affirmations

Meditation: “It’s just what I do”

Impressionistic painting of the Buddha meditating, which he did every day

I received a lovely message today from someone who’s participating in Wildmind’s 28 Day Meditation Challenge. (It’s too late to join the current one, but we have others running later in the year.)

It’s a great example of how a simple phrase can change your whole attitude to meditation, and radically alter your sense of self and your life. (I’ve removed a few identifying details.)

I have been meditating in a more focused way for nearly a year, after 30 years of playing with the idea. I thought I would let you know that my ‘full turning point’ has happened as a result of this 28 day challenge.

Finding the time always seemed to be the challenge. Making the decision to turn this around using your Mantra “I meditate every day; it’s just what I do; it’s who I am” has put meditation right in the centre of my life. I sometimes only meditate for 5 minutes but have begun to feel like I used to feel when I was younger and needed to go for a run. My body and mind actually remind me that they feel like meditating each day now.

So to fit this in with my busy schedule I am now not only meditating at home on my mat and stool, but I do walking meditation to and from work, sometimes stop and sit on a park bench on the way home or a sand dune when out walking with friends, even if its for only 5 or 10 mins, rather than miss a day. My shyness over the last 30 years and reluctance to tell friends who I really am has evolved in to their complete comfortable acceptance of it. They see it as ‘who I am’ and all say that they see a real change in my demeanor and health too.

The most important thing is that I now see meditation as just ‘what I do … every day’ and am happy because of that.

Many thanks for your encouragement and support in this.

“I meditate every day; it’s just what I do; it’s part of who I am” is an affirmation that appeared in my mind when I was considering how to move from being an “almost daily” meditator to a rock-solid daily meditator. These phrases help us to change our view of ourselves so that we no longer have to make a choice to meditate every day. With enough repetition of these phrases, you no longer need willpower in order to keep your practice daily, any more than you need willpower to brush your teeth. It just becomes something you do.

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The value of “going through the motions”

For at least a couple of weeks now I’ve felt that I’ve been “going through the motions” with my meditation practice. I’m still a rock-solid daily meditator. I still remind myself “I meditate every day; it’s just what I do; it’s part of who I am.” But sometimes my sits have been shorter and squeezed in at the end of the day.

It has, though, been a tough few weeks. My wife was sick, both kids have been repeatedly ill — one with pneumonia. That’s interrupted my sleep, so that I’m more tired than usual. Work’s been challenging as well. These things take a toll.

Sometimes I’ve felt a sense of despair and overwhelm rise within me. I try to meet this with equanimity, giving it permission to be there. I also do what I can to dispel it, for example by making sure my body is in an open, upright posture. And I’m also striving to cut down on some of the overstimulation and to tackle, step by step, some of the tasks that I find most unpleasant to do.

100 day meditation challenge 090My meditation practice has sometimes been very enjoyable, or at least mixed. Last night, for example, I felt a sense of joy alongside a feeling of tiredness and distress. But on the whole my practice has felt rather flat. It’s a bit of a chore.

I’m sure some people would say that if you’re not enjoying your meditation, you shouldn’t do it. That you should be “authentic.” I have to say, though, that I don’t see why the desire to give up meditation is any more authentic than the desire to keep going. They’re both just desires. Neither of them is ultimately me, mine, or myself. But one of those desires is more likely to lead to my long-term happiness than the other.

Apropos of this, yesterday I came across this passage in the Pali canon, called the Nava Sutta:

Just as when a carpenter or carpenter’s apprentice sees the marks of his fingers or thumb on the handle of his adze but does not know, ‘Today my adze handle wore down this much, or yesterday it wore down that much, or the day before yesterday it wore down this much,’ still he knows it is worn through when it is worn through. In the same way, when a monk dwells devoting himself to development, he does not know, ‘Today my mental pollutants wore down this much, or yesterday they wore down that much, or the day before yesterday they wore down this much,’ still he knows they are worn through when they are worn through.

So yes, progress isn’t always visible. In fact sometimes progress doesn’t look like progress. Perhaps the resistance I’m experiencing at the moment is just sleep-deprivation. Perhaps it’s me approaching a breakthrough. Whichever it is, I just keep on going with my practice. Eventually something will “wear through.” I’m going through the motions, but they’re good motions to go through.

“I meditate every day; it’s just what I do; it’s part of who I am.”

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“I meditate every day. It’s just what I do. It’s part of who I am.”

100 day meditation challenge 050A lot of people intend to meditate every day. But not many people actually meditate every day.

Good intentions are hard to sustain, aren’t they? That’s why I came up with my affirmation: “I meditate every day. It’s just what I do. It’s part of who I am.”

I realized that if I wanted to meditate absolutely every day it was never going to work if I “intended to” meditate. I needed to just do it. And in order to just do it there had to be an absence of choice, in a positive sense. Whenever there’s any process of deciding “will I or won’t I meditate today” then there’s inevitably going to be a time when we’ll decide “nah, can’t be bothered,” because inherent in having to decide is the notion that meditation is an optional extra. Or one day you’ll just forget to even think about whether or not you’re going to sit.

So what I’ve done is to make meditating daily just “part of who I am.” I no longer have to choose. I don’t have to decide. It’s just going to happen.

“I meditate every day. It’s just what I do. It’s part of who I am.”

I wonder, in fact if part of the difficulty with getting ourselves into a new habit is that we elevate the idea of choice so highly. It’s hard to frame “not having a choice” as a positive thing. (Of course we always do have a choice — it’s more in whether we see ourselves as having a choice.) But we can either keep the choice open, and not meditate regularly, or remove the sense of choice, and do it regularly. You can’t have both.

