to do it?”
So this describes the weekly challenge, which is simply meant to tweak a habit. An example would be; if you’re a coffee drinker, don’t have your coffee one day. It could look however you’d like, though. You could have tea instead. You could have an americano instead of a mocha, if that would be a challenge. And then watch what your mind does with it. You see how much a simple thing is conditioned into the system as part of “me,” even for things we think won’t bother us at all.
Other examples? If you always wear t-shirts on weekends, then wear a collared shirt one Saturday. Go for your morning walk after breakfast instead of before. Go to work via a different route. Get up an hour earlier than usual. And watch your reaction to whatever change you make. This kind of challenge is done on one day, once a week.
Here we suggest the challenges as a balance to the idea of a following a supportive structure and routine. And, they are much more than this. Our founding teachers recommend the challenges as a tool for growing beyond yourself, and a method to lightning fast spiritual progress. Click to learn about monthly and yearly challenges, and download a free worksheet you can use to motivate yourself and track them.