mantras

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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“Soft eyes, kind eyes”

close-up of a stone buddha head, focusing on its soft, half-open eyes.

The Buddha said that it was possible to dislodge unhelpful thoughts (those that make us suffer unnecessarily) with the use of more helpful thoughts. He compared this to the way a carpenter could dislodge wooden peg out of a hole by hammering a smaller peg against it.

This principle is incredibly useful in meditation, and it can be employed in a large number of ways. One popular application of this is the use of mantras, which can be chanted out loud or repeated in the mind. A mantra such as Om Mani Padme Hum, when repeated in this way, leaves less mental space for thinking. The mantra is a thought that, like a small pin applied skillfully, dislodges the larger pin of thoughts that are unhelpful because they’re expressions of worry, resentment, self-doubt, and so on.

Also see:

While you’re chanting a mantra you might not notice much happening, but afterward you feel calmer and more relaxed because you’ve given your brain and body a break from habitual patterns of thought that chip away at your sense of well-being.

Sometimes the pegs we use as tools are not traditional Sanskrit mantras, but are phrases in English. I find that these are most effective when they point us toward our experience.

A set of phrases I use a lot is “Soft Eyes, Open Field of Attention; Kind Eyes, Meeting Everything With Tenderness.” I’d like to explain why and how I use those four particular phrases.

First, the Why

“Soft Eyes”: If you know anything at all about my teaching from the last ten years or more, you’ll be aware that I almost always start a guided meditation by reminding people to soften the eyes.

“Soft eyes” means letting the muscles around the eyes be at ease, and letting the focus in the eyes be soft. You can try that right now, although you might want to look away from the screen. You’ll probably find that this is almost instantly relaxing, and that your mind becomes calmer very quickly.

Our minds are often on edge, roaming restlessly, looking for some problem that we need to pay attention to. In other words they’re controlled much of the time by the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the so-called “fight or flight” reflex. Much of this problem-seeking involves the eyes, which stay narrowly focused and which are in constant motion.

Softening the eyes (soft focus) and letting them be still (the muscles around them being at rest) triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which brings our system back to calm, rest, and relaxation.

With tight eyes, and the sympathetic nervous system active, we find that even in meditation the mind is still problem-solving. It’s restlessly picking through various aspects of our lives, looking for those things we’re worried about, angry about, depressed about, and so on. There’s lots of distraction.

With soft eyes, and the parasympathetic nervous system activated, the mind feels safer and loses its restlessness. It no longer needs to find problems to solve. And so it does less thinking. There’s less distraction.

So this is why I say, “Soft Eyes.” It’s a reminder for us to let the eyes be soft.


(The video above introduces the practice of “soft eyes.”)

“Open Field of Attention”: The habitual tightness we carry around in the eyes, with its narrows focus, leads to us fixating on a very narrow part of our visual field. When we close the eyes in meditation, we maintain this narrow focus in our inner field of attention.

I’ve often asked meditators to “draw” over the surface of the body what it is they’re observing when they’re doing “mindfulness of the breathing.” Because they have tight eyes and a narrow focus. most indicate a very small area, which doesn’t offer enough sensation for the mind to become fascinated by and absorbed in. And so they find they get distracted a lot.

When the eyes are soft, our inner field of attention is gentler and more open. Our attention is more expansive and receptive. We find that we’re able to sense many sensations of the breathing at once. We may even find that we can be aware of the whole body breathing. This is a very rich experience. it’s fascinating and we find it absorbing. It’s easier for us to keep observing the breathing without getting distracted all the time.

“Soft eyes” triggers an “open field of attention.” One follow naturally from the other. Nevertheless, it’s good to remind ourselves to notice what’s in our open field of attention.

Saying “Open field of attention” is a reminder to let our inner field of attention be expansive and receptive, and for us to notice the incredible richness that’s arising there.

“Kind Eyes”: Saying “kind eyes” is a way of bringing kindness into our present-moment experience. We can recall a time we looked with love — at a child, a lover, a friend, a pet — and let the eyes become kind now, as they were then. After a while we no longer need to access that kind of memory. We can simply remember what it’s like to have kind eyes, and drop back into that experience.

In saying “kind eyes” we’re directing our attention back to the eyes, reminding ourselves to connect with kindness.

“Meeting Everything With Tenderness”: Just as the eyes being soft changes our inner field of attention, causing it to be more open, expansive, and receptive, so letting the eyes become kind changes the way we pay attention internally. In this case it brings warmth, patience, kindness, compassion, and acceptance into our experience. We can find that we meet our distractions, our feelings, and even painful sensations with warmth.

