The 100 Day Meditation Challenge is designed to help us establish a strong habit of meditating daily. This is something that’s been a struggle for me, and it’s taken me 30 years (yeah, I’m a slow learner) to finally feel that I have a solid habit of meditating daily. It was the affirmation I discuss here that really did it for me.
Now I did have one “failure” when I completely forgot to meditate one day that I was unusually busy with childcare, but in the end I regarded that as an interesting test of the weaknesses of my affirmation. What had happened was that I’d felt less need to remind myself “I meditate every day, it’s just who I am” because I was meditating every day! So this skipped day was a valuable way to discover that I’d been premature in dropping my affirmation. I restarted dropping that “mantra” into my mind each day, and now it seems my habit is much more strongly established. But I’m not going to get cocky, and will keep watching for the signs of my habit of meditating daily beginning to slip. Warning signs I’ve noticed are that I start leaving my meditation until very late in the day, or meditate for less than 30 minutes, or decide I’m going to meditate lying down. These are not necessarily bad things to do, but if I notice those trends appearing I find it’s best to pay more attention to my meditation, since it’s in danger of being “squeezed out” of my schedule.
Incidentally, someone (I can’t remember who) blogged the other day about how impressively effective my affirmation seemed to be. But at the same time she said she wasn’t going to use it because (if I remember correctly) it is “cheesy.” A thought that occurred to me later was the it’s like you’re in a prison cell, and you receive a message saying “hey, there’s a hidden red button in my cell, and when I pressed it the door opened and I escaped.” And you look and see the button and you think about pressing it but you think, “Nah, I don’t like red.” The thing is, if you’re not going to try something when there’s evidence that this thing might work, perhaps the voice that says “Nah, that’s cheesy” is the voice of doubt — the voice that doesn’t want you to meditate because it’s afraid of change. And why would you want to listen to that voice and follow its instructions?
Here’s the button; try pressing it:
Repeat often, “I meditate every day; it’s what I do; it’s just who I am.”
Regarding the ‘cheesy’ comment, I can see what she might have meant.
I have a huge resistance to the Metta Bhavana, for the same reason – I see it as cheesy because it reminds me strongly of all the New Age, ‘love everyone’ self-help books that I can’t stand. I know that many people find it effective, but it’s not going to be effective for me because I just can’t take it seriously. Of course, if I could change my attitude I might be able to do it and gain some benefit, but at the moment, I find it cringe-makingly awful. What has worked for me is the reading I’ve done about mindfulness and the importance of kindness – over the last couple of years I’ve slowly been getting kinder and more forgiving to myself and others because I can see the sense in the ideas I’ve been reading.
I’m not terribly keen on affirmations either, like your correspondent. I think the idea of your affirmation is excellent though, and I bear it in mind each day, though I don’t go so far as to repeat it to myself.
This does sound very much, Annette, like not pressing the button that opens the prison cell because you don’t like the color (in this case because it happens to remind you of something you don’t like).
The Buddhist tradition of cultivating lovingkindness is 2,500 years old, and can hardly be described as “New Age.” :) It’s more “Ancient Age.” The fact that there are pale imitations doesn’t diminish the original in any way. Don’t they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, anyway?
One of the Buddha’s teachings is of the vipallasas (Sanskrit: viparyasas), which means “inversions,” although nowadays you could translate it as “cognitive distortions.” We’re all affected by these in many ways. One of these cognitive distortions is to see sources of happiness as sources of suffering, and sources of suffering as sources of happiness. You have a “cringe” when you think about doing lovingkindness practice, which is an example of a vipallasa. At some level you judge something that could make you (and others) happy as something that will make you unhappy. The “cringe” is just part of you seeing lovingkindness as a threat in some way, and so it produces the cringe sensation in order to “protect” you against this threat. The “threat” may be that you think people will judge you harshly for taking up such a “New Age” pursuit, or perhaps you fear, as many people do, that you’ll become “weak” if you cultivate compassion. It’s good to dig around and find out what’s holding us back. With a bit of investigation of the roots of our cognitive distortions, we can start to see things more clearly and embrace, rather than avoid, those things that make our lives richer, happier, and more meaningful.
