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Five Ideas for Turning “Have to Meditate” into “Want to Meditate”

have to want to | motivation to meditate

I love to meditate, but do I want to?

Meditation is my inspiration in life, and the source of almost every truly meaningful experience I’ve ever had. Meditation is everything to me; I imagine I’d give up my arm to pursue it (as at least one practitioner reportedly did).

I have no doubt you know the tug-of-war between the profound inspiration to meditate and the daily sense that it’s a chore.

On a daily level, though, meditation often still feels like a chore, and left to my own devices I’m still in some half-rebellion against it. If you’ve been practicing for a while now, I have no doubt you know this tug-of-war between the profound inspiration to meditate and the daily sense that it’s a chore.

So here are a few things that have worked for me. At different times and to different degrees, each one has been helpful in reminding me why I want to meditate in the first place, and in actually getting me to the cushion.

1. Sign up for a meditation retreat

For me, this is the way both to sit intensively, and to feel like sitting. Inside the retreat, the discipline is almost effortless—I’ve sat eight hours a day for a month without issue, which is pretty crazy to consider on days when fifteen minutes feels insurmountable. But the discipline was done for me; all I had to do was show up.

Sign up for a retreat, then immediately segue into maintaining a regular practice afterwards.

After the retreat, there’s usually a lot of excitement and inspiration. Whatever else is true about this “afterglow” period, it does tend to make getting to the cushion easier.

So my best advice is to sign up for a retreat, then immediately segue into maintaining a regular practice afterwards. If you don’t let the thread of practice break, that’s probably the easiest it’ll be.

2. Read from a book on meditation or spirituality

Reading a great teacher I respect always gets me inspired, and practice feels like a good way to express that. It’s a bit like watching a cooking show—if I was ever going to cook a nice meal, it’d be after that.

The only thing I’d add is, don’t just bask in the glow of “wanting to meditate” without doing it! That’s where I get stuck. The moment you feel the itch to meditate (or even an inkling that the idea of meditating might be nice), act on it.

3. Think about what meditation actually feels like

For reasons I earlier decided not to go into, daily meditation often occupies a dark “have-to” place in my mind, along with things like flossing and figuring out how much I owe in back taxes.

How, really, does it feel to meditate? For me, the answer is usually somewhat boring at worst, and profoundly peaceful and joyful at best. What’s more, almost without exception, I feel better after meditating than when I sat down.

I’ve had some success with really looking at the felt sense of my meditation practice: How, really, does it feel to meditate? For me, the answer is usually somewhat boring at worst, and profoundly peaceful and joyful at best. What’s more, almost without exception, I feel better after meditating than when I sat down.

So really looking at my resistance head-on has weakened it on some occasions, and I think if I made this a daily contemplation I’d really chip away at the dark cloud around the idea of sitting.

Side note: If your meditation practice feels like torture, that’s likely the source of your problem. Everyone’s practice is claustrophobic now and then, as far as I know; but prolonged feelings of suffocating panic would be really worth bringing up with your meditation instructor if you have one. If you’re feeling darker and heavier feelings, like despair and worthlessness, please consider contacting a mental health professional.

4. Get on a streak and commit to keeping it going

I actually can’t speak to this one as well, but more disciplined people I know (like my business partner David, and my girlfriend) have done amazing things with this. They simply say, “I’m going to meditate before work every morning,” and then (amazed voice) they do it! And if they were were going to miss that day’s session, they think how they’ve kept their streak going for twenty days already, and it gets them on the cushion.

If your personality is like this, congratulations! (And as a side note, Medivate’s tools, particularly the goal setting and tracking feature, can really benefit you.)

5. Physically sit down on your cushion

If I can just get to the cushion, almost all my resistance evaporates.

Try tricking yourself into sitting: pretend you’re doing something else, and just physically sit on your meditation cushion. If I can just get to the cushion, almost all my resistance evaporates.

As a side-note, try to clear out anything that has to happen before you can sit down. If you have to light a shrine first (or, in my case, clean my room since I don’t have a separate shrine room), you’re giving yourself more obstacles to practice. So try just sitting down, then lighting your shrine once it feels like you’re actually committed to sitting.

What works for you?

Well, that’s a start! I hope at least one of these things helps you find your way to the cushion more often. If so, or if you’ve got another tool that works for you, please let us know in the comments below!