Saying “meeting everything with tenderness” reminds us to bring kindness deeply into our being.


(The video above uses slightly different phrasing. More about that below.)

The How

I use the breathing to pace how quickly or slowly I drop these phrases into the mind, and to help keep my mind on track.

Pacing means balancing saying and listening.

Saying the phrases directs our attention to these various parts of our experience: softening the eyes, noticing the richness that’s arising in our open field of attention, letting kindness arise, and and bringing kindness into our whole being.

But if we’re speaking all the time, we might not be allowing ourselves to actually be with those experiences. We might not really notice them. We might not be allowing ourselves to go deeply into them.

We’re basically just talking to ourselves, and not letting ourselves have a chance to feel.

So generally I’ll say one of the phrases on an out-breath, and then leave two or three cycles of the breathing where I say nothing, and instead simply observe the experience that the phrase is pointing to.

Then I’ll drop in the next phrase, and so exactly the same thing. And I’ll continue like that through all four phrases, and then repeat.

However, if I’m particularly distractible I’ll tighten up the pacing. If I’ve been dropping in a phrase every third breath and keep getting distracted, I’ll start dropping in the phrases every two breaths. If I’m really distractible, then I might say a phrase on every breath. As I said above, this has the drawback that it doesn’t leave much time for being with our actual experience. But it’s better to do that than to get continually distracted.

Conversely, if things are going well then I might drop in the phrases less often. I might get to the point where I don’t even say the phrases; I just do what they’re describing (noticing soft eyes, noticing the body, noticing kindness in the eyes, bringing that kindness to meet every experience).

So there’s scope in this practice for fine-tuning as you go, adapting to changing conditions.

I also sometimes change the phrases. Sometimes instead of “soft eyes, open field of attention” I’ll say “soft eyes, body alive.” It’s basically the same thing, except that in the second case I’m more explicitly directing my attention toward the contents of the open field of attention. And sometimes instead of “meeting everything with tenderness” it’ll be “meeting everything with love” or “meeting everything with love.”

Although people sometimes assume that all thinking in meditation is to be avoided, thinking can be used consciously as a tool. Thoughts can direct our attention toward our immediate sensory experience. Thought can help drive out thoughts and quiet the mind.

You can play around with this tool as well. Make it your own. Find out what works for you.

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“All people and all circumstances are my allies.”

All people and all circumstances are my allies

In an interview, Lynn Jurich, the founder and CEO of the solar energy company, Sunrun, said:

Every morning my meditation is: “All people and all circumstances are my allies.” I repeat it every morning: “All people and all circumstances are my allies.”

This struck me as a deeply wise and self-compassionate saying. It also struck me as being one that’s very much in line with key teachings from the Buddhist tradition.

Normally we don’t think of all people and all circumstances as being our allies. Often we experience ourselves as being in opposition to others, and see circumstances as being against us, or at least not being as we would want them to be.

The interviewer asked Jurich whether she’d see even her business competitor, Elon Musk, as an ally. She said he would, citing the fact that he runs his own solar electric company out of a concern for the climate.

Perhaps the interview was curtailed, or perhaps Jurich thought one example was enough, but there are of course plenty of other ways that she could see Musk as an ally. For example, if he comes out with an improved solar project or a great advertising campaign, then that encourages Jurich’s own company to do better. If she feels jealous of Musk for his successes, then there’s something to learn there about the painful nature of jealousy and the need for patience.

An Old Teaching

Jurich’s “All people and all circumstances are my allies” may even have come from the Buddhist tradition. Certain Buddhist teachings emphasize the practice of meeting adversity as an opportunity to learn.

For example, the 8th century Indian teacher Shantideva wrote:

…just like treasure appearing in my house
Without any effort on my behalf to obtain it,
I should be happy to have an enemy
For he assists me in my conduct of Awakening.

And because I am able to practice (patience) with him,
He is worthy of being given
The very first fruits of my patience,
For in this way he is the cause of it.

Shantideva’s view is that without adversity it’s impossible to develop patience. You should therefore be grateful to have an enemy.

A later formulation of this principle, this one from Tibet, says, “transform all mishaps into the path of awakening.”

But Jurich’s form of this teaching is more appealing to me because it encapsulates so much, so neatly, in just eight words. It’s perfect, in fact, for memorizing and using as a “mantra.”

Creating a Meditation Practice

Jurich is a meditator, and she’s said that she’s brought “All people and all circumstances are my allies” into her morning meditation practice. This is a vital step, because we can read advice like this and get a pleasant glow from encountering the idea, but not put it into practice. To take a teaching like this on board we really have to etch it into our brains through focus and repetition.

