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Becoming a rock-solid regular meditator

I really admire those few people I know who can honestly say they’ve been meditating for 10 or 20 years, and that they’ve never missed a day. I’ve been meditating for 30 years, but I’ve never been able to attain that kind of regularity. Sure, I’ve had periods of months at a time when I’ve never missed a day, but eventually I get tripped up and start missing days here and there. It doesn’t help that I have two young kids and that my sleep is often interrupted.

In some ways this irregularity might not matter. I’ve made progress. I’m kinder than I used to be. I’ve experienced all kinds of meditative states, including the jhānas and (so-called) formless jhānas. Heck, I’ve even had some powerful insights. But in some ways it definitely does matter. When I go through a period of meditating every day without fail, I find that my meditation practice really takes off. When I miss days here and there the quality of my meditation practice deteriorates. I lose momentum, and meditation seems more like maintenance than construction. Worse, the quality of my life suffers.

I suspect that the difference between people who meditate without fail and those who don’t (or can’t) is that the former see meditating daily as part of who they are. It’s just what they do. They don’t have to think about it, because it’s part of their identity. Those who struggle with meditating daily see that kind of rock-solid daily practice as something they need to achieve. And there’s a sense of doubt about this: “Will I ever get there?” And this doubt becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because doubting you’ll ever sit every day without fail makes it less likely that you will.

How long do you have to sit anyway, before you develop this rock-solid confidence? This sense that “yes, meditating daily is just what I do. It’s part of who I am”? I’ve gone for months without missing a day, and then I have a late night and an early start the next day, and I’m back to being a non-regular meditator.

Is this familiar to you?

Recently I’ve been using an affirmation to help me get past this stumbling-block of doubt. It’s been helping me, and it may help you, too.

So here it is. Try repeating to yourself: “I meditate every day. It’s just who I am. It’s what I do.”

It’s pretty simple. I’ve been dropping this thought into my mind throughout the day. I did it while walking to work today. I even did it during my meditation, because I think that thoughts deliberately introduced into a still (well, relatively still) mind have more effect. Say these words as you lie in bed, before you go to sleep. Write them down, or stick a note to your computer monitor or on your car dashboard to remind you to call them to mind.

I feel a sense of confidence as I say these words. I can feel my sense of who I am changing.

I’ve been finding that by repeating that affirmation I’m building in to my sense of self the expectation that I’ll meditate daily. It therefore isn’t an “extra” to be fitted in. It’s part of how I see myself.

It’s definitely helping. I’m not promising that this will work, but you can regard it as an experiment. Maybe it’ll help you, too.

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About Bodhipaksa

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Bodhipaksa is a Buddhist practitioner and teacher, a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, and a published author. He founded Wildmind in 2001. Bodhipaksa has published many guided meditation CDs and guided meditation MP3s.

He teaches at Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, New Hampshire. You can follow Bodhipaksa on Twitter, join him on Facebook, or hang out with him on .

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Comments

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Comment from Patricia Hughes
Time: September 14, 2012, 10:10 am

Like cleaning your teeth and getting dressed. Thank you

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Comment from Melody M Peters
Time: September 14, 2012, 11:07 am

I can honestly say that with very few exceptions I have meditated 2 or 3 times a day for five years. I am caring for my mother in home hospice right now. She needs constant care and my presence so my meditation opportunities have become severely restricted. I am able to call on the calm that mediation has taught me but I do feel the lack of the peace of meditation. I know that this time shall pass all too soon and I shall resume my practice. It is me. It is what I do. It has transformed my life.

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Comment from Molly
Time: September 14, 2012, 11:26 am

I struggle because I get hung up on the perfection, and on labeling myself a ‘meditator’ vs ‘non-meditator.’ If I think before I sit, “I do this every day” I feel this rush of failure, like, ‘no I don’t, and I probably never will.’

For me for now, it works better to know that I may, or may not, sit every day, but right now, I can sit.
So, I guess I will!
Thanks for the reminder.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 14, 2012, 1:23 pm

Hi, Molly.

We all have those inner voices — like the voice of doubt. It tells us we can’t do things, that we’ll never be able to do this or that. It’s tempting to believe those voices, but we don’t have to obey them. You have multiple and competing voices in your head, including “yes I can” and “no I can’t.” We can listen to both voices, but we don’t have to follow the commands of the voice of doubt. Listen to the voice, empathize with it, but ignore it. Emphasize the voice of “yes I can” — the voice of confidence.

I’d suggest you keep trying with the affirmation. Don’t regard it as a statement of fact. It’s not a statement of fact. It’s a statement of intention. My intention is to be a person for whom thinking about whether to meditate or not doesn’t happen, because I just meditate. Of course it seems a bit ridiculous still to be having to work on this after thirty years, but sometimes I’m a slow learner…

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 14, 2012, 1:23 pm

That’s fantastic, Melody. I’m so happy for you that meditation is just part of who you are and what you do! Wonderful!

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Comment from Devin
Time: September 14, 2012, 5:02 pm

While I wholeheartedly support regular daily meditation and aspire to this with some success, it seems to me that meditating every day without fail is a privilege of certain lifestyles (e.g. those without young children or similar commitments). If I were to insist on meditating daily despite the needs of my immediate family, I think it would be coming from an attachment to meditation/personal growth or an identity as a ‘meditator’ or buddhist. I think it is important to make the effort, but also to weigh up; is it the most compassionate thing to do in that moment? For me the answer very often is yes, but not always.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 14, 2012, 5:41 pm

I do know mothers, Devin, who’ve managed to keep meditating every day even with a baby. I suspect they were simply more committed to their practice, but they may also have had more supportive conditions in some regards.

