Today’s society is focused on individualism. We celebrate enterprising, unique selves. We associate becoming wealthy as having the freedom to only do what we want to do and only with the people we want to do it with. Hence gated communities, addiction to smartphones, and lack of community.
Recently, I had a conversation with a mindfulness instructor for kids. We are trying to build online apps for other mindfulness folks so they can reach more students with their own online program. She asked whether it would be possible to have each student use the app? We have found that having the teacher and students practice together at the same time as a classroom has the most impact for everyone. People are social creatures and tend to follow along with their peers for better and for worse. So, it’s better to have everyone begin the new habit of mindfulness together before they can do it on their own.
It’s definitely my experience with mindfulness. I practiced in groups for most of the past ten years. Likewise, most good teachers still go to other teachers’ classes. Every good coach has a coach.
The power of groups, group habits, and group schedule is alien to most of modern culture outside of elite group organizations like professional sports, military, or religions.
Living in the Monastic Academy for over a year now, there’s a lot of good habits I acquired on day 1 just because it was part of the schedule. And like those kids practicing everyday together in the classroom, I’ve been practicing these habits until they became natural.
Here, I’m just going to list out ten of the many habits here:
Obviously. We practice on average 181 hours every month of formal sitting practice. It doesn’t matter how I feel, we always sit in the morning and evening. And we do one retreat each month. These days, I’m happy to sit in a park outside on my free time rather than busy myself on a screen.
2) Physical Exercise
We have a dedicated morning hour to exercise. I do a mix of body weight exercises, dumb bell lifting exercises, yoga & tai chi movements, and going on hikes. My current benchmark is being able to do 100+ pushups in a given hour along with 30+ pullups. After a decade, I can finally do pistol squats or one-legged squats.
3) Minimalism, Frugality, & Simplicity
A lot of people buy stuff to cope with feeling bad. They call it retail therapy. But we have very little space here for personal items. I sold or gave away most of my belongings including dozens of books and all my furniture before coming here. We don’t have any income and rely on others to decide a lot of things for us. For example, one person here does all the food shopping so whatever he gets is what I eat. Not having to think about it is such a relief. Just accepting what is available is enough.
4) Giving and receiving feedback
Our training is about continually giving and receiving feedback from each other. As a small community, we are always rubbing shoulders with each other in our work, practice, and life. It’s impossible to distance yourself from anyone here. So, you quickly realize the easiest and best way to eliminate suffering is to just give direct feedback and also take in direct feedback without getting uptight about it.
5) Cleanliness and Neatness
We are sticklers for cleanliness and neatness. We consider it a privilege and a honor to be able to live here. We don’t pay rent here. We rely on others to survive and so we don’t get attached to our desks, our beds, or any of our spaces as “mine”. We know that all of it is common property so we always clean and tidy up our spaces. We clean the entire place every day. And if anyone has a dirty space then they get feedback.
Circling is a relational meditation practice between two people or a group. It’s been a transforming practice for me over the last two years. I get to lead at least two nights each month devoted to circling with my fellow monastics. We’ve been progressively going deeper, and it’s very satisfying to lead them.
7) Eating organic, local, and vegan foods
Almost all the food we buy is vegan, organic, and when possible, local. We joke that our food isn’t always that diverse. Often, it’s a soup, rice, salad, and fruit. But, it often tastes much better than restaurant food.
We take our schedule seriously. It’s a relief to not have to rely on ourselves all the time but can rely on the schedule and others to keep going. Everyone learns the value of being effective in their work and being on time because it impacts everyone.
9) Wake up Early
Again, the schedule. I regularly wake up before 5am. I almost never sleep in past 8am even back home with my parents.
10) No electronics
We have a rule of no electronics until after breakfast and no electronics starting with evening practice. So, a solid 8+ hours of the day is spent without looking at any digital screen whatsoever.
11) Get important things done
As a non-profit, monastery, and community, we are always doing many projects. Most of the time, the projects are just beyond our experience, but we learn and get it done somehow. It’s very satisfying to be happy to do the work I’m doing. To feel a sense of purpose such that I don’t get paid anything and still want to do it.
12) Let things go
We practice every evening and retreat every month. It took me a long, long time to being able to continually drop everything and just do my meditation practice. To let things go. To remember the freedom to choose what I concentrate on is more important than anything else. The freedom to choose to stop thinking about something and let it go.
So, that’s just some of the positive habits that come about starting day 1 here. The easiest way to change and instill good habits? Join a good community. Even better, join us.