So I was thinking how could I improve my japa and got an idea to try. In general, though, we can’t improve our chanting or our devotional service on our own, only by the mercy of the devotees or by the special mercy of the Holy Name. Typically, Kṛṣṇa speaks to us through devotees, often through the guru, that’s where we get all useful advice and feedback.
There are plenty of cases where we seem to figure something out ourselves but we should accept it as Kṛṣṇa’s help, as He promised in Bhagavad Gita (dadāmi buddhi-yogaḿ taḿ yena mām upayānti te). Besides, we wouldn’t know if we actually improved things by our inventions unless devotees confirm it for us.
We can’t go around asking people to evaluate our japa either, most of the time we’d simply annoy and inconvenience other devotees. If Kṛṣṇa wants to tell us something we’ll hear it without asking, we can’t force Him ourselves, that’s why it’s called causeless mercy. We can humbly ask when situation is right but it shouldn’t happen too often and we should be prepared to fully implement whatever we’ve been told. We can’t just cherry pick whatever we like and dismiss whatever we find impractical, and then next day go and ask for advice again.
When we ask for spiritual guidance we should do so with a right attitude, attitude of total surrender. There should be no second-guessing or asking for second opinion, or simply refusing to follow. Not ready? Then don’t ask.
It’s okay to leave it to Kṛṣṇa instead of soliciting advice ourselves, He knows better how to guide us out of this world and He takes it far more seriously than we do ourselves, it’s perfectly okay to be fully dependent on Him in each and every way.
Having said that, I got an idea that I think answers concerns expressed above. I think it would be useful to keep a log of my chanting and then assess it objectively. Normally we think we know what we are doing and we think we are fairly objective in our self-evaluation but often that is not the case. Other people see things that escape our attention and, in this case, formal log keeping might reveal something I usually miss.
Logging in this case should be different from keeping a diary, diary is subjective, it’s just an extension of our thoughts, while logs keep factual records as they would be seen by external observers.
We can’t keep our logs totally objective, though, as we would have to write down information we notice ourselves. There aren’t any external sensors yet that would record our japa performance. Maybe we can record our chanting on video but then reviewing it would take too much valuable time. So, the first thing I thought I should do is to make extremely clear what kind of things would go into my log. Having a clear standard would reduce subjectivity, I hope.
First thing, I thought, would be to record start and end time, day after day, week after week. That part would be totally objective. I might think that I usually chant my rounds as early as possible but it would be nice to have an actual record of how often I chant late, how often I split sixteen rounds into two or three sessions, how often I leave a couple of rounds to finish before sleep, and so on. I would also see how much time I spend chanting every day and if there are any fluctuations.
These statistics would allow me to make some sort of resolutions, like to reduce late night chanting by 30% next month, for example.
More importantly, though, I thought I’d record my distractions. This is subjective so by distractions I mean a certain amount of memory loss while chanting. If I don’t remember completing the round, for example, that would qualify. I’m ashamed to say but sometimes it happens that I move round counters totally on autopilot. Generally, every time I catch my mind completely drifting away would qualify, too.
So I put together a little script, since my computer is almost always on when I chant anyway, and gave it a try. It records only three things – start time, end time, and every time I feel my mind has been distracted. Today was my first real attempt at logging and it went rather well.
At first I didn’t feel distracted enough to warrant a log entry and that puzzled me a little but then things became just as predicted. So, today’s log ran as follows.
My japa was split in two parts, six rounds and then ten. First six rounds were “perfect”, I didn’t think my mind drifted far enough even though in general these weren’t the best six rounds of my life.
Second batch of ten rounds started similarly but then I caught myself thinking about something else. It was about certain, shall we say, incompatibility between different sides of my extended family, and when I caught myself thinking about it I could trace it back to the very first thought I had that led to this deviation. I duly recorded it and continued chanting.
Soon enough I caught myself thinking about some other thing and I wondered how I got there. Again, I was able to reconstruct the thought chain and that’s when I realized how to separate real distractions from insignificant ones (insignificant for now, their turn will come, too). If it takes two-three, or even more steps to arrive there from something that simply popped into my mind then I have been legitimately carried away and need to record it.
I can’t stop seeing people outside my window, for example, but if their image reminds me of something else, I follow that thought, and from there go somewhere else – time to record it.
Then it started happening quite often and I even thought to myself that I should probably not ruin my first day with excessive logging. That’s another problem with subjectivity – I still want my stats to look good even if I’m not sharing them with anyone. In my own view I expect a certain number of distractions that is not too high and not too low and I try to massage my logging to stay within these acceptable parameters.
This problem is something I should keep in mind but this was just he first day, hopefully I’ll learn how to deal with this kind of things, and something else will probably come up, too.
Looking at the stats after I finished I found out that my chanting was more or less focused for the first half an hour or so but then I got log entries every five-ten minutes. Last two rounds, as I was talking about it yesterday, we almost “perfect” but I caught myself distracted right before the end, on the last eight-ten mantras.
I long suspected I followed a pattern like that – start okay, slump in the middle, and straighten up towards the end, but I need more data to put actual numbers on it. Let’s see how it goes tomorrow.
PS. Apart from logging itself, another useful idea from today’s experience – do not follow your mind. I don’t remember who said it first but there’s apparently a rule that if you see an attractive woman on the street you can’t stop it from happening but DO NOT LOOK TWICE, for that would be a deviation. Same thing could be applied to chanting – do not follow up on pop-up thoughts.