Love the analogy,Bodhipaksa. Nice one.
I have put a post-it next to my tea-bag stash which says “It’s what I do”. This is to remind me to say the full affirmation each time I’m making a cuppa (about six times a day!)
Also I like the implicit ‘equivalence’ of the two. “It’s what I do. I drink tea, and I meditate every day!”
This morning was only about 15 min, then my son woke up early like yesterday. Of course I slept in about 10 min which is really what cut into my meditation time.
When I begin looking for excuses as to why I didn’t complete my meditation, or why I didn’t even try, it is easy to find fault outside of myself but not see the true reason inside of me.
A teacher in school once told the class to look at your hand when pointing your finger in blame. If you look at your hand with one finger pointing you’ll see three fingers in the same hand pointing back at you where the true reason is often just below the surface.
It does not matter that my time was cut short, what matters is that I showed up.
What matters is that I sat and I meditated today…..I meditate everyday; it’s what I do; it’s who I am.
I too am a slow learner and even after 25 years of sitting, I need to restart my engines many times over. I’ll take any simple phrase, call it a mantra if you must, to get me on the cushion again! Thanks!
@Annette. I’m really puzzled which explanation/instructions you have seen for Metta practice that provoke such a powerful negative reaction. There’s nothing gooey or floaty-new-age about Metta as I understand it! Have you had a look at the guide on this website, for instance?
15-min sitting meditation (anapanasati).
Tonight I was quite reluctant to meditate because I feel tired. First I thought of meditating for just 5 minutes, for the sake of the challenge. Then I remembered how good it was to meditate yesterday (it even relieved my headache). This recollection motivated me to practice today. Now I really feel satisfied to have meditated seriously, not just to fulfil the requirements of the challenge.
I have an issue with the affirmation, but for a different reason. My limited understanding is that a big part of our practice is recognising that the ‘self’ (and all the ideas, beliefs, preferences, roles and stories that contribute to it) that we cling to and defend is nothing but an impermanent, fluid construct. One of the effects of practice for me and others I know is a ‘loosening’ of the sense of self, becoming less attached to fixed ideas, roles and labels. Isn’t “I meditate everyday, it’s just what I do it’s who I am”, re-enforcing a sense of self and therefore contradicts Buddha’s teaching of “No-self” or “anatta”?
The way the Buddha explained this is that the Dharma is a raft, designed to get you from point A to point B. When we get to the far shore, we naturally abandon the raft. But abandoning the raft before you’ve even got in the water isn’t very useful because it doesn’t get you anywhere.
I used this affirmation for several months. Now I don’t think about it any more, because I meditate every day. It’s just who I am. I don’t have to think about it — I just do it. The affirmation was a raft that’s been abandoned.
This is the way many Buddhist teachings work. For example in the Brahmavihara practices we start with “may I be well, may I be happy” and then we end up losing (eventually) the sense of “I”. But you can’t get to the point of losing the “I” without starting with “may I be well, may I be happy.”
Thanks for your explanation, it makes more sense to me now.
Incidentally, modifying our sense of self in a positive way, through meditation etc., is a way of reinforcing our understanding that the self is fluid.
6/100 I sat for 30 minutes. The discussion here has been intriguing. My meditation is just a part of a set order of things I do. I have not done the metta bhavana for quite some time now, although I had some good experiences with it when I did it. It may be good for me to examine the resistence I have to it now.
@Andy R and @Bodhipaksa, thank you very much for your comments.
Andy, I’ve looked at the Metta Bhavana guide on this site (that’s where I first found out about it), but it’s simply that I feel silly saying things like that to myself. I don’t think there’s anything gooey about being kind and decent towards other people, and trying not to judge or hate other people – it’s what I try to practise in my ordinary life. But I find the idea of saying such things in a meditation… silly. I don’t think other people who do that are silly though.
I’m a fairly pragmatic Briton with a science training, and that kind of thing feels daft. I realise that there are thousands of British Buddhists (and scientists) who are perfectly happy with it, but I’m just not.
