daily meditation

Why it’s important to meditate every day

Buddha meditating

I used to envy people who were able to meditate every day, because it was something I struggled with. Certain people just didn’t have a problem with meditating daily, but I found it hard.

I’d have successful runs of a few weeks, and then I’d end up not meditating one day. And that perceived failure led to me missing more days, on the dubious assumption that if I couldn’t do something perfectly there was no point even trying.

Eventually I did manage to become one of the people I used to envy, able to meditate every day. I’ve shared how I achieved that here in this blog and also in a course I created, called “Get Your Sit Together.”

Also see:

But you may wonder, why even try to meditate every day? You may experience benefits from sporadic meditation and not see the importance of becoming what I call a “rock-solid daily meditator.”

So I’d like to share some of the reasons I think it’s important.

Putting First Things First

Meditation is one of the most important things I do in my life. It changes everything. The mindfulness that I develop, the kindness that I develop in my meditation practice, the insights that I have from my practice, all change my life in many, many ways that make me happier and also make me a better person to be around.

And that for me is a very important motivation. I want to be a better person to be around and have a more positive influence on people around about me and not to be an asshole because that can happen.

The things that squeezed meditation out of my schedule were always less important in the great scheme of things. Spending time on social media, or watching TV, or working are just not important enough that we should allow them to stop us meditating regularly. No one on their death bed is going to think, “I’m glad I spent so much time at the office,” or “Looking back, I’m most proud of binge-watching Supernatural.”

Even things like family and intimate relationships shouldn’t get in the way. I’m not saying those things are unimportant. They’re very important. But the quality of those human relationships is going to be better if we have a regular meditation practice. Meditation gives us an opportunity to be better human beings: better parents, better partners, better friends and mentors. So it’s worth taking time out for practice.

Going Deeper In Our Practice

If we practice anything regularly, with the conscious intent to get better at it, then we’re more likely to see progress. It doesn’t matter whether that’s tennis, or cooking, or meditation. If we’re prepared to learn from what doesn’t work so well and what works better, then we’ll see progress. And seeing progress is encouraging.

My meditation practice doesn’t get steadily deeper and deeper. It’s more like a long, winding path with highs and lows. But on the whole it’s more inclined to be creative and enjoyable and transformative if I’m doing it regularly.

Experiencing the Benefits of Practice.

Meditation has lots of benefits.  It has social benefits, emotional benefits, and health benefits. Consistency allows us to experience those benefits more consistently. We’ll be healthier and happier if we keep our practice regular.

It’s just like if you only went to the gym or a yoga class once in a while rather than having a regular schedule; you’ll see some benefits, but not as much as you could.

Not Letting Fear Rule Your Life.

In the days when I found myself unable to motivate myself to meditate and got caught up in other things, it was often about avoidance of feelings. There was often some kind of restlessness or dissatisfaction within myself and I did not want to sit down and face that.

So there was fear involved in avoiding meditation.

Now, I don’t want my life to be dominated by fear. I don’t want my life to be manipulated by my fears. I feel good when I overcome my fears, when I face them squarely and overcome them. I feel more in control of my life. I feel more fearless.

Feeling Better About Yourself

When you see yourself as the kind of person who can’t meditate every day, you don’t feel good about yourself. It seems that other people have will-power, and you don’t. You’re lacking.

It turns out that will-power isn’t what we need in order to meditate every day. It’s about intelligently using strategies to make it easier to sit than to do something else. It literally can get to the point where it feels unthinkable to miss a day. You probably feel that way about brushing your teeth. if it can feel that way for that activity, it can be that way for meditation as well.

And once you do manage to sit every day, you feel good about yourself. You shed that view of being “lacking” and defective. You feel strong and confident.

Instead of believing you’re the kind of person who can’t meditate every day, you know that you do meditate every day. It’s just what you do. It’s part of who you are.

I feel good when I’m meditating every day. I feel good being faithful to my practice. I feel good being faithful to myself, being faithful to my intention to keep practicing.

So those are some of the reasons why I find it helpful to meditate every day. And I enjoy sharing with others how to bring that about.

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Made a New Year’s resolution to meditate daily? Here’s how to make it happen

Illustration of a New Year's resolution list, with one item on it: "Quit making New Year's resolutions."

It’s early January, and many people who made New Year’s resolutions are already going “Oops!” as they realize they’ve already missed a morning at the gym, binged on something unhealthy, or forgotten to meditate.

It’s very hard to change habits.

