daily meditation

Overcoming resistance to meditation

Young man pushing a heavy cable spool

No matter how much experience we have of meditation being beneficial in our lives, and of not meditating making life harder for us, we can still end up experiencing resistance. And resistance to meditation can be very painful, especially when we get caught between that feeling that we “should” meditation and the feeling that we don’t want to.

Sometimes there’s a hidden agenda at work. We might on some level think that meditation is selfish. Or we might be worried about “not getting things done.” Or we might be afraid of change. If you can become aware of the underlying reason for your resistance you might be able to work at rediscovering your sense of motivation, but in some ways it doesn’t matter what the content of the resistance is.

One thing I’ve found very successful is to become mindful of the feeling of resistance. Where is it situated in the body? How large is it? What “texture” does it have? What kinds of thoughts does it give rise to? Notice those things, and just be with the resistance. Turn the resistance into an object of mindfulness. At that point you’re already meditating, so you might as well get on the cushion. Or you could just stay where you are, let your eyes close, and notice the breathing at that same time as you observe the resistance, or notice the resistance and send it your lovingkindness. In this kind of approach the specific content of your resistance isn’t important, because you’re not meeting your rationalizations on their own level. You’re not arguing with them; you’re outsmarting them by surrounding them with mindful awareness.

See also:

If truly want to meditate daily, but find that the resistance goes on day after day, then set yourself a low bar for what constitutes a day in which you meditate: five minutes works fine. That may not sound like much, but regularity is ultimately more important than the number of minutes you do each day. Do feel free to do more, but don’t try to impress yourself with how much meditation you can do. It’ll just lead to more resistance.

You want to get, as quickly as possible, to the point where you don’t even have to decide to meditate every day. It shouldn’t be a decision. It should just be what you do. So I have a mantra: “I meditate every day; it’s just what I do; it’s part of who I am.” If you want to meditate absolutely every day, then keep reciting that mantra (and meditate for at least five minutes each day, although preferably more) until you start to believe the mantra on a deep level. If you miss days at first, that’s OK. Just keep repeating the mantra: “I meditate every day; it’s just what I do; it’s part of who I am.”

It works!

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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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.

See also:

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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Meditation upon arising

Dawn, with the view separated into a black foreground and a graduated dark orange sky

Our minds are very busy and often seem to have a “mind” of their own. If you have meditated, you are aware of how busy the mind can be.

We sit down to meditate and attempt to quiet the mind. We focus on our breathing and try to make the breath the focus of our concentration. Did I say “concentration”? When we are quiet, sitting in meditation rather than doing what we usually do, we realize how difficult quieting the mind can be.

We start thinking about the myriad of things we have to do, a comment someone made, an action someone took, a worry, a story line, what the weather will be like, what time it is, what to cook for dinner, what we need to do at work, what we will do for the weekend — the list goes on and on.

So, upon rising, when you are most rested (if you have had a good night’s sleep), before you get out of bed, quietly tune in to the mind. Listen to what your mind is telling you. Is your mind filled with the dream you had just before waking? What is the feeling tone of your thoughts? Are you geared up for the day with a list of things to do?

Whatever is on your mind, begin your day with an intention to be mindful, to pay attention to one thing at a time, one task at a time. Take a few deep breaths and remember that no matter what you are doing, no matter where you are, you can breathe and quiet your mind for a moment.

Each time you do this, you are training your mind to be still, and with practice, those still moments make a big difference.

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