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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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George Bernard Shaw: “A life spent in making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”

george bernard shaw

Are you addicted to busyness? Do you have a sense that your life could hold more meaning? Bodhipaksa discusses George Bernard Shaw’s provocative quotation, and draws out some important lessons about how taking the risk of going deeper into our experience leads to greater fulfillment.

A classic definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, and yet our lives are often characterized by repeated actions that cause us suffering and bring suffering to others as well. We get stuck in patterns of behavior that are destructive, or at least unhelpful or unfulfilling.

For example, I often find myself at the end of the day, after my parental duties are over with the baby tucked up in bed and my work filed away, surfing the web, reading the news. It seems like a harmless enough activity; after all, many people make more questionable use of the internet. But so often there’s a sense of restless compulsion to my endless browsing, as if I’m looking for something that will bring a sense of satisfaction. And no matter how many op ed articles, news reports, or blogs I dip into, no matter how late I stay up, that sense of satisfaction doesn’t come. And the reason it doesn’t come is because I’m looking in the wrong place: outside of myself. The satisfaction I’m looking for arises — I realize in my more mindful moments — by breaking out of the cycle of compulsive seeking and instead connecting with myself, going deeper into my experience.

When I turn my attention from the stimulation that I am craving to the experience of craving itself — when I turn my awareness to the sense of longing, to the feelings in my gut, to the underlying sense of dis-ease that I feel — I start to regain a sense of completeness once again. And if I start to reflect on my day, on what I’ve accomplished, on what I’ve learned, on the little things that I can now appreciate more fully, I begin to experience a positive sense of wellbeing.

So much of the time what we need to do is to stop doing and just experience ourselves. But this sounds, perhaps, paradoxical. After all, didn’t Shaw just disparage “doing nothing”? The problem is that we can’t take that phrase too literally. When Shaw talks about doing nothing he doesn’t literally mean that we’re disengaged from any activity whatsoever. We can never really do nothing. Even when we’re vegging out watching TV we’re still breathing and metabolizing and processing sound and images in the brain. What he means is that in our lives we can end up doing nothing of any consequence, doing nothing creative, nothing that leads to us being better, happier, wiser, more compassionate people, or to the world being a better place.

It’s perfectly possible in fact for us to “do nothing” and yet be intensely busy. The 11th to 12th century Tibetan teacher and founder of Kagyu Buddhism, Gampopa, talked about three kinds of laziness. The worst kind of laziness — gross laziness — involves “being attached to non-virtues such as destroying enemies and accumulating wealth.” To put this in more contemporary language we’re grossly lazy when we expend all our energy in pursuing status and materialism. Status and material wealth are inherently unstable things. “Past performance is no guide to the future,” as they say. “The value of your investments may go down as well as up.” So what happens when we’ve invested our sense of well-being in status and material possessions and something happens that sweeps these things out from under us? How are we then? That’s when we find out what lies deeper.

And just as for Shaw, doing nothing is not “doing nothing,” so making mistakes is not simply “making mistakes.” He’s pointing here to a life of creative experimentation in which we strive to find true meaning and to make something of our lives that’s more than just the “gross laziness” of climbing the career ladder and gathering a pretty collection of consumer goods. He means that it’s honorable to spend our lives engaged in a search for what is truly meaningful, to live an examined life, to see life as a creative endeavor with ourselves as the raw material for the creative process.

Such a life inevitably involves making mistakes, but the only way to create is to make an effort, fail, and learn from those failures. Many of us, when we first try learning meditation, inevitably bring along a consumerist mentality as we look for a quick fix. In the modern mind it seems there is no problem that we can’t buy our way out of or pay someone to fix for us. This isn’t necessarily a problem, because we all come to meditation with mixed motives and because meditation can help to broaden those motives as the doors of perception are opened.

But we come, sit awkwardly on the floor, and then discover that our minds are chaotic, unruly, full of unwanted thoughts and stray images. We may come back for the full four or six weeks of the course, but often we haven’t found the fix they’re looking for. We may decide that we have “failed” or that the technique has “failed” us, and so off we go looking for a better, quicker, easier tool to sort out the stress and lack of meaning in our lives. It doesn’t always work out like that, of course, and some, realizing that they have encountered a goldmine, begin furiously to dig. But many simply give up.

If babies were like adults none of us would be walking now. We’d have tried walking, fallen over, and then decided that walking isn’t for us. We’d have decided that crawling’s not so bad after all: “I’m just not the walking type.” “Walking? I tried that once but it didn’t work out. I’m into rolling now.” Fortunately children haven’t yet internalized our mental frameworks and so they pick themselves up after a fall and joyfully throw themselves forwards, falling again and again until finally they crack the mystery of moving forwards while remaining upright.

That’s how we need to approach meditation, and life generally — with a steady determination to live life better than we have done in the past, with faith that this is possible, and with the attitude that falling (or failing) is an inevitable part of the learning process.

Those who adopt this attitude not only live “honorable” lives but are frequently very “useful” people. Those who are determined to succeed frequently do so in spectacular fashion, and they are often highly effective individuals, shaping not only themselves but the world they live in, and leaving a legacy that gives them something approaching the immortality that Shaw himself has found. This kind of life requires that we always be prepared to “go deeper,” seeking self-knowledge and a more satisfying way of being, seeking the sanity of a life that doesn’t repeat the same mistakes over and over but instead seeks to learn from each and every experience.

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