Bodhipaksa, I realise that Buddhism pre-dates New Age philosophies, and is a great deal more sensible than New Age is, so I don’t judge Buddhism by any similarities with New Age thinking. I’ve thought about why I just can’t bring myself to do Metta Bhavana, and I don’t think it has anything to do with what I fear other people will think of me if I tell them I’m doing it. I’ve told a few people that I practise mindfulness, but I haven’t said anything about Metta Bhavana, so there’s no worry there. Since I agree with the general principles of lovingkindness, I don’t see it as a threat, so the cringe isn’t being produced to protect me from that. It’s simply the association with something that I don’t like – loathe, in fact – that’s putting me off.
It’s a bit like the fact that I don’t like the colour green, because it was the colour of my school uniform (don’t get me wrong, I liked my schooldays!). However, it’s stronger than that – if the door was green, I wouldn’t like the colour but that wouldn’t stop me opening it. But if I had to do the Metta Bhavana in order to open it, I doubt I could bring myself to do it. ;)
After writing my previous comment, it occurred to me that I don’t actually have to do the Metta Bhavana if I don’t want to. So maybe I just should stop fretting about it and carry on practising lovingkindness in my daily life, as I have been doing. It’s not perfect, but it’s slowly having an effect on me.
So why do you feel “silly” saying to yourself phrases that wish people well? If you you say to a friend who’s sick, “I hope you’re feeling better soon” do you feel silly then? The practice is exactly like that, except that it has the power of repetition and focused intent behind it. Perhaps it’s the specific phrases you don’t like? You’re free to change them.
I was honered to be part of your last meditation it was really helping with anxiety and pain issues . I live rural Alaska and we got hit with a terrible storm and was not able to access Internet for 22 days .
No power but just to let ya know it helped while I could use it wish I could of accessed it to have it ingrained in my mind and change my thought pattern sure felt good for a week and the beginning of week 2 thank you I think everyone should try it
Want to try again starting from tomorrow, Pam? I can easily add you to the roster for the class.
I wonder if wordless approaches to Metta Bhavana (like loving gaze) could act as a bridge for Annette? If the attitude of loving kindness makes sense, but the words don’t, then it could be a good way at least to start.
Annette, I *kind of* know what you mean, as I would have similar reticence about anything that smacks of cheese or hip. But the MB practice is such a practical and useful tool for living better than I really recommend holding your nose and trying it. Learning to concentrate deeply without the complementary skill of developing compassion towards self and others can be self-defeating.
BTW: My MSc doesn’t get in the way ;-)
Bodhipaksa can describe Loving Gaze (yes, also sounds cheesy) much better than I can.
That may be the case, Brendan, although wordless approaches are, I think, often better suited for people who have been doing the practice for a while. The phrases, while they may seem to be a bit disconnected from emotion at first, can become very effective at evoking emotion. I suspect there’s something about involving both the left and right brains that makes the practice particularly potent. Our own words can affect us unexpectedly, because we’re on some level — sometimes on a surprisingly deep level — listening to and responding to what we’re saying to ourselves. It’s a bit like when you’re in a group setting and there’s something you want to say, and in the middle of saying it you completely choke up. It’s only in articulating something in words, sometimes, that you really discover how you feel about it.
On the other hand our words can sometimes be a way of distracting ourselves from our emotions, or of splitting our attention so that we are less attentive to our emotions, and I think that’s why it can be useful for old hands to “go wordless.”
Perhaps Annette’s “cringe” is testament to the power of words. It’s not exactly the emotional response we are aiming for, but it shows that words are powerful. I suspect that if Annette lets go of any idea that the emotional response she’s having to these words is the only one she can have, then she’ll find that the phrases continue to be emotionally stirring, but in a more constructive way.
I was quite stoic for most of my life. One day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This discovery, of something occuring with this human form, gave me a clear indication that I needed to spend more time with self compassion. I turned to my practice, taking on a metta practice, during my surgery and chemo treatments. I’m sorry that it took such a serious diagnosis for me to open my heart – but it did. Today I feel I am a richer person for this experience and also comfortable in my emotional body. My metta practice has given me a better opportunity to understand and have compassion for the suffering of others.