The habit I’m most interested in is daily meditation, which is something I nailed a long time ago. Mostly my interest is in helping other people to establish that habit. It’s something I struggled with for many years, until finally I had a breakthrough. I’ve shared that breakthrough with many people, and it’s helped them too.

The breakthrough doesn’t consist of just one thing. In fact the breakthrough involves recognizing that there is no one thing that will get you to the point where you’re what I call a Rock-Solid Daily Meditator. What we need is to build up an interlocking suite of tools and strategies that support daily meditation.

Also see:

None of those tools and strategies relies on willpower. In fact, willpower is fairly useless. One study showed that a six-week training course in self-control failed to help participants to change any habits whatsoever in their lives. Even worse, participants noted that the main side-effect of the training was that they felt emotionally drained. Researchers have also found that people who are good at resisting temptations are those who don’t feel tempted in the first place, meaning that they don’t even need self-control. For example, those who apparently have good self-control tend to avoid putting themselves into positions where they need to resist temptation. Rather than walk past the donut shop and end up battling themselves, they simply walk down a different street. They put the alarm clock on the other side of the room so that they aren’t tempted to stay in bed.

The theory behind willpower is that you can change a habit based on wanting it to change. If you can just wish it hard enough, then it will be so.

The Buddha offered a hilarious illustration of the absurdity of this proposition:

Suppose a man were to throw a large boulder into a deep lake of water, and a great crowd of people, gathering and congregating, would pray, praise, and circumambulate with their hands palm-to-palm over the heart [saying,] ‘Rise up, O boulder! Come floating up, O boulder! Come float to the shore, O boulder!’ What do you think: would that boulder — because of the prayers, praise, and circumambulation of that great crowd of people — rise up, come floating up, or come float to the shore?

Well, I think it’s hilarious!

What the Buddha points out is that if you want something to happen, it’s not enough just to want it. You have to do the things that support that thing happening.

So here are some of the key points that I teach people who want to meditate daily.

Set easily attainable goals

You go to a meditation class and do 30- or 40-minute meditations. And the teacher tells you that you should practice every day. So you try to fit a 30- or 40-minute meditation into your already busy lifestyle and find — surprise, surprise — that it’s hard to do this.

Yes, some people are able to carve out that amount of time each day for a new habit, but most people can’t. And it’s not because of a lack of willpower, any more than not being able to get your size 8 feet into a pair of size 6 shoes is because of a lack of willpower. You’re simply trying something that’s almost impossible.

So instead, aim to sit for just five minutes every day.

Yes, it’s not a lot of time. But that’s the point. Everyone has five minutes to spare every day. If you’re pressed, you can head to the bathroom at work and meditate in a stall. You can meditate for five minutes after you’ve finished reading your child to sleep. You can meditate in the car when you arrive at work, or meditate on the bus or train.

I’m not saying that five minutes is enough. Sure, it can be enough to bring about a little more calm, but it probably isn’t going to change your entire day.

But what it does do is to help you create and sustain a powerful habit. Because once you’re meditating for five minutes a day, you find that it’s not that hard to increase it to eight minutes, ten minutes, fifteen, twenty … and now you’re doing something that really can change your whole day, and even your whole life.

Hack the meaning of the word “day”

A day, for the purposes of meditating daily, is not the 24 hours between one midnight and the next (a “clock day”), but is the time between waking and going back to sleep again (an “organic day”).

This gets us around the problem of going to bed after midnight and realizing that you haven’t sat yet. If you’re counting by clock days, you’re screwed. If you’re on organic days, you can pull off a quick five minute sit and you’re still on track.

Plan

All the above is vital, but even more vital is that you actually do need to have the intention to meditate daily. I don’t mean simply having a vague thought, “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if I meditated every day, instead of just every now and then.” I mean “It would be good to meditate every day; how can I make that happen?”

So we’re back to doing the things that support the habit of daily meditation, rather than trying to “wish” it into existence.

To meditate daily requires planning. Planning makes manifest your intention. It takes the idea or desire, and brings it into the world as an actual thing.

So you need to plan. When are you going to meditate? For how long? How are you going to time it? Are you going to use a guided meditation? Are you going to do it with someone, even if they’re not physically present with you, but instead you’re on a Zoom call or phone call with them?

If you don’t plan, but hope that you’ll somehow fit your five minutes in sometime, you’ll fail. You’ll forget. You’ve don’t have even a wish at that point, never mind an intention.

