mindfulness: motivation

Updated On — 11th Mar, 2016


Over the past 19 years we have been hosting weekly meditation at our home, Katina and I often reflect that the first few weeks of a new year sees a noticeable swelling of the size of the weekly group. But by late February or early March, the group tends to shrink back down in size to its usual numbers.

We can’t help but notice this is all about motivation.

At the beginning of a fresh new year many folks (including yours truly) are pumped up to get back on the cushion after the crazy busy holidays, which for many started with Halloween. Or last Easter.

We are looking forward to a new year and newly charged with the motivation to make meditation really happen for us this year.

But be care here, as, perhaps paradoxically, strong motivation may also be an obstacle.

As the Burmese monk and meditation master U Tejaniya writes in this short piece “What is the right attitude in meditation” which we have available our place as a handout:

You have to double check to see what attitude you are meditating with. A light and free mind enables you to meditate well. Do you have the right attitude?

Motivation is necessary to bring us to the cushion each day – but there it must stop. Desire for progress is yet another thing to be let go off during your meditation sessions. Like all other thoughts and feelings, it is a distraction from just being if you hold onto it.

U Tejaniya writes:

Don’t practice with a mind that wants something or wants something to happen. The result will only be that you tire yourself out.

If, as the New Year progresses, you feel despair because you feel you aren’t getting anywhere with meditation, set aside any goals you may be subtly holding on to.  Instead, enjoy the experience of meditation – of just being – without expectations.

U Tejaniya writes:

Why do you focus so hard when you meditate? Do you want something? Do you want something to happen? Do you want something to stop happening? Check to see if one of these attitudes is present. You are not trying to make things turn out the way you want them to happen. You are trying to know what is happening as it is.

Relish ordinary mental presence; forget about extraordinary anything. Extraordinary experiences are not the goal of meditation. They arise only as by-products, capriciously.

Loss of motivation happens to everyone.  When you first begin to meditate, it is new, strange, and exciting, and maybe your mind is buzzing about the promising extraordinary benefits.

Meditation at times may feel like a pointless chore, just acknowledge that. Sometimes meditation itself is enjoyable and sometimes it is not.

U Tejaniya again:

You are not trying to make things turn out the way you want them to happen. You are trying to know what is happening as it is.

Motivation changes, like everything else.

One real downer to anyone’s progress is when you do not feel motivated and you do not meditate for a while. Then you do not see the benefits of meditation, and find even less motivation – and you may abandon meditation altogether.

The trick is to meditate even when you do not feel like it.

The super-secret trick is to meditate especially when you do not feel like it.

Meditation is hard at times for sure. But maybe life without meditation is ever harder.

In meditation, we train ourselves in actually not doing much of anything except being with, and just being.

We have no goals, no expectations. We allow whatever happens, to happen. We leave it alone. We are alert and experience it fully, but without classification, judgment, or comment.

We are present in the present.

We just let go let go of elaborate plans for unlikely future scenarios and anguished memories of past events that will not recur, at least not as we remember them, and never in exactly the way they actually did.

I’ll leave you this week with an excerpt from a recent talk by Bardor Tulku Rinpoche.

If you have few thoughts and a sense of peace, that’s meditation. If you have many thoughts and a scattered mind, but you maintain an ongoing, non-judgmental awareness of that, that’s also meditation! Whatever happens, just cultivate your awareness and go easy on yourself. In fact, you can get rid of the idea of meditation altogether and simply be. As long as you don’t get lost in your thoughts, and you don’t try to change, try to improve, or try to do anything special with your mind — that’s an excellent practice.


Katina and I are here to support your meditation practice in any way we can, just contact us through the Contact Page on this site. Or if you live in Honolulu, or ever visit, feel free to drop by our free, weekly meditation evenings.

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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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