do you have to meditate every day?

Updated On — 11th Oct, 2022


Do you have to meditate every day? The question really should be can I be happily present with things just as they are, rather than struggling with a goal?

I find that newer students don’t ask this question much in their meditation groups, fearing, perhaps, that they might be the only ones with this concern. I still struggle with having consistent, regular meditation, and I have been at this for 41 years.

But I have noticed that I don’t have those punitive feelings about this anymore. I find myself more and more happily present with things just as they are.

And I have meditation to thank for this.

meditator’s guilt

It’s taken a while to get over this “meditator’s guilt” – a kind of shame some folks feel when they have trouble meditating regularly, feeling all meditators should meditate every day.

We can feel guilty that we are not meditating enough, or well enough, or not living up to some goal we create for ourselves.

So folks either give up, or keep plodding away out of a sense of duty, which, unfortunately, can bring more torment than tranquility.

the central issue

The central issue is the one the historical Buddha emphasized his whole teaching career–>> that we somehow insist on having an experience other than the one we are having.

For example, folks are often drawn to meditation out of a desire to feel better in some way. If we meditate with this desire to feel good, we selectively internalize that meditation is all about feeling good, calm, and peaceful.

And when we don’t feel calm or peaceful, we can get frustrated, even agitated.

So, do you have to meditate every day? Doing meditation daily certainly helps!

let go of our ideas about meditation

Despite repeated encouragement to relax and let go of our ideas about meditation, and our fantasies of how we should feel when it works, it can take a while for this to really sink in.

Crucial to the practice is being radically OK with ourselves just as we are in the present moment. In doing so, we also let go of the potentially aggressive notion of self-improvement.

Mindfulness meditation often starts out by working with an uncooperative and rebellious mind. You know this mind-it’s the one that spaces out, goes into la-la land, feels anxious, and wants out.

It’s the mind that opens its eyes during group meditation, looks at the clock, and says “Ugh, ten more minutes!”

Mindfulness takes us right up to the boundaries of our physical and emotional discomfort. But it allows us to be OK there, to settle down, and lose the fear.

the wisdom to see things as they really are

The Burmese teacher Sayadaw U Tejaniya repeats this over and over in many different ways:

Being mindfully present with whatever arises, experiencing it with equanimity, acceptance, non-identification, kindness, and compassion, develops the let go of our ideas about meditation, not just as they appear to be.

And with this understanding comes the end of dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

Do you have to meditate every day? Doing meditation daily is a concern for many I think because they are often experiencing feeling the opposite of what they expected. But if they hang in there they find that instead of “getting” happiness or relief from stress, it’s the letting go of the wanting of happiness that actually liberates them from distress and frustration.

letting go of wanting happiness

This is a huge turning point in their practice – the more they let go, the happier they are. They can see that ultimate liberation is the ultimate letting go of everything.

Sayadaw U Tejaniya gets the last word this week:

There is no way you can rush progress in meditation. We can only proceed steadily. But we don’t stop either. How much you do, how skillful you are, how much you are able to do, the benefits of that are already accruing, are already present. When you understand this then the greed to get more, to do better, to get a certain result, will not arise.

Wishing you well on this wonderful journey.

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About Tom Davidson-Marx

Former Buddhist monk, now father of two and full time registered nurse, my passion is sharing what I have learned from a life-long love, study and practice of the early Buddhist teachings. Thanks for reading.

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