Beware of the inner voice that says, “I don’t like planning. I want to be spontaneous!” That’s the part of you that doesn’t want to meditate speaking. It wants you to spontaneously do something other than meditate.

So be clear in your planning.

Plan again

Planning is great. But there’s a saying along the lines of “You make plans, and the universe laughs.”

Events are going to crop up that get in the way of your meditation. You’ve decided to sit before you leave for work, and one of your kids gets sick, or there’s a work emergency that means you have to leave early, or your alarm doesn’t go off, or someone knocks on the door asking you to support some cause or other. The permutations are endless.

Research shows that people who have a Plan B are vastly more likely to stick at their habits. They anticipate what they will do if Plan A is frustrated. They have a backup plan that’s just as specific as Plan A was.

One implication of this is that if your Plan A is to meditate just before going to sleep, then you can’t have a plan B. So that tells you that planning to meditate last thing at night is okay as a standby in emergencies, but it’s not good for a regular practice.

Hack your sense of self

Once you have a few consecutive days of meditation under your belt, you can bring on the most powerful strategy I know of for supporting a daily meditation practice. It’s a simple mantra, to be repeated frequently:

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

What this does is change your sense of who you are.

If you’ve tried and failed to set up a daily meditation practice before, you build into your sense of self the idea, “I am the kind of person who can’t keep up a daily meditation practice. I lack the willpower.”

This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you can’t meditate daily, you won’t. You’ll hit one of those times when you don’t really feel like meditating, and because you think of yourself as someone who can’t meditate every day and doesn’t meditate every day, you’ll cave and end up missing a sit.

When you repeatedly say “I meditate every day. It’s just what I do. It’s part of who I am,” this too becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You hit the same crisis point where you really don’t feel like meditating, but you say to yourself, “Snap out of it! I meditate every day. It’s just what I do.” And you sit.

It’s this tool more than any other that’s kept me meditating daily. And I know that some of my students have found themselves meditating for several thousand straight days as a result.

But prepare for slip-ups

I felt terrible the first time that I missed a day after many months of meditating consistently. I felt like I’d failed. Like I should give up.

With me it was the result of being very busy with work and having two young kids to take care of. I was so frazzled that I forgot to create a Plan B, went to bed without even realizing I hadn’t sat, and work up the next morning feeling the way I would if I’d accidentally driven over a beloved pet.

Fortunately I pulled myself together and kept going, although I know others haven’t.

I think of missing a day as a slip-up, not a failure.

I think of missing a day as an opportunity to learn. Have I been forgetting my mantra? Have I forgotten to plan? To have a Plan B? If a day were to come up again that was as crazy as that one, how would I do things differently?

Other strategies

I have a ton more strategies, but I can’t cram them into one already very long blog post.

If you want to learn more, I have a Get Your Sit Together online course running at present, which you’re free to join. I also have a four-week live Get Your Sit Together course through the New York Insight Meditation Center coming up (it’s on Zoom), and you can register for that through their website. Both of these include community support, and if I’d had time to write about one more strategy above, it would have been the power of friendship and community.

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Seven tips on making meditation a daily habit

You can know all about the benefits of meditation. You can know that it’s good for your mental health, offers protection against depression and anxiety, makes you happier, boosts your intelligence, slows aging in the brain, and even makes you physically healthier. You can know all this, and still find it hard to set up a daily meditation practice. You might find that you meditate for a few days, but then miss a day or two, or even find that weeks have gone by and you’ve hardly meditated at all.

Not meditating is a habit. It’s your default. It’s a habit you’ve had for most of your life. And it’s a powerful habit. Meditating regularly is a new habit, and it’s competing with the older and more established one. This means that for most people, setting up a daily meditation practice is hard. But there are things we can do that make it easier. So here are seven tips for setting up a rock-solid daily meditation habit. (If you’re interested, these tips come from my online course, “Get Your Sit Together,” which will help you become a daily meditator.)

1. Lower the Bar

One of the most common mistakes people make in trying to set up a daily meditation habit is to aim too high. They think that a “proper” meditation should be something like 20, or 30, or 40 minutes in length. And while it’s wonderful to have aspirations to sit for that length of time, it’s almost inevitable when there will be days when that won’t happen because you’re just too damned busy. By all means, aim to sit for as long as you want, but if you don’t want to end up skipping days (and then slipping back into the easy and established habit of not meditating at all), then accept that it’s OK to meditate for as little as five minutes a day.