Here’s a test: if you close your eyes right now, can you remember Jurich’s mantra, word for word? Or do you just remember the general idea? The problem is that our attention moves on, and we forget not just the form of the words, but even the message they encapsulate.

If you don’t make an effort to remember this phrase by repeating it in a focused way, you’ll forget all about it.

So first try memorizing the words. See if you can get it exact. Then leave it a few minutes and try again. Test to make sure that the phrase is actually stored in your long-term memory. You may have to do this many times before they stick.

Next, find five minutes in which you can close your eyes and turn this teaching into a meditation. Just drop the phrase “All people and all circumstances are my allies” into your mind. Let the words just sink in. Then say them again. Sometimes, as you’re doing this, briefly remember people and circumstances that try your patience. Don’t go into the whole background, justifying to yourself why you’re angry. Just remind yourself of some challenge, and remind yourself, “All people and all circumstances are my allies.” This person is not an enemy, but an ally. This circumstance is challenging, but it can help me learn and become a better person.

Making This Your Life

Let’s say you keep doing this practice for days, weeks, even years. Probably a lot of the time you’ll still get angry with people or things, and then catch yourself. “Oh, yeah. ‘All people and all circumstances are my allies.’ ” Perhaps sometimes you’ll be aware that you’re getting into a situation that’s likely to be challenging, and you’ll be able to go into it with your heart open, knowing that it’s an opportunity to learn.

I’ve only just begun working with this mantra. I’ve been memorizing it, turning it into a meditation practice, and putting it into practice. But already it’s helping me to feel more at peace with the challenges of my life. Even as I’m writing this article I’m being interrupted repeatedly by my son’s near-constant questioning. And I remember that these interruptions are my ally. They give me an opportunity to maintain love rather than express irritation. They give me an opportunity to communicate more skillfully, and to learn from my mistakes when I fail to do so. They give me an opportunity to be a better person.

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A “feeling crap” meditation

woman with her hands crossed over her heart

I’m sure that sometimes you feel crap.

The other week I was feeling particularly crappy. I have an idea what was causing me to feel that way, but that’s not particularly important. The thing is that I was feeling crap, by which I mean I felt sad, tired, and sometimes despairing.

The last thing I wanted to do, really, was to sit in meditation and experience how crap I was feeling. But I know from past experience that that’s the most helpful thing I can do. And so I sat on my meditation bench so that I could find a better way to relate to feeling crap.

Also see:

I settled in to meditate, I noticed the dark, heavy feeling around my heart. I noticed that there was an attitude of resistance around this feeling, since I didn’t particularly want to experience it. But it’s best if these things are allowed into experience. So I let go of the resistance as much as possible, and turned to face the darkness.

My meditation practice kind of has a life of its own. Sometimes I really have no idea what’s going to happen. I just have to see what my subconscious comes up with. This particular day, as I let go of my resistance and turned my attention toward the discomfort, a mantra of sorts appeared.

The mantra: “It’s OK. This is just how you’re feeling right now.”

I said to myself, “It’s OK. This is just how you’re feeling right now.”

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I said to myself, “It’s OK. This is just how you’re feeling right now.”

And so on.

As these words appeared, I recognized what they were doing.

“It’s OK…”

This is offering reassurance. It’s as if these words encode the message, “It’s OK to feel this way. It’s OK to turn toward the feeling. You’re on the right track. You got this. Deep down there’s really nothing to fear. Keep going.”

“…This is just how you’re feeling…”

This is saying that in a way, feelings are sensations like any other. If you touch something warm, you’ll feel warmth. Touch the point of a thorn, you’ll feel pain. If you’ve wanted something and you didn’t get it you’ll feel disappointed and sad. And if you’ve been criticized you’ll feel hurt. It’s just how things are. You’re not failing for feeling these things.

This is also a reminder that resistance, as they say, is futile. Resisting your pain—that sense of wanting desperately to not be experiencing it—doesn’t help. In fact it’s worse than unhelpful. It actually creates more pain. Resisting pain is like responding to having a stone in your shoe by pounding your foot with a hammer.

Sometimes you find that 50% of your pain is coming from the resistance, and sometimes you discover it’s more like 95%. The way to find out is to let go of the resistance.

So in saying “this is just how you’re feeling,” you’re facing how you feel as a fact, rather than as something to be resisted. And so you can start to drop the resistance and experience whatever discomfort remains, which becomes more bearable the more you are able to face it without trying to run away from it or make it go away.

