Living the mindful life 10


Last month I started writing on the subject of motivation for practising mindfulness or any other kind of meditation. So this month I thought it might be worth exploring its opposite, de-motivation, which probably boils down to the question, ‘if I know and accept the science, and perhaps have even experienced some of the benefits of practising mindfulness then why don’t I practice more or more often?’

Well, yes – why indeed! Put starkly like that I can even start to feel there is something a bit odd about my not practising. But actually there is nothing odd about this at all. It is very human for a number of reasons and perhaps when we look more closely at these reasons it might help us to work round them. In fact, the fact of my not practising much can even be the start of my going deeper with mindfulness if I can start to bring a curious awareness rather than a helpless judging attitude to what is going on.

It is a huge subject, though. But here are just a few pointers from my own experience and through experience of teaching. So, four common de-motivators:

  1. Doubt.

It may be that I am persuaded intellectually that practising will have benefits in my life but that at some other level I am experiencing doubt. In other words I don’t really believe that it is helping. Or I don’t believe that it matters that I practise regularly. Or I’m not yet convinced that it was the meditation itself which had whatever effect it did have on me. Or it may have helped in the past but perhaps not now. Etc. etc. etc.

These, of course, are thoughts which the mind is generating and they may not be conscious thoughts – you may not be fully aware you are thinking them. But the best way, it seems to me, is to confront them head on and realise that there are all sorts of reasons why the mind is generating such thoughts which may have very little relation to whether they are true.

Once I have started to notice that there are these sorts of thoughts around I can either try to weigh them up a bit more carefully against the evidence or, perhaps more helpfully, I can just put them all to one side (saying to myself – ‘ah, here are doubts again – this is normal!’) and simply get on with the actual experiment – which is to keep practising and see what happens over time.

  1. Impatience.

This is a difficult one but is usually linked with the sense of wanting some particular result within some particular time frame. And if it doesn’t come I am de-motivated. But mindfulness doesn’t work like that – especially if I am linking it with some kind of self-improvement programme. It may be reasonable to want some sort of evidence in my own life that this is worth doing, but if I get caught up with this while I am practising or especially when I am deciding whether to practice I am bound to experience impatience.

The antidote to impatience is to see if I can practice just for the sake of practising and without any particular desired outcome on the table. If and when I notice changes in my life then this becomes an added delight and the often long periods where nothing particularly seems to be changing can be encountered with patience and peace. All growth is seasonal – there are times when the seed is lying dormant but this doesn’t mean it is dead.

As Jack Kornfield says, ‘turns out that meditation practice is not about the perfection (or improvement) of self but about the perfection of love’ – which is altogether more mysterious.

  1. Low self-esteem.

Often people talk about simply not having time to practice in a busy day. But I have always felt that the real question here is the matter of priority and not time available. As one member of one of my classes put it, ‘I seem always to have time to brush my teeth, however busy I am’. Others may become aware of the fact that they always find time for on-line social networking – however busy they are.

So, if it is more about my priorities in life, then why am I not prioritising something which I know is good for my mental health and well-being. Well, my suspicion is that the problem here for many of us is quite simply my own low self-esteem. I don’t believe I am ‘worth it’. I worry that doing something for myself is somehow wrong or should at least be very low on my priority list. And if it is low on the list there will almost always be something else which I regard as more important at the time. And then very quickly I get out of the habit, find other, often less effective ways of functioning and gradually my practice erodes.

So, really worth looking at this issue of my sense of my own worth. Does it make any sense to put my own needs so low on my list? Where will I end up if I constantly do this? Can I really care for others if I don’t care for myself? Perhaps this is a chicken & egg situation and it will be that taking more time for myself will help my self-esteem to recover.

  1. Negative experience.

Sometimes we all have experiences with meditation which we do not find pleasant or can be quite challenging. If you have had significant negative experiences it may well be worth talking to an experienced teacher to try to explore what is going on. But for most of us difficulty in meditation is simply par for the course. But difficult experiences can leave us with a reluctance to come back to meditation again. What if it happens again? Does this one bad experience mean that I am doing it wrong? Etc. And we can set up all sorts of negative anticipations which come together to prevent us from coming back to meditation.

Well, once again, we need simply to bring some level of curious interest to what is going on here. And with the one proviso given above we may want to encourage ourselves that a) difficulty happens when meditating and that this is sometimes when the most growth is happening (rather than something going wrong) and b) that it may not happen this time just because it happened last time.

As you can imagine, there is much to explore in terms of de-motivation. But I hope these few thoughts may be a helpful start.

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