You can even forget about sitting for 20 or 40 minutes, and just make that your aim: you’ll sit every day, even if it’s just five minutes. Five minutes is not hard to manage. And once you’ve set up your daily habit, it’s not hard to extend the length of time you meditate for.

2. Don’t use calendar days

When you think about meditating daily, you probably think in terms of meditating within each 24-hour period that runs from midnight to midnight. But it’s much more helpful to think in terms of your days starting when you wake up and ending when you go to sleep again. That way, when you have a crazy day of running around, and you don’t even get home until midnight, you can have a quick sit and you’ve still meditated that day.

3. Keep a visual reminder

Eventually a daily habit becomes something you just do. You don’t need to put “brush teeth” in your planner. You just do it. That’s the eventual aim with your meditation practice. But at the start of establishing a new habit you need reminders. Those reminders have to be prominent, so that you actually see them. A simple calendar—preferably a paper rather than an electronic one—makes an ideal reminder, especially when it’s in a high traffic area in your house, like the refrigerator door. Why paper? It’s just there, in plain view. You don’t have to make any effort to see it. You don’t have to pick up a phone or open a computer. You don’t have to remember to open an app. Those things are barriers, and you don’t want barriers. There are enough of those things in our lives. With a paper calendar on the fridge door, you’ll see the reminder just by living in your house.

A calendar is also a way of reinforcing that you’re making progress. Put a large check-mark on each day you meditate. Check-marks are visually more positive than X’s. If you have a green marker pen then that’s even better. Green is the color of success! As you complete days of meditation, you’ll start forming a chain of check marks, which is very encouraging. You won’t want to break the chain!

4. Use a mantra

No, I’m not talking about chanting “Om.” If we have a history of falling away from our meditation practice, one of the things that can happen is that we develop a self-image along the lines of “someone who can’t meditate regularly.” That happened to me. I saw other people who were able to meditate daily, apparently with no difficulties. But no matter how I tried, I’d miss a day here or there, or sometimes not meditate for days at a time.

So I developed the mantra, “I meditate every day. It’s just what I do. It’s part of who I am.” I would say this to myself even during my meditation practice. I’d repeat it in the shower, while walking, while driving my car, before going to sleep and on waking in the morning. Of course you actually have to meditate as well! But the mantra starts changing your self-view. And in time you simply don’t want to miss a day, because you see yourself as someone who meditates every day, and you’ll make every effort to get your butt on your cushion.

5. Use guided meditations

If it helps, use guided meditations. Setting up a new habit of meditating daily involves a fair amount of work, so let someone else do the work of guiding you. Even for experienced meditators, listening to a good guided meditation can help you develop new skills, and embrace new perspectives. For beginning meditators, guided meditations can make the difference between having a sit you feel happy about versus one where you spend almost all your time in distraction.

6. Don’t worry about the quality

A sit is a sit. We’d all like to have every meditation be calm and blissful, but realistically you’re going to be distracted a lot of the time. The thing is, though, that even the distracted meditations are helpful. So just do it. Any sit you do is a good sit, and the only bad sits are the ones you don’t do.

7. Congratulate yourself!

In developing a habit, there has to be a reward. You have to feel better about doing the thing than doing some alternative. Even in brushing your your teeth in the morning you get the reward of having a nice minty flavor in your mouth and you get rid of any night-time odors. That feels good. You’d feel worse if you didn’t do it.

Meditation can be inherently rewarding, but it can also be a struggle. And there are plenty of other things you could do instead that give instant rewards, like checking Facebook or reading an interesting article on the web. In the face of that kind of competition it becomes almost essential to consciously reward yourself, and probably the best way of doing that is to congratulate yourself. So at the end of your meditation, give yourself a clear, verbal message of congratulations: “Yay me!” Try standing up and raising your arms in salute, like a running crossing the finish line. This brings about pleasant physiological and psychological effects: in other words it makes you feel good!

Then, check off your calendar. Feel good about putting a big, bold check mark on today’s box. And feel good at watching the chain getting longer! The more you associate pleasant feelings with your meditation practice, the more you’ll feel you want to do it. Rewards are motivating.

So, those are just seven things you can do to help support you as you set up a daily meditation habit that can improve your life in all the ways I mentioned in the opening paragraph.

There are many more tips on offer in my 28-day online course, “Get Your Sit Together,” which is available to Wildmind’s supporters. Click here to learn more about how you could benefit from Wildmind’s Meditation Initiative.!