Because we elevate choice so highly, and equate it with freedom and happiness, we tend to assume that seeing ourselves as not having a choice is going to lead to unhappiness. But in fact, choosing not to have a choice has made me much happier! I’m happier if I meditate every day because the meditation does me good (and the cumulative effects of meditation seem to be more intense with daily practice), but I also no longer have to face any sense of regret due to not meditating, and I don’t have that horrible “will I or won’t I” feeling when you’re caught between two conflicting impulses.

I believe that in psychology they call this “binding.” You choose not to have a choice, so that you’re more likely to do the thing that’s most beneficial in the long term. You “bind” yourself to the long-term good. The thing is, part of you already wants to meditate every day. Other parts of you want to have options. You can’t please both factions at the same time, but if you do meditate every day you’re doing what’s best for you in the long term. And those choice-hungry factions soon quiet down.

So “I meditate every day. It’s just what I do. It’s part of who I am.”

The mantra’s not a magic wand. You can’t just say it once or twice, half-heartedly, and assume that the words will make things happen. You have to say it like you mean it, and you have to say it often. And you have to say it as a support for the part of you that does want to meditate every day. And you have to think through how you’re going to make it happen.

It’s been interesting seeing how many people have taken up this “mantra” and found it to be beneficial. I’ll be interested to see how you get on with it.

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Becoming a rock-solid regular meditator: an update

relief statue of buddha meditating, flanked by attendants

Six weeks ago I wrote a post about an attempt I was making to make my meditation practice into a “without fail” daily practice. I’ve tended to skip days here and there, and really wanted to become a rock-solid regular meditator.

The particular approach I was taking hinged on the key element of self-definition. We all carry views about ourselves. These views are often not consciously articulated, but they run very deep and shape our thoughts, our emotions, and our actions.

What I decided to do was to consciously take on the task of redefining myself as a daily (no exceptions!) meditator, by repeating to myself phrases like “I meditate every day. It’s just what I do. It’s who I am.”

The results have been good! With one slip-up (I’ll come to that later) I’ve meditated every day for over two months. I’ve averaged 40 minutes of meditation a day. Some days I’ve managed to meditate twice. My “standard” meditation is 40 minutes, but on a couple of days I’ve only managed 30 minutes and on a couple of very busy days I’ve only managed 15. (Pedantry alert: A couple means “two” by the way. I’m puzzled by how many people think that “a couple” is “a few.” Think of “the happy couple” getting married — that’s two people, not three or four! End pedantry alert)

So it’s gone well. There’s just been that one day that didn’t work out. What’s that about?

Well, dear reader, I forgot! I’d been reciting my affirmation several times a day, sometimes at the start or end of meditation, or when I was lying in bed, but basically whenever the thought popped into my head. Then I was meditating absolutely every day, and after two months or so of this i started to repeat the affirmation less and less often. I guess I thought that I was doing it, so I didn’t need to tell myself to do it. This wasn’t a conscious choice — it just happened. But it turns out that this was a mistake.

Last Saturday I had a crazy busy day where I was looking after the children from first thing in the morning until getting them to bed, with about 90 minutes off during the day, in which space of time I had to get ready for a halloween costume party that I was taking the kids to. I could have meditated during that time, but I was focused on trying to get a work project ready and getting my costume ready (I went as a zombie). And I forgot. I could have meditated after the kids were in bed, but again I forgot.

So there’s a lesson here. I need my “mantra”!

Another lesson is not to let a failure to achieve “perfection” become an excuse to give up. It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning that I realized I hadn’t meditated the previous day. And to be honest I felt a bit sick, and very disappointed. After all, there was no way to go back in time; no way to restore my track record to its 100% success rate. And a part of me thought, “That’s it, you’ve blown it,” but I decided not to take that voice, or the disappointment, seriously. I fell off the horse; it’s time to get back on. My failure to remember to meditate is just a reminder: I need my mantra! So I’m back to reminding myself, daily: “I meditate every day. It’s just what I do. It’s who I am.”

Despite this minor failure, so far this has been, I think, a very successful way of developing an unshakable habit of meditating daily.

I’m obviously not quite there yet, but it seems obvious I’m making progress. Now I’ve had longer periods of meditating without missing a day, but I don’t think those experiences changed my self-view. I think I saw myself as someone who happened to be having a run of “good luck” with his meditation practice. I don’t think that fundamentally I saw myself as “a person who meditates every day.” And that’s who I want to be.

Because the benefits have been very tangible. I feel happier with myself, having a “no days off” regular meditation practice. And the effects of meditating daily have been excellent. I’m just happier, and at times almost immune from stress, even under very challenging circumstances. It’s almost as if the effects of meditating daily are cumulative, in a way that they’re not when I have days off. So I’m going to keep going with my experiment. Hopefully one day I really will see myself, on a deep level, as someone who meditates, without fail, every day, and I really will be able to let go of that mantra. I won’t need to tell myself I’m a person who meditates every day without fail, because I’ll be that person.

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Becoming a rock-solid regular meditator

Two carved stone Buddha statues, one standing, one lying down

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.

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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.

Wildmind is a Community-Supported  Meditation Initiative. Bodhipaksa is supported by numerous sponsors who generously donate each month to help him explore and teach meditation. Wildmind’s sponsors get access to an online community and to a large number of  meditation courses Bodhipaksa has developed over the years. Click here to check out the Meditation Initiative.

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