As a meditation teacher, I have a unique opportunity to hear about people’s deepest struggles with their practice. And one of the biggest challenges meditators consistently report is that their meditation practice has become repetitive, monotonous and even dull.
By its nature, meditation is designed to bring us into contact with the dynamic aliveness of our own true nature. Ideally, it should give us a potent sense of always being poised just “on the edge” of the unknown.
Yet, all too often, I hear from people who have been meditating for years that when they first started meditating, their practice was vibrant and alive with possibility, but now, many years later, they feel like that spiritual potency they once felt has been lost and they are simply “going through the motions” with their practice.
They may feel more calm and centered as a result of their years of practice. But the fire of spiritual awakening that once compelled them to meditate has been replaced by a sense that they “should” meditate because “it’s good for them.”
It’s important to realize that this sense of monotony isn’t our fault. Most of us who have been taught traditional meditation practices have been encouraged to take up a single meditation technique and repeat it over and over every day for years or even decades.
There are and always have been good reasons for this repetitive approach. We all know that practice makes perfect and that a certain amount of repetition is required to become proficient at anything—including meditation. Yet while commitment and consistency are essential, simply repeating the same practice can cause your meditation to quickly lose its vitality and dynamism.
Meditation for your mind and spirit is in some ways like exercise for the body. If you perform the same exercise repeatedly at the same level, it will cease to challenge you or produce results. Doing the identical meditation every day for years on end can be like taking the same daily walk at the same pace. It can become unsatisfying and also hold you back from the new and deeper places you could go by stretching yourself.
While in essence all forms of meditation are like spokes on a wheel, “pointing to the same place,” it is only by incorporating a variety of different approaches that you can cultivate a range of capacities that strengthen your ability to open to meditative depth.
And because we all process differently and are at different points on the path, it’s normal for some approaches to feel more accessible than others. Experimenting with different gateways into the depths of meditation is part of what supports us to forge a deeply fulfilling relationship with our practice.
Even if you’ve found a particular practice that really speaks to you, by “cross training” with practices that are more challenging, you can broaden and deepen your understanding of meditation’s goal, which often leads to new insights.
As your practice continues to evolve, variation and novelty also become increasingly important antidotes to the natural tendency for your mind to become too involved in the process. This happens when a practice is familiar and you start to think you know “how to do it,” and begin developing internal reference points or expectations for how the meditation should unfold. The practice quickly starts to feel flat and boring, because on some level, you already think you know what is going to happen. The lively, mysterious dimension at the heart of meditation has slipped out of reach.
By experimenting with new and unfamiliar practices, you can cultivate your ability to remain curious, and curiosity is what sharpens your awareness and keeps you always on the edge of your own understanding.
This is why I encourage an approach to meditation that always includes a balance of newness and variation. When you “cross-train” your meditative mind, you can create a meditation practice that truly feels like an adventure because it is always leading you forward into the unknown.
You’ll find that this approach eliminates the potential for getting “stuck in a rut,” and turns your meditation practice into an ongoing journey of deepening awakeness and curiosity. Truly, there is no end to where you can go with this kind of meditation.