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This simple tweak to your self-view can get you meditating daily

Woman standing on reflective shallow water, leaning to one side, making a star-shape with her body. https://unsplash.com/@randomlies

Meditation is a powerful practice, making us healthier, happier, and more compassionate. But even if you know this — even if you’ve experienced this — it can be hard to meditate regularly.

If you’ve had trouble establishing a daily meditation practice this may have seriously affected your self view. You may have come to believe that you are not the kind of person who can meditate daily. And that belief discourages you from meditating, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So let’s do something about that.

I’m going to share the tool that finally helped me to establish a rock-solid daily meditation practice!

Despite all the benefits of meditation that I’d learned about from science studies (it keeps you healthier, reduces stress, promotes happiness, slows the aging in your brain, reduces pain) and from my personal experience (life is much easier when I meditate regularly) I used to find it very hard to get myself onto the cushion every single day. I’d miss a day, or two, or three — and then find it was harder and harder to get back into the habit.

Then I discovered a technique that worked for me. And it seems to work for other people as well. It’s very simple: Just keep repeating to yourself the following mantra: “I meditate every day; It’s just what I do; It’s part of who I am.”

What repeating this mantra does is to reprogram your sense of who you are. You start to overwrite the belief that you can’t meditate daily (unlike other, “better,” meditators). In time, the belief that you meditate daily starts to take root and grow.

Now a few things about this:

You may be thinking, “It’s not true. I don’t meditate every day.” And you might not want to repeat something that’s not true. But regard this mantra as a statement of intention. You’re talking about your life from this point onwards, not about the past.

So it’s true now. As a statement about today, or however many consecutive days you’ve meditated, it’s completely factual! So choose not to believe those “Yes, but…” thoughts. Acknowledge them, but say to them “I hear you, but I’m choosing not to believe you.”

You need to repeat the phrases a lot. Say them to yourself when you first wake up in the morning. Say them in the shower. Say them while you’re driving or sitting on public transport. Say them while you’re washing the dishes; in the gym; while walking; while you’re lying in bed waiting to fall asleep. Say them while you’re meditating!

It’s not enough just to repeat the mantra and hope that it’s going to do all the work for you. The mantra will make meditating easier, but you still have to make an effort to sit daily. So commit to meditating for a minimum of five minutes sometime every day between waking up in the morning and going to sleep again.

In time you will realize that the mantra describes you. You do meditate every day. It is just what you do. Your daily practice is part of who you are. You don’t even think about it, or have to make a decision to do it, any more than you have to make a decision to brush your teeth every day. You just do it.

It really works. Try it.

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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Why your New Year’s meditation resolution to meditate fails, and how to make it stick

Black woman with short hair kneeling in meditation, with her hands in the anjali mudra

At this time of year you may well be making a New Year’s resolution to meditate every day.

I used to make resolutions too! Usually these attempts were rather feeble, and sometimes I wouldn’t even be half-way through January before I’d realize I’d already missed a couple of days of meditation. In fact days might have gone by and I hadn’t even thought of meditating.

This kind of thing sets up a sense of failure, which undermines our self-confidence and makes us more likely to fail at other things as well.

The main problem I had was that these resolutions weren’t resolutions at all. That is, they weren’t things I was resolved on; they weren’t courses of action I had “firmly decided” to do. I’d just had the idea that I wanted to do these things, but I hadn’t created a plan and I wasn’t doing the things that were necessary for my resolutions to turn into reality.

So we need to do the right things and set up the right conditions if we’re going to change.

A resolution is fine as it goes. It’s just that it doesn’t go very far! Here’s the kind of thing you’ll need to do if you want to go all the way.