“…Right now”

Feelings change. Everything changes. Remember that time many years ago when you felt awful because you got dumped? And that time you were really worried about money? Those feelings are gone now. Even if they’ve been replaced by similar feelings, those new feelings won’t last. “No feeling is final,” as Rilke said.

So that was my meditation the other day. I sat with “feeling crap,” and as I repeated the mantra the feeling lifted. It didn’t go away entirely, but that was OK. I’d realized that it was all manageable. I didn’t need to resist anything. I could experience it fully, without being overwhelmed.

And then just yesterday I guided a couple of friends through this same meditation, because one of them was feeling really crap.

And we went a bit further

We put our hands on our hearts, where the crap feeling was strongest, and we talked to our suffering: “I just want you to know I care about you, and I’m here for you. I love you and I want you to be happy. It’s OK. We’ll get through this. You’re doing OK. I know you’re feeling bad, but I’m going to take care of you.”

My friend who was feeling crap said she felt less crap after doing this. And that made me feel happier. The other friend suggested I should call this my “feeling crap meditation,” and so here we are…

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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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Spiritual earworms and the Dharma of the Muppets

This morning as I was walking to the office, I had an earworm stuck in my head. In case you’re unfamiliar with this term, it refers to a song or jingle that runs in a repetitive loop in the head. Often it’s only one or two lines from a song. Sometimes it’s not even a song we like. It may even be one we detest.

I have a very effective technique that not only helps get rid of earworms but also turns them into mindfulness triggers should they recur, but this morning it occurred to me that mantras could be regarded as a form of self-induced spiritual earworm.

Mantras are self-induced because we consciously cultivate them. They’re spiritual because they act as reminders of the qualities of awakening (e.g. Om mani padme hum reminds us of the compassionate warmth of Avalokiteshvara). And they’re earworms in that they often take on a life of their own, and present themselves to us unbidden.

I briefly considered invoking the mantra of Padmasambhava, but then I realized that the song I had in my head was actually teaching me something. I’m just back from a long road-trip with my kids, and one of the ways we passed the time in the car was by listening to my six-year-old son’s limited CD collection, which includes some Disney songs. The particular song I had stuck in my head was a Muppet track called “Life’s a Happy Song,” and the specific lyrics that my mind kept turning to over and over were these: “I’ve got everything that I need, right in front of me.”

Those words seem like a perfect invitation to let go of craving for things to be other than they are, and to pay attention to and appreciate the present moment. As often happens, my mind had found a teaching that I hadn’t even been aware, at a conscious level, that I needed. As far as earworms go, this one turned out to be perfect.

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“But right now … right now”

You know the standard advice: when you notice during meditation that the mind has been caught up in thinking rather than with paying attention to your present-moment experience, just let go of the thoughts, without judgement, and just come back to the object of the meditation practice. And do that over and over.

But sometimes the thoughts are very persistent, especially if there’s something that’s preoccupying you emotionally. If you’ve been involved in an unresolved conflict, or have unfinished business, or if you’re looking forward to some big event, then it’s natural that your mind is going to turn to that over and over.

Over the years I’ve found a “trick” that helps me to disengage, gently but firmly, from obsessive thinking. It’s a simple phrase that I drop into the mind: “But right now…” 

When I realize that I’ve been caught up in thinking — yet again — in whatever train of thought has been preoccupying me, I’ll drop that phrase into my mind as I return to the meditation practice. Often it takes the form “But right now … right now …” 

This phrase does three things:

  1. It affirms the value of the present moment: “But right now.” I’m redirecting my mind away from thoughts of the past or future, and back to whatever is arising for me right now.
  2. It also affirms whatever it is that I’m obsessing about. In saying “but right now” I’m implicitly acknowledging that there is a time and place for thinking about the issue my mind keeps turning toward, but that that time is not now. I’m not saying that it’s “bad” to think about these things, just that this isn’t the right time.
  3. It creates a sense of openness and curiosity. “But right now … what?” What is arising right now? What have I not been paying attention to while I was obsessing about the past or future?

A friend told me that she has a similar phrase: “What is?” She redirects her mind to what’s implicit in the question, which is “What is my present-moment experience?” “What is arising for me right now?” “What is going on in my experience?”

So there you have two phrases you can play with. Or perhaps you’ll come up with your own way of gently redirecting your mind away from persistent thoughts.

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Put down the fork: A mindful parenting mantra

wildmind meditation newsCarla Naumburg, PsychCentral: A few weeks ago, I was on a retreat as part of a year-long course I recently took on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. (For the record, the course meets in person in the Boston area and online for those of you around the world, and it’s fantastic. If you’re a mental health professional interested in integrating mindfulness into your practice, I highly recommend you check it out.) Anyway, we spent about 36 hours of the retreat in silence, during which time our goal was to meditate on whatever we were doing: sitting, walking, washing dishes, and eating.

