The purpose of meditation practice is not necessarily to enjoy it, so why make that a thing?
If you are a regular meditator, you know that some days of practice are delightful, and others are like shoveling wet snow. If you are new to meditation, you may be encouraged to learn that ups and downs are normal.
Here's why learning to enjoy our meditation practice (no matter what) is helpful. When we enjoy meditating, we're likely to continue doing it long enough to derive tangible benefits from it—both the stress-reducing and health-enhancing benefits, as well as the transformation of spiritual realization.
Here are three ways to do that.
1. Arrange Beneficial Conditions for Meditation Practice
Our capacity for joy originates with the soul itself, which is innately, unwaveringly blissful. For meditation, that innate bliss is most supportive as our starting point rather than an end goal. It's not a destination, some state we arrive at. The soul's inherent joy is not an emotion; it doesn't arise or disappear as a reaction to conditions. The Sanskrit term for bliss—ananda—can be defined as "the perfect joy of Self-knowing." That bliss-filled realization of our essential nature is very often a benefit of meditation. So how would we start there?
We start by noticing that thoughts, emotions, and experiences all change, but "something" about us remains constant. Once we become aware of that unchanging consciousness, we can sense the freedom and spaciousness of our being, and that is where the experience of bliss arises.
There are things we can do on all levels to arrange beneficial conditions for our practice.
On the physical level, set up a delightful, uplifting, comfortable, clean, inspiring, and undisturbed space.
Mentally, we can use our willpower to decide that we will meditate every day. We can bring heart to our practice with love for God, our teacher, our divine Self, others, the earth, and all beings. This love calms and purifies our emotions and ego-sense. And spiritually, we can start each meditation with awareness of our innate joy, whether through direct experience of it, memory, imagination, or faith.
It just takes an intentional moment to inwardly acknowledge our essential nature as infinitely expansive, supremely conscious, and innately blissful. Like the mighty ocean, the divine Self is large enough to accommodate any waves that arise in the mind—happiness, sorrow, grief, anger, delight. Let it all come, and let it all go. Return attention again and again to your divine, unchanging, blissful Self—no matter what. No need to try and attain something, avoid some experiences, or cling to others. In that field of spacious awareness, joy unfolds from within like a flower opens to the sun.
If you have made up your mind to find joy within yourself, sooner or later you shall find it. Seek it now, daily, by steady, deeper and deeper meditation within. –Paramahansa Yogananda
2. Stay in Touch with Your Why
There are probably as many motivations to practice meditation as there are meditators. With any discipline, it is helpful to be aware of what motivates us. Why do we want to meditate? What's the draw, and how do we sustain our interest once we have realized some initial benefits such as stress reduction, improved health, or better concentration?
Here's the key to steady, long-term practice: recognize your meditation practice as essential to your relationship with your Self.
It is one of the most profound ways we can get to know who we really are, discern what's truly important to us, discover the secrets of our soul, and realize our essential Self.
Superconscious meditation restores us to our innate wholeness. No longer confined by the thoughts and emotions endemic to ordinary states of consciousness, our essential nature soars in absolute freedom which is its prerogative. I often think of meditation as the opportunity for the soul to "stretch out." What a joy it is to stretch out in freedom! When we look deeply enough into our motivation to meditate, we discover the soul imperative to practice. It is the soul call—a call to freedom and to joy, arising from our innate yearning for the direct experience of our unbounded, supremely free self.
3. Be Receptive to Grace
While we can arrange favorable conditions for meditation practice, it is useful to recognize that the higher states of consciousness we seek unfold through grace alone. Though effort and willpower help to set the stage, what we aim to experience is beyond that. We sit with intention, focus, and commitment.
Then, we must let go into the experience of grace—the unearned freely provided divine support that carries us beyond the stage of self-effort, outside the boundaries of ego-based accomplishment. This letting go is one of the reasons why the practice is ultimately joyful and refreshing; it is an opening to freedom from self-effort and self-will and a recognition of the presence of grace in our life.
Paramahansa Yogananda noted that there are three kinds of grace that are necessary for a devotee on the spiritual path:
- the grace of God, which is omnipresent and freely provided for all;
- the grace of the Guru, the uplifting influence of the yoga masters and our spiritual teacher;
- one's own grace—our heart and soul-inspired willingness to receive all the good that is already prepared for us.
The bottom line?
Be intentional but don't try too hard. Joy is always present, just as we live, and move, and breathe, and yes, meditate.
From Joy we have come, in Joy we live and have our being, and in that sacred Joy we will one day melt again. —Taittiriya Upanishad 3:6:1