If you don't use it, you lose it.
After my first course I found it difficult to maintain my daily practice--I found it difficult to sit even for an hour. I was working (teaching in college)and had two young children and although I had a strong desire to continue on this path, I did not know how to re-organize my life to fit in the hours of practice. So the first year, I was happy if I could get even a few minutes a day to sit and meditate. In these few minutes I tried my best to practice anapana (focusing on the natural respiration). I couldn't really practice Vipassana.
Association with Sabrina really helped in those initial years. She was so dedicated and so inspiring! She would call me to assist her in the children's program--some of which I went for. More importantly, whenever I had a problem or a daily hassle, I could discuss it with her and she would explain the Dhamma to me which helped me stay on the path. She had this ability to apply the teaching to real life. So what I learned in the courses became more and more practically relevant.
After my second 10 day course my one hour of morning meditation became regular. I did put in a lot of effort to make it regular. I would wake up at 4 am mediate for an hour and then get ready for the day--that is, cooking for the family, packing and dropping off my kids in school & getting to work. Life was hectic but I was able to fit in one hour of daily practice. People marveled at my energy, my ability to wake up at 4 am no matter when I went to sleep in the night. But I still feel it was mainly because of my one hour sitting, that I got the energy to carry on with a hectic day.
I had plans to do my course in Satipattana (Establishment of Mindfulness). For this, my practice had to become more regular. Serving at the center in Madras, attending one hour of group meditation on Sundays, involving myself in children's courses, helped me in my daily practice.
As all courses are run on donations by old students, there is a constant need for people serve on the course. Whenever I had time, I would drive to the center and offer my services. This is called Dhamma seva. When you help others on the path, you get helped in turn---it gave me the energy to practice everyday.
By this time, my two daughters had attended the children's course and they could understand my meditation practice at home. When I did my 3 rd course, my husband agreed to come for the course. Although he found the course useful, he lost practice soon after.
There were brief periods of time when my practice was not very regular after my course in Satipattana. When I say "not very regular", I mean the 2 hours of daily meditation. I had, by this time stabilized on one hour of daily practice except on very rare unusually busy days.
It made sense to maintain regular practice. This is because, in the courses you go to deep levels of your mind and change certain unhelpful patterns of behaviour and gain deep insights into your life. If there is no daily practice, these gains are not maintained, and very soon one goes back to original patterns of behavior. With daily practice, one gets the opportunity to learn new things about oneself and remove further obstacles in experiencing life fully, in every course one takes.
One analogy that would help understand this is learning to swim. After a few days of learning to swim, one needs to maintain regular practice to swim well. In fact, the mind itself can be analogous to an ocean, and the first course is like taking the first dip in that huge ocean. Subsequent courses help you to explore the ocean of the mind by diving deeper--but lack of regular daily practice, would only keep you on the surface level of the ocean (mind).
After my fifth course finally I began sitting the second hour fairly regularly, and have tried to maintain that till now--there are a few days when I do not achieve this regularity--but I try my best to do so.
The regular practice also helped me understand the theoretical aspects of Dhamma, the teaching. For instance, I could clearly understand the 4 parts of the mind as explained in the discourses by Goenkaji. Earlier my understanding was very superficial, but regular practice and doing the course seriously, following every rule, every instruction scrupulously, I was able to achieve new levels of understanding and this again helped me change my way of thinking and behavior.
I will be elaborating on this new understanding in my next post.