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What if my practice feels like a chore?

by Andy Puddicombe

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I am a little concerned as Headspace has become a chore and another thing on my daily to-do list. Therefore, I don’t think I am getting any benefit from the meditation. I think to myself, “I need to do my Headspace meditation” and am relieved when it is over and done with for the day which I know is completely the opposite of the purpose of the meditation. Is this a normal reaction to meditation that will ease off with time?

I guess there are two parts to your question. The first is a common one, this feeling that the meditation has become a chore. This comes back to the approach you have toward it, rather than the exercise itself. It’s the same feeling many people have about going to the gym or learning a new musical instrument or any other kind of new skill.

There can many reasons for this. One is a strong feeling of expectation, of wanting something to happen during the exercise or as a result of the exercise. Of course, when “nothing” happens, we become a bit dispirited and lose some of our enthusiasm. We forget that it is not about making something happen, but simply being present for the exercise. It’s also worth mentioning that at the time of writing you are only 15 days into learning this new skill.

Another reason, somewhat related to the first, is our motivation for doing the exercise. If the motivation is purely self-interested, then it is very easy to give up or to for it to feel like a chore. But if there is a strong sense of wanting to do it for those around us, those close to us, and maybe even far beyond that small circle, then all of a sudden it feels less like a chore and we become more engaged.

Finally, and perhaps the most important of all, is your own personal framing of meditation in your life. This may sound obvious, but if you think it is a chore it will feel like a chore, and if you think it’s a treat then it will feel like a treat. For many people, meditation is so different from the constant bombardment of stimulation in everyday life that it can almost feel like an inconvenience or waste of time, but that’s to miss the point entirely.

The point is that this is your one opportunity in the day to let go of thought, to let go of responsibilities and commitments and to engage in a very special kind of “not doing.” This is a treat, such a rare opportunity. If we can see this, then it ceases to be a chore.

In answer to your second question, as frustrating as this may be, I would say you are probably over thinking the exercise a little. This is very common, too. Everyone experiences these thoughts and everyone experiences a busy mind sometimes. The type of thought and the number of thoughts is not important—it is our reaction or response to these thoughts and emotions that is important.

So, although you say you are aware that meditation is not about clearing the mind, at the same time you say it is not working because you are experiencing lots of thoughts. This is the difference between the intellect and being. For example, we may know it’s not healthy to get stressed, but that intellectual knowledge doesn’t stop us from becoming stressed. The same is true of meditation. In fact, in many ways, we can say meditation is the process of letting go of the intellectual “idea,” moving towards a place of “being” that idea.
It may sound abstract but, with practice, it is decidedly tangible. In short, follow the instructions, check your motivation, your expectation and in time it will happen quite naturally.

FYI: it took me at least a few good months to get the hang of it when I first started… and I’m still learning now.

Warm wishes,

Andy Puddicombe

Andy Puddicombe is a meditation and mindfulness expert. An accomplished presenter and writer, Andy is the voice of all things Headspace. In his early twenties, midway through a university degree in Sports Science, Andy made the unexpected decision to travel to the Himalayas to study meditation instead. It was the beginning of a ten-year journey which took him around the world, culminating with ordination as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India. His transition back to lay life in 2004 was no less extraordinary. Training briefly at Moscow State Circus, he returned to London where he completed a degree in Circus Arts with the Conservatoire of Dance and Drama, whilst drawing up the early plans for what was later to become Headspace.