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If Meditation Isn’t Joyful, Don’t Do It

by Rabbi Rami ShapiroJanuary 07, 2020
Practice
woman in meditation pose joyfully is in the air

Deagreez/Getty Images

“You might ask, if I am meditating just to meditate—if there is no goal to it at all—why bother with it in the first place? Good question.”

I enjoy meditating. Sitting cross-legged, my eyes closed, my hands palms up in my lap, thumbs touching lightly to make a circle, I begin by repeating my mantra over and over and then slip into a state of deep listening as I attend to what the Bible calls kol damama daka, the fragile voice of silence.

I have received a host of mantra over the years, some in Hebrew, others in Sanskrit. One mantra that often arises on its own however is in English: “Are we there yet?” The answer is always “No.”

The question itself precludes any other answer: As long as you meditate to get somewhere you will never get anywhere, and not because there is nowhere to go (which is true) but because you will forever imagine where you are isn’t where you need to be. The point of meditation is in the meditating.

But, you might ask, if I am meditating just to meditate—if there is no goal to it at all—why bother with it in the first place? Good question. Though there are lots of health benefits to meditating, and while meditation at work or school can make you more skillful at dealing with the stress arising from being stuck in a mind-numbing job or classroom, the only reason I can offer as to why you should meditate is for the joy of it. If it isn’t joyful, don’t do it.

You might object, “But what about enlightenment? Isn’t enlightenment worth all the effort of meditating?” 

I don’t know; I’m not enlightened.

Some 40 years ago I asked my Buddhism teacher about enlightenment and whether he was striving toward it. He said he never thinks about enlightenment and just assumes it will happen of its own accord in some future incarnation. I liked the answer even though I didn’t, and don’t, believe in reincarnation. And because I don’t, enlightenment is all the more beside the point for me.

If there is something called enlightenment and if it is something people can realize in some future incarnation, then there may be many enlightened people alive today because this incarnation, which was for them in the past in the past a future incarnation, is the incarnation in which enlightenment ripens. I think I know some of these people. What they have in common is a deep sense of joy. Maybe enlightenment is simply awakening to the joy of just being alive.

If this is true, and your meditating isn’t joy-inducing, do something else that is. This might cut lifetimes out of your wait for enlightenment.

Want more? We have stories on Transcendental Meditation, strategies for overcoming distraction while meditating, and meditation for chronic pain.


Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. His spiritual advice column, “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler,” addresses reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more. His latest book is Surrendered—The Sacred Art: Shattering the Illusion of Control and Falling into Grace with Twelve-Step Spirituality. He also hosts our podcast, “Essential Conversations.” Listen here.


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