I sometimes change the words I say to myself in the Metta Bhavana, and when I move on to loved ones etc. Sometimes if I’m feeling a bit fearful I’ll say “I wish you courage” or if I’m feeling a bit worn down I’ll say “I wish you strength” and to others I know, if I know they’re going through a specific hardship, like feeling lonely or depressed I’ll say “I wish you joy” or comfort.
I don’t know how authentic it is but it works for me! It’s particularly useful in the section where you wish good things for a person you find difficult too! Does anyone else vary the focus of their metta?
Yes. I most definitely vary the words/phrases I use in Metta practice.
When I was having a difficult time around someone I was taking too much responsibility for and who was engaged in self-defeating behaviours, for a while I said “May you be happy, and it’s not my job to make it happen. May you be healthy, and it’s not my job to make it happen. May you be safe, and it’s not my job to make it happen. May you be peaceful and at ease, and it’s not my job to make it happen.” This allowed me to genuinely wish them well without stirring up anxiety and/or resentment in myself. After a while I could drop the special wording and say the standard (for me) phrases.
Another example is during the ‘person I find difficult’ phase, will sometimes say “May you be free from [negative]” in place of “May you be/have [positive]”. I can get behind the double-negative where the straight positive might stick in my gullet!
One time I used the format “May you be happy and help others be happy. May you be healthy and help others to be healthy. May you have peace of mind and help others to have peace of mind.” (This was a person that I experienced as very destructive. So I was sort of reassuring myself that their happiness wouldn’t be at the expense of others. Which of course I know wouldn’t be true happiness, but I needed to use that wording to feel genuine.)
I’ve no idea if these variations are kosher (if you’ll pardon the expression) but they are very effective in moving me past certain potential blockages. And after a while, I find that blockages are no longer there for that person… I can express genuine good wishes to them WITHOUT using the special wording.
I’ve heard much “cheesier” affirmations than that one!
I’m biased, but I don’t think it’s cheesy at all :)
The 100 day challenge has caught my imagination and I’ve done at least one 30 min sit a day, sometimes 2, in the morning and late evening. I’d been using a timer recording from FBA, however I decided to download Insight timer, the space for journal is useful
thanks for the concept and the blog, useful supports that help me feel connected to Meditators world wide
“So why do you feel “silly” saying to yourself phrases that wish people well? If you you say to a friend who’s sick, “I hope you’re feeling better soon” do you feel silly then?”
No, that doesn’t feel silly, because it’s a normal thing to say to someone else. I could also think something similar, in passing, as in “I hope X is feeling better by now.” But it’s the fact of sitting down and repeating phrases like that to myself that feels silly.
I appreciate the suggestions to use different words, and it might be possible to find a form of words that feels less cheesy to me. But I think it’s just the whole idea of doing this that I don’t like.
One of the things that meditation teaches us is to be skeptical about resistance, which comes up in all kinds of ways. I remember one time I was introduced to walking meditation, with the emphasis on noticing the sensations on the soles of the feet. It seemed like a ridiculous thing to do, and for a few minutes I was actually boiling with irritation at being asked to do something so “silly.” After those few minutes, though, I dropped the resistance, or it started to drop itself, and the story about this activity being silly just vanished and I got deeply into the experience. It turned out to be one of the most satisfying things to do.
Paying attention to our breathing or repeating phrases might seem “silly” but these practices work and make life richer and more fulfilling. Anyway, I’d suggest just ignoring the self-limiting storyline about how “silly” lovingkindness practice is. It’s just a temporary conditioned response, and it may well be the maneuverings of some part of your mind that is afraid of change. That kind of resistance happens a lot, and one of the things we do in meditation is to note resistance, but carry on.
A comment from someone in Wildmind’s Google Plus Community: “I’ve missed one day so far… I found the affirmation “I meditate every day. It’s what I do” to be quite powerful – especially when I broke it! I am amazed that such a vow, said and reinforced only for one week, can have such power. “