  • Pick an easy goal. Start small. If you’re going to meditate daily, it’s better to aim for five minutes a day and succeed, rather than go for 40 minutes and fail. You can always increase the time once you have your new habit established.
  • Be specific. Think about where, when, and how you’re going to meditate. Are you going to meditate at home? In the morning or at night? With or without a guided meditation? Plan it.
  • Think of what might have to change. You may have time in the morning to meditate, but you spend that time on social media. So maybe you need to turn your phone off at night so that you’re less likely to check Facebook first thing in the morning. Or maybe you need to set a firm time for stopping your TV watching at night and sit before bed — or meditate before you start watching TV in the first place.
  • Plan for problems. What are you going to do if something crops up and thwarts your plan? What if you sleep in? When will you meditate then? Planning for contingencies doubles your chance of success.
  • Create reminders. It’s easy to forget your intention, so how are you going to remind yourself of your goal? A resolution you don’t remember isn’t going to have any effect on your life, except to make you feel guilty once you do (eventually) remember it. Notes and alarms can help. So will having a regular place to meditate, where you keep your meditation cushion, and perhaps candles and incense as well.
  • Track your progress. Something as simple as a calendar that you put X’s in on days you’ve meditated can be a great visual support.
  • Accept when you slip up. Don’t be a perfectionist. If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. Giving up because you’ve missed a day or meditation is a waste of all the successful effort you’ve put in to your habit. If you fall of the horse, get straight back on! Meditating daily isn’t about trying to impress anyone. It’s about developing a habit that’ll help you be happier and healthier.
  • Work with others. Community and friendship are powerful spiritual tools. You can have a meditation buddy, or join a meditation challenge and become part of a whole community of people working at setting up the habit of daily meditation.
  • Celebrate! We tend to focus more on our perceived failures (“I only meditated for five minutes today”) than on our successes (“I meditated today! Good for me!”) I strongly suggest that people allow themselves to feel celebratory before, during, and after every meditation. Become your own cheerleader!

There’s a lot more to establishing a positive habit than just saying you’re going to do it. What you need is to spend some time (and it needn’t take long) making a plan, and setting up supportive conditions.

If you’d like help with setting up a regular meditation practice, we’re here for you! We have a year-round program of meditation events that will help you sustain and deepen your practice, as well as a community of meditators who can offer you support and encouragement. Do feel free to join us in Wildmind’s meditation community.

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To motivate yourself to meditate, celebrate!

Although I’ve been meditating for over 30 years, I have to confess (and have done so often) that for most of that time my regularity was erratic. It’s only the last few years that I’ve been a rock-solid daily meditator. Unfortunately I don’t think any advice I was given (or gave, in classes I taught!) on meditating daily was of any use at all, and I had to figure out my motivation for myself.

Maybe that’s true for all of us, although it seems a lot of people have found my “I meditate every day” mantra useful.

A friend wrote to me and talked about a “good” meditation he’d had, and contrasted it with “bad” meditations. He himself put the words “good” and “bad” in scare quotes, which I think is great. It’s good not to take those labels seriously, and I think he was being appropriately skeptical about the validity of those terms.

But this prompted me to reflect (again) on how the whole vocabulary of “good” meditations is flawed. Don’t these labels largely come down to how we feel about what unfolded in our practice? Judgements like “good” and “bad” are largely just a reflection of what we feel.

My friend’s “good” meditation was one in which he experienced an unusual (for him) amount of continuity of awareness, without the mind zooming off into distractedness.

In terms of feelings, he was something like surprised, delighted, and excited because his meditation practice was unusually focused. I know that’s more verbose than saying it was a “good” meditation, but it’s accurate and descriptive. Saying the practice was “good” doesn’t strike me as a very useful adjective. What does it add? (I’m not criticizing my friend’s choice of vocabulary, incidentally. As I pointed how he was very clear that he was using “good” as a “quick and dirty” way of evaluating his practice).

By contrast, my own meditation this morning, because I was sleep-deprived, was mostly dreamy, with lots of distracted thinking. I may even have been asleep at times! But I felt pleased about my meditation, simply because I did it. Was that a “good” meditation? Not by most people’s evaluation, nor when weighed against my average experience. But does it matter? No. The meditation was what it was, and how I feel about it doesn’t make any difference to that fact.

However, that labels I apply to my meditation practice might make a difference to my future inclination to meditate. If I’d labelled it a “bad” meditation—which would mean, presumably, something like “I felt disappointed because my experience wasn’t what I wanted it to be”—then I’d be less inclined to continue meditating in the future.

Let’s say my friend had had exactly the same objective experience, with continuity of awareness for most of his meditation, but had felt neutral or even displeased by those events. It would be the same meditation, but he wouldn’t regard it as “good” and instead would see it as “so-so” or even “disappointing.” Seeing the practice in that way would away from the motivation to keep practicing in the future.

In a way I’ve chosen to be pleased at the very fact of having done my daily practice, and that encourages me to keep doing it daily. and in a way, having being pleased about my meditation as my default means that my daily meditation is always “good.” And so I want to keep doing it. What actually happens in my practice is secondary and doesn’t affect me being please by the fact of having done it. The length of time I’ve meditated is also secondary, and also doesn’t affect me feeling happy about having meditated.

