At the beginning of 2018, I set myself a goal to meditate every day that year.
I set the goal because towards the end of 2017, I was distracted and hadn’t been meditating much. By the time the new year rolled around, I was really feeling the effects of not having meditated consistently for a few months. And so January 1st was Day 1 of what I hoped would be 365 consecutive days of meditation.
I made it to the end of the year; in fact, I made it to 453 days in a row of meditation before I stopped.
The benefits of meditation are well documented, and I definitely saw an improvement from my practice. Meditation can be great for managing things like stress and anxiety, as well as improving attention span and a whole host of other things. I’m definitely a big fan of meditation and practicing every day for a year has not changed that.
Why stop meditating?
This is where things get tricky. Meditating every day for a year was definitely worthwhile and I would recommend it to anyone.
The problem for me was that my ego became attached to the idea of it, to the number of consecutive days I’d racked up. I use an app for my meditation, which started out as just a nice way of timing my meditation, or a great way to listen to guided meditations. But it also keeps track of how many consecutive days you’ve meditated using the app. This was useful for the purposes of making sure I reached my goal, but did become problematic.
On some days, I found that meditating was more about ensuring I kept my streak going than about actually meditating. On the days when I hadn’t managed to meditate in the morning, I would meditate in the evening instead, just to make sure I didn’t end up going back to Day 1. I also wouldn’t even consider using other meditation apps or guided meditations on YouTube because these wouldn’t be counted by the app I was using to keep track of my days.
What is spiritual materialism?
Spiritual materialism is, in short, when your ego becomes attached to aspects of your spirituality; essentially, using it as a way to feed your ego. That might mean feeling like you’re more spiritually evolved than someone else, or the classic irony of looking down on someone because they’re so ego driven. For me, my ego was becoming attached to my long streak of consecutive days’ meditation.
No matter what the practice or teaching, ego loves to wait in ambush to appropriate spirituality for its own survival and gain.Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Spiritual materialism is a big thing, but most of us don’t even realise we’re doing it. We begin on our spiritual path, making changes to our lives and aiming to make progress along the way. We might post about what we’re doing on Instagram, and then feel gratified by the response we receive from our followers – and so we post some more. We might become attached to the idea of meditating for longer, or to clocking up hours in silence in a retreat. We’re doing these things to be more spiritual, so that has to be a good thing – right?
Spirituality is not self improvement
It’s easy to conflate the two, but self improvement is about improvement of the self – and the self is the ego. So it’s kind of the opposite to spirituality, which is more about transcending the ego – or at least becoming more aware of it, and not allowing it to run the show. Well it is for me, anyway.
It’s easy to get caught up in spirituality as self improvement, racking up hours of meditation or retreats or feeling good because of the number of spiritual books you’ve read or classes you’ve attended. The ego is a tricky thing, and it will cling to anything to make itself feel important. If it can’t hang itself on the usual items like designer clothes or rock-hard abs, it will cling to whatever else it can find. While you’re busy finding your way on the spiritual path, your ego is busy grabbing hold of your experiences and achievements and using those to drag you back into the world of materialism and self.
Where does this leave the meditation?
I still meditate most days, in one form or another… but I keep an eye on my ego to make sure I’m not becoming attached to my stats again! I use different apps, and sometimes I meditate without using an app or even a YouTube guided meditation.
For me, if my meditation practice becomes something for my ego to hang upon, then it becomes a problem; it is leading me away from spirituality rather than towards it.