Answering a question on why a training routine is so important – even practicing during off-season by playing the same shots over and over again – he said it was to develop `muscle memory’. In the interview, he further revealed that memory of such kind acquired by the muscle or a set of muscles in playing a certain kind of shot comes in handy in cliff-hanger situations of a close game, when there is no time to think and respond, but simply react.
Rather than the player’s brain memory, he would rely on the built-in memory of the muscle that would subconsciously follow a particular swing with ease to play that shot. Such muscle memory is developed over the years by practicing the same shot tens of thousands of times. No wonder it is said that `practice makes perfect!’ This is about practice in the physical realm and in this case, it is to do with sports, a highly physical activity. This got me contemplating on what it would be like to develop the memory of our mind in the spiritual context. Isn’t this what practitioners of all traditions do or are supposed to do in their meditation sessions? Indeed, yes.
In Buddhist practices, Three Wisdom Tools are handy to the seeker. They are: listening to the teachings (also reading the teachings), contemplating on them and finally meditating on them. While the first tool is self-explanatory , to contemplate is basically to debate the subject within ourselves using the intellect to derive conclusively and finally meditate on the outcome thus concluded in order to make it our mind stream. This sounds easy but practitioners spend a lifetime over it! And yet our mind is merely a feather in a storm, gullible to the omnipresence of powerful seductive phenomena around us, attracting and distracting us, all the time.
From skin to marrow
A proverb in Tibetan says: “It takes six times of thorough study and practice, for dharma to travel from skin to the bone marrow.”
Clearly the emphasis is on the dogged pursuit of our practice.It is the repetitiveness of such meditative sessions, over and over again, that builds our mind memory , that not only builds moment-to-moment awareness, making us mindful and thoughtful, but also reminds us to be aware of something or do something at a designated time in the future (Pali: sati, Sanskrit: smrti, Tib: trenpa).
With this, we can offer a response to a situation quite different from our habitual patterns and painful habits. On the subject of how and why we’re able to control reactions and emotions during meditation, yet fail to do so in real life situations, Dzongzar Khyentse Rinpoche says, “In meditation we notice but don’t do anything about them. In other situations we don’t do anything about them because we simply don’t notice.”
Building our mind’s memory helps close the gap between `noticing’ and `doing’. If meditative sessions can be compared to laboratory trials or practice sessions, live situations are field trials or real matches.
O seeker! Let there be no difference between the two! (The author is an ordained Ngakpa and follows the Palyul School of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism).