There is soil.
How does one cultivate and condition it to help a plant grow well?
There is suffering.
How does one work with the conditions that give rise to the suffering?
The practice is not about solving, finding answers, or analyzing. It is about cultivating the soil of my present so that I can be gently present with whatever suffering arises in my life. Mindfulness and meditation are the hoe and trowel I use.
Let me give you an example of this "soil conditioning" practice.
A central meditation practice is called "Metta Practice". This involves saying simple phrases over and over again, phrases that invoke loving and kind thoughts on behalf of one's self and on behalf of others. There are some stock phrases, but in the end you find ones that work best for you. Here are the six phrases currently in my garden tool box:
"May I find my rest in Compassion."
"May I be at Peace."
"May I love myself."
"May I accept myself as I am."
"May I have health."
"May I be Content."
Over and over again—as one might turn a bed or aerate the soil around a plant—Over and over again.
No answers. No analysis. Just working the soil; conditioning the soul. I don't have a goal in mind, beyond being kind to myself. I am not particularly concerned with doing this work right or well, just with doing it. It's not quite a "something is better than nothing" approach, but almost.
Today I had a little more time to devote to this practice, and decided to focus entirely on myself. On most days I spread the love around and send out loving thoughts to others. (Part of the formal practice of Metta also involves sending these words to total antagonists, total strangers, and every living thing.)
For the next six weeks I plan to focus on one of these Metta phrases at a time, in the same way that one might consider the particulars of a trowel's design and construction to employ it more fruitfully.
This is The Ticket for me right now. One day at a time.