As lay practitioners, we often struggle with the results of lives inconducive to touching samadhi
in meditation. There is no Pali word for what we call meditation. Instead, the Buddha spoke of bhavana
, or cultivation, as a farmer cultivates a crop. Intrinsic to this is the necessity of creating a climate conducive to sitting practice.
Traditionally, lay Buddhists would undertake the Eight Precepts
during periods of intensive meditation. These include the traditional Five Precepts
with an elaboration of the third (to refrain from all sexual activity altogether), and the addition of refraining from eating after noon, partaking of entertainments, and lying in a luxurious bed. Now, most of us are not about to adopt such precepts as a lifestyle. They are usually undertaken in a retreat setting. After everyone has arrived, teachers and meditators will gather together and ring a bell (or perform a chant) signifying the start of a silent period and the undertaking of the eight precepts.
However, I think a case can be made for adopting a modified version of these precepts in everyday life, or taking into account the general principle underlying them. For instance, many of people in developed countries suffer from an excess of energy, manifesting as restlessness, anxiety, tension, and racing thoughts. Often, this is the result of a caloric surplus (eating more food than is required for one's activity level). Many of us live pretty sedentary lives as it is. Adding even MORE sedentary time sitting still on a cushion can result in a sort of crucible of energy that isn't going anywhere. So what happens? We sit, and the energy swirls and bubbles within us in various forms: mental energy physical energy and tension, emotional energy, etc. The most Hellish meditation experiences in my life have come during periods where I was sitting with pent up energy that wasn't being released through exercise or balanced with a more appropriate caloric intake. So, if you are haunted by the hindrance of restlessness, consider adjusting your diet slightly or exercising more so that you aren't either sluggish/slothful or overenergized for your meditation practice.
Likewise, cutting back from entertainment (not cutting it out completely) can give your mind some time to recalibrate from the various demands we make of it every day, whether those are social concerns, or issues at work or school. Turning to passive entertainment basically turns your brain into a receptacle for other people's ideas and values. No matter how conscientious we are, we are all conditioned to a certain extent by the culture around us in very deep ways. Minimizing exposure to advertising, the lowest common denominator, and brain-candy can be very helpful when we're practicing intensely.