At each meal, I tried …

Read the original article »

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Do Buddhists pray?

Woman saluting the Buddha, with a lighted incense stick between her clasped hands

Do Buddhists pray? It certainly looks like it sometimes.

Since Buddhism has no creator God you might assume that the Buddhist tradition has no room for prayer. The Buddha wasn’t a God. So would be the point of praying to him, or of praying at all?

Some forms of Buddhist practice that look like prayer don’t in fact involve the Buddha or any other enlightened figure. When Buddhists are cultivating lovingkindness and they’re repeating phrases like “May all beings be well; May all beings be happy,” they’re not invoking any kind of outside agency. What they’re doing is strengthening their own desire to see beings flourish and be free from suffering. By repeating the thought, and the intention, “May all beings be well; May all beings be happy,” they’re exercising and strengthening the faculty of kindness. So while this may resemble prayer, there isn’t really any petition (asking a deity for benefits) going on.

But depending on what kind of Buddhism you’re looking at, you’ll also see practitioners asking to be reborn in a Pure Land paradise after death, or using mantras to call repetitively on the name of a Buddha or Bodhisattva figure, or even asking one of them for a favor, or giving thanks for a blessing. And Tibetan Buddhism uses prayer flags and prayer wheels. What are all those about?

Also see:

When Pure Land Buddhists call upon the saving grace of Amida Buddha in the hope of being reborn in his paradise after death, they’re doing something that to all intents and purposes is a form of prayer. For example here’s one Pure Land prayer: “I single-mindedly take refuge in Amitābha Buddha in the World of Ultimate Bliss. Illuminate me with Your pure light and draw me in with Your loving, kind vows! Thinking only of You, I now call the name of the Tathāgata. For the sake of the Bodhi Way, I supplicate to be reborn in Your Pure Land.”

This isn’t the form of Buddhism I practice, and it doesn’t particularly appeal to me, but it’s not something I want to dismiss or be condescending about, Although it’s tempting for westerners to see these beliefs and practices as superstitious or naive, there is in fact a well-developed “theology” based around Pure Land practice, and it’s based on meditations that the Buddha himself encouraged: namely, Buddhānusati, or “Recollection of the Buddha.” In Buddhānusati we reflect on the qualities of the Buddha, and in doing so we develop an affinity with those qualities, and with enlightenment. And so Buddhānusati helps us move toward becoming enlightened ourselves.

Reciting mantras is a very similar practice. When you hear a Buddhist reciting Om Manipadme Hum, what they’re actually doing is repeating the name of the Bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara. One of this figure’s other names was Manipadma (The Lotus-Jewel One). This kind of mantra practice can be very effective even if you don’t believe Avalokiteshvara exists. Mantra works to a large extent by giving the mind a rest from the incessant angry, grasping, and anxious thoughts that plague us in our daily lives. When you’re reciting a mantra you just aren’t able to keep up a negative inner monologue the way you normally might. And again the mantra is a form of Buddhānusati, and can help us to call to mind the qualities of a compassionate presence, and help those qualities manifest in our own minds.

But it’s clear from Tibetan teachings on devotional practice that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are not separate from the nature of our own minds. It’s only a slight simplification to say that when you pray to Avalokiteshvara, you are invoking the power of your own potential awakened mind.

Prayer flags and prayer wheels fall somewhere in between lovingkindness practice and mantra. In fact prayer flags and prayer wheels are really “mantra flags” and “mantra wheels,” for the most part, since mantras are prominent on both forms of device. Tibetans believe that as prayer flags flap in the wind, or as a prayer wheel is spun, the blessings of the mantras will spread out on the wind and have a beneficial effect on all beings. Prayer flags and prayer wheels are a kind of “prayer technology.”

It’s hard to say how many westerners believe that prayer flags and prayer wheels work in this way. My guess is that only a small percentage does, and that for most of us prayer flags are a form of spiritual decoration, with mostly symbolic value.

With these various forms of practice going on within Buddhism, it would be hard to claim that there is no prayer in Buddhism. It is possible to point to differences between Buddhist prayer and the prayer of the mainstream theistic traditions, but the similarities are much stronger than the differences.

Nevertheless, sometimes people feel the need to pray, even though prayer strikes them as being a bit silly. My own teacher, when asked about this, advised, “If you feel like praying, then pray, and worry about the theology afterwards.” That’s wise advice.

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