In the Yoga Sutras, one of yoga’s most sacred and oft referenced texts, Patanjali tells us that our “practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break, and in all earnestness.”

When I think on firmly grounded,  I think of the deep roots of an oak that have spread throughout a yard, rooting down, down into the earth, offering up the strength and stability from which the tree grows and flourishes.

When I think on well attended to, I think of mindful and focused attention, concern and love, without expectation of anything in return. I think of the care one gives a loved one when that loved one cannot care for themself.  

When I think on a long time, I think how long is long? And I remember times when a minute was an hour, a day was a week, and a year was a breath.

When I think on without break, I think there is no more to say. There is no “without much of a break” or “without a break more or less”; without break is without break.

When I think on in all earnestness, I think about what is most important to me, and just what am I willing to do for that?

Sometime ago, I started on a journey initiated by my own teacher, Tias Little. As part of his teaching and my training, I was asked to create a kind of svadhaya, or self-study, project. I chose to do a 54-day meditation practice that focused on cultivating the spirit of loving kindness. I’ve had a consistent –yet not always daily—meditation practice for the past number of years. My thought was to use this project to develop the consistent –and daily—practice that I’m always aspiring to.

Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break, and in all earnestness.

Within two weeks, my practice became part of my life, my day-to-day routine. I’d heard somewhere that it takes 27 repetitions for something to become an ingrained habit. This was my hope. Let my practice become my habit. And that it did—for 54 days. And then 55, 56, and 57. But somewhere along the way I skipped a day and without break became without break except for this one day. And then it became without break except when I’m really busy or when I have to be to work really early or when I have other things that need to be well attended to… The next thing I knew my newly established habit had become my old habit, practicing consistently inconsistently.

A part of this project was to document my experience with it; what happened when I consciously sat every day cultivating the attitude of loving-kindness? I found that I moved throughout my day with more ease. I found that the busyness of life did not bear down on me. I found that my relationships blossomed and compassion filled my heart. But the most important thing I found came afterwards, when the project was complete. I found that it takes about three days, that’s it, three days of not practicing for all of that to slip away. Like being on a spinning carnival ride, when I’m not practicing, I’m spinning too, uncontrollably, getting dizzy and nauseous, going round and round, no longer firmly grounded to anything. And then I remember…

Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break, and in all earnestness.

…And I sit back down, and I start all over again, in all earnestness.