When my mind becomes concentrated during a sit, or when joy or love arises, then I can be pleased by those occurrences as well. But they’re an added bonus, since I’ve already decided to feel pleased simply because I’ve meditated.

Keeping going is the most important thing, because meditation is practice. It’s the doing of it that’s important. You might not see any calmness or concentration or love manifesting in any given sit, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not benefitting.

Although I said that none of the advice I received about establishing a rock-solid daily meditation practice really helped, I hope the advice that we can choose to be pleased about the fact of meditating does help.

How how can we make the choice to be pleased about having meditated? To feel pleased about meditating, celebrate meditating.

  • Simply choose to pat yourself on the back for having sat. No matter how short the sit was, or what actually happened during the meditation, tell yourself you’ve done a good job for having sat. Use congratulatory language: “Yay, me! Good job! Well done! It’s great that I sat today!” Smile! Or you can simply thank yourself: “Thank you for meditating. I really appreciate you doing that.”
  • Although some of us have conditioning that makes us feel bad about self-congratulation, I think that nevertheless, even if our cultural conditioning makes us want to go, “Oh, really, it was nothing. I’ve had much better sits. I really should meditate for longer,” we do on some level also feel pleased when we hear deserved praise.
  • If your meditation practice is unusually calm, or concentrated, or loving, or compassionate, or joyful, or anything else that’s affirming and delightful, then allow yourself to be pleased about that too. But don’t let that take the place of being pleased about the fact of having meditated.
  • When we do something skillful we should allow ourselves to feel pleased by it, and we should choose to ignore the voices that downplay what we did.

In short: If you have pleasing experiences in meditation, then enjoy them. But choose to be pleased about the very fact of having meditated. This will help motivate you to keep on practicing.

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Meditating in the morning

buddha silhouette

By way of background, despite having been a meditation teacher for years, I used to have difficulty maintaining a daily meditation practice. I’d meditate daily for weeks or months, but then miss days here and there. For the last few years, though, I’ve been more of a rock-solid daily meditator.

Still, although I’ve meditated virtually every day for the last three years, my practice can still be a bit thin at times. This is because I’d gotten into the habit of meditating in the evening. Why? In one word, kids. Having two young kids does not make it easy to meditate in the mornings. My personal time shifted to the evenings, when I could reliably assume that my children would be sleeping. Mornings were, on the other hand, more unpredictable. For a while my daughter would wake up at 4:00AM quite regularly!

Once a habit has established itself, I find I sometimes don’t even question it. Although I’m now divorced and don’t have the children at my house most mornings, I kept sitting later in the day — sometimes in the morning or the afternoon, but most often in the evening. And sometimes, because I’m a night-owl, those sits would be really late, and because I was tired they’d be short.

But then I realized that since meditation is central to my life, perhaps it should be the first thing on my mind when I wake up in the morning, and the first thing I do? What’s normally my first thought? Email! When I wake up I usually pick up my phone to see what time it is, and then see all the email notifications, and then get sucked into dealing with work. If I’m honest with myself, it’s work that’s been most central to my life, and not meditation. And even though my work involves meditation, that’s not good.

So, apart from the weekends when I have the kids, and the occasional weird day (like the one recently when I had to be out of the house shortly after 6:00AM) meditating has been close to the first thing on my mind when I wake up, and it’s been the first thing I’ve done. Usually I sit on my bed, either cross-legged, which I’m experimenting with, or on my Kindseat meditation bench.

This has been very good for me, sometimes in unexpected ways. For example, I’m becoming less of a night owl! I’ve often felt naturally very tired in the evenings and I’ve been going to bed early. This means I’ve been waking up early too, and sitting before dawn.

The other big benefit is the loss of the anxiety that surrounds having to remember to meditate. I’ve realized that meditating in the evening means that all day there’s this sense at the back of my mind that there’s something I need to remember to do. As soon as I’ve finished sitting in the morning, I feel a sense of relief: OK. That’s one less thing I have to remember.

I don’t think meditating should be something I have to remember to do. It should be something I just do.

After all, I meditate every day. It’s just what I do. It’s part of who I am.

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Bringing accountability to your practice

An older girl helping a younger girl with her reading.

I’m just getting over a bad habit relating to meditation that’s plagued me for over thirty years.

It was reading a blog post on developing good writing habits that helped me. The idea came from Brett Cooper who, like me, found that he tended to write in fits and starts, with long periods of non-writing, followed by spurts of intense production.