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Comment from Roger Hyam
Time: September 15, 2012, 4:14 am

Thanks for this Bodhipaksa. This is an issue that has often bothered me. I’d like to sit each day and I believe I would now do it ‘naturally’ if my life was different but with a full time job and young-ish kids I must accept the fact that it won’t happen until my life moves on. With my first daughter at high school things are already becoming easier than they were.

My tip for helping achieve regularity is the old one of committing to sit with other people. When things are going smoothly I sit with others four times a week (3 days on the way to work) but family/work commitments often trip this up.

Recently I have taken to using Insight Meditation Timer on my phone. You can share when you are sitting with other users and trigger tweets. It also tracks your stats. It gives you stars for good performance! A few years ago I’d have thought this terrible cheap stuff. Now I reckon it is great. I notice that when a day is slipping past that I could meditate then that niggling feeling of not getting my next star or issuing a daily tweet will force me into doing my minimum 20 minutes. I see this a little like living in a community and feeling obliged to appear in the shrine room at appropriate times. The bottom line is I feel my practice is benefitting. Danger is to confuse hours logged with spiritual progress of course.

Looking at my stats just now I have sat 76% of the last 151 days but that includes 10 days in a camper van with family so I reckon ‘normally’ I sit 80% of the time. Room for improvement!

Second tip is not to drink. A couple of beers stop you sitting before you sleep and effect the quality of sit the next morning – if you can get up in time.

All the best,

Roger

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Comment from bat
Time: September 15, 2012, 10:10 am

A 5or 10 min. meditation is better than none,and can still quieten your mind.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 15, 2012, 10:54 am

Absolutely, bat. Even five minutes on the cushion is better than none, and in those especially challenging days that we all have from time to time it’s still enough so that we can say “I did it!”

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 15, 2012, 11:00 am

Do you ever find yourself resenting the timer, Roger? I tried it and gave up on it very quickly. I felt like I was being nagged, and so it was the opposite of supportive.

In fact, one of the peculiarities of my personality is that I react to externally imposed obligations by not going along with them. It’s not terribly mature of me, but on some level I want to be sure I’m doing something because I really want to do it. This makes me a terrible team player, which is why I’m not proud of this personality trait.

So I absolutely don’t want to rely on any extrinsic sources of motivation, and want to ensure that my drive to meditate comes from within.

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Comment from Roger Hyam
Time: September 15, 2012, 1:11 pm

The timer doesn’t beep to remind me to sit so it isn’t a nag in that way. It does give me a public tick box though and that makes me nag myself to keep ticking the boxes – simply to save face – even though my logical mind knows nobody else really cares!

I love all this stuff about wanting to want to do something. It is so illustrative of there not being a solid self. Who is it who doesn’t want to sit / go for a run / eat sensibly / etc ? I do but I don’t. The discomfort is so familiar.

Another way of looking at it is that of interbeing. The notion of extrinsic motivation only exists if you define yourself as being separate from the motivator (which ‘you’ may have set up in the past anyway). We also tend to only consider motivators to be extrinsic if we don’t want to do what they are telling us to do. Another example of the flexible self I guess.

Team playing is like dancing and it takes two to tango. When you are working in a team effectively you probably don’t even notice. It is only when people are treading on your toes it is a problem.

Interbeing implies you are not sitting for your ‘self’ at all. If you had promised everyone you would do something important for them you would probably go the extra mile not to let them down. You only let yourself down because you consider that you are somehow not part of “everyone”.

Not sure if this addresses your points at all. Yet another brain dump!

I do frequently resent the alarm clock and many other things!

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 15, 2012, 1:55 pm

I have the same timer, and I know it doesn’t beep or anything. It’s just that the motivation to meditate becomes connected with something “external” to my sense of self. Maybe my sense of self should change (and in fact it does) but strategically I know through experience that this sort of thing is counterproductive for me. I don’t need to keep a chart to remind me to go to sleep at night, or wake up in the morning, or to eat. The motivations for those things are basically intrinsic. And I find that when my motivation to do things that are less basic is also intrinsic, then there’s less (or even no) conflict.

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Comment from Roger Hyam
Time: September 15, 2012, 4:45 pm

Ultimately all these things are games. The trick is to finding a game that you don’t mind playing until you don’t have to play it anymore.

I still haven’t found a way to lose half a kilo though….

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: September 15, 2012, 10:01 pm

The Dharma’s just a raft. And I guess not every raft works for everyone.

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Comment from Eileen Cain
Time: September 16, 2012, 4:09 pm

Thank you for sharing this, Bodhipaksa! I’m often too exhausted to sit and meditate because of my job – I don’t have enough time to get enough sleep or exercise, either. I’m trying to remember to integrate meditation into daily activities. It’s hard to remember, though.

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Comment from Eileen Cain
Time: September 16, 2012, 4:10 pm

Oos, I meant to say that affirmations have worked for me, and I believe a version of the one you suggested will work, too.

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Comment from Srini Ramakrishnan
Time: September 4, 2013, 11:05 am

Thank you Bodhipaksa – that really resonated with me. As long as I live a normal life in the world around me, despite significant experiences during meditation, I’m prone to skip a day and regret it when it sets me back.

Yet, I’ve never gone a day without brushing my teeth. So I suppose I should follow the maxim, “Act as if ye have faith, and faith shall be given to you”

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