Two ideas came to his rescue. The first was that he realized he needed to establish “a small, non-threatening daily writing habit,” and that a goal of 100 words a day was innocuous enough to be doable.

The second idea was the realization that he needed accountability. Left to our own devices, it can be all too easy to let ourselves off too easily. So he found a friend who agreed to be his “100 words accountability partner.” The partner doesn’t have to comment on the writing or even read it. She just has to give Brett a hard time if she doesn’t receive at least 100 words of writing each day.

As it happens I had my writers’ group meeting the day after reading Brett’s article, and so I proposed that I undertook the same two practices. So two of the people in my group agreed to be my accountability partner, and I theirs. Now each of us is emailing the other two at least 100 words a day.

It’s worked great. 100 words is such a non-intimidating target that I find it easy to sit down to write, and I inevitably end up writing well over 100 words. At this rate I’ll be adding a chapter to my novel every two weeks or so. And this is after several months of producing nothing. It’s a big turn-around.

Now, when it comes to meditation, I’ve been meditating daily for a long time. I’ve hardly missed a day in the last two years or so. But my sits have at times become very short — sometimes just five or ten sleepy minutes at the end of the day. And although it’s better to do five or ten sleepy minutes than to do nothing, that’s far from ideal. Five minutes was supposed to be an emergency provision for those days when I genuinely didn’t have time for a longer sit, but it threatened to become my default. It’s as if I hit 100 words and then stopped in mid-sentence.

The bit that was missing from my meditation practice was accountability. This is where my long-standing bad meditation habit comes in; I’ve always resisted accountability.

I’ve often resisted meditating with others, or following set schedules, or even using apps like the Insight Timer, which announces to other app users how much meditation you’ve done. I think the reason I’ve resisted these things is that I’ve wanted to be sure that my desire to meditate was coming from me, and not from a desire to fit in, or to gain acceptance from others, or to show off. And while it’s good to want to meditate because it’s what I really want to do, I think that habit has long outlived its usefulness. It’s led to what’s almost a kind of secretiveness about how much meditation I’m doing, and that’s not good. Bad habits flourish in the dark.

So I decided that as well as my commitment to daily meditation practice (with an emergency fall-back position of five minutes a day) I needed a commitment to sharing what I do, so that I hold myself accountable. So on Wildmind’s community on Google+, I’ve been sharing how long I’ve been sitting, and what I’ve been doing.

This has already made a difference. When I meditate in the evening, which is often the first opportunity I have to meditate, I’m sitting earlier rather than later, when I’m often tired. I’m sitting for longer. And I’m being more mindful of the effort I make in my practice.

And the great thing is that I still have the feeling that I’m doing all this for me, not to please other people, so that fear has gone. I’m glad to have left that old habit in the past, where it belongs.

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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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Drop the “only”

People who are reporting on how they’re getting on with learning meditation often say they meditated, but it was “only” for 20 minutes or “only” for 15 minutes.

I’ve said similar things myself. But that word “only” bothers me. The word “only” is a great way of taking something you’ve done that’s good and making yourself feeling bad about it. Compare “I exercised three days this week” and “I only exercised three days this week.” Or “I gave $10 to charity” and “I only gave $10 to charity.”

You see how without the word “only” there’s a simple statement of fact, but it’s a statement that you can feel pleased about. And well you should. Exercising three times in a week (or even one time in a week) is great! Giving $10 to charity is great! And yes, meditating for 20 minutes or 15 minutes is great.

Add the word “only” and you feel bad, as if you’d done something wrong. It’s as if it’s bad to exercise, or to give money to charity, or to meditate. And if you feel bad about doing these things, how likely are you to want to continue with them?

When we’re saying we “only” did such-and-such an amount of meditation, we’re implicitly saying that there’s some amount (more than we did) that’s acceptable. And of course we didn’t reach that acceptable level.

Well, sure, meditating for 30 minutes, all other things being equal, is better than meditating for 15 minutes. But if we’re doing 30 minutes of meditation instead of 15 minutes, we’re not going from “bad” to good” but from “good” to better.”

Those 15 minutes (if that’s what you did) are way better than doing no meditation. And that’s what we need to remember. Any amount of meditation is a lot better than no meditation. So compare what you did with that, rather than some mythical amount of meditation that you didn’t do.

So I’d suggest that you watch out for that “only” and instead rejoice. Rejoice that you meditate at all. You’ll be far more likely to establish a solid meditation practice if you rejoice in doing 10 minutes than if you castigate yourself for only doing 20.

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