#23 - Overcoming the greatest obstacles to meditation
We hear a lot about the benefits of a regular meditation practice, but we can be easily side-tracked by some of the obstacles /challenges. Here are some of the common challenges faced in meditation:
Impatience – in my opinion feeling the urge to be doing something else during a meditation session is probably the biggest meditation obstacle out there. Impatience causes us to end meditation sessions early as it impedes our concentration and frequently makes us stop our practice altogether. The best way to counteract impatience is to recognize the very existence of the feeling itself. If we feel the insatiable urge to do something else, it is important to acknowledge the feeling of impatience instead of giving into it. By acknowledging our impatience, we Empower Ourselves to Effectively Deal with It versus allowing it to rule us. After you have acknowledged the feeling, you must remind ourselves that the benefits from meditation will help you be more effective in everything you do afterward. This includes activities that are causing our impatience. A calm, effective mind helps with decision making, anxiety, and clear thinking. Secondly, by identifying and isolating the feeling of impatience, you can then practice letting go of it. This in a way is the essence of meditation, the core of it is recognizing unproductive thoughts and letting go of them.
Restlessness – most people often find it extremely difficult to sit still for meditation. It doesn’t take long to start thinking of all the things you could be doing or to feel restless like you want to get up. Restlessness can arise as the body “unwinds”. When we sit to meditate, it’s as if we’ve spent the day in a moving car. Once we stop and rest, it feels as if our body is still moving. It takes time for the body to settle down and feel at rest.
Meditating is like shifting gears in a car – you shift into neutral and the engine takes a while to slow down and come to idle. Continue meditating, allowing yourself to be aware of the sensation of restlessness in the body. You can continue with the meditation practice, such as watching the breath, during this time, or if the restlessness is extremely intense you can give your attention fully to the sensation of restlessness. Notice exactly how it feels in your body. where you feel it, and what the sensation is like. As you allow yourself to experience the restlessness, it will eventually settle down.
Boredom – It is difficult to imagine anything more inherently boring than sitting still for an hour with nothing to do but feel the air going in and out of your nose. You are going to run into boredom repeatedly in your meditation. Everybody does. Boredom is a mental state and should be treated as such. A few simple strategies will help you to cope.
If the breath seems an exceedingly dull thing to observe over and over, you may rest assured of one thing: You have ceased to observe the process with true mindfulness. Mindfulness is never boring. Look again. Don’t assume that you know what breath is. Don’t take it for granted that you have already seen everything there is to see. If you do, you are conceptualizing the process. You are not observing its living reality. When you are clearly mindful of breath or indeed anything else, it is never boring. Mindfulness looks at everything with the eyes of a child, with the sense of wonder. Mindfulness sees every second as if it were the first and the only second in the universe. So look again.
Look at your state of boredom mindfully. What is boredom? Where is boredom? What does it feel like? What are its mental components? Does it have any physical feeling? What does it do to your thought process? Take a fresh look at boredom, as if you have never experienced that state before.
Do not do too much, too quick – Don’t be over ambitious, start off with small amounts 3-10 mins regularly and build up from there, much like any other habit such as going to the gym.
Don’t wait until conditions are perfect – I still fall prey to this: I think, I’ll start meditating again on Monday, sort of like I used to say I would start a diet on Monday. I would want to wait until the conditions were perfect. But it’s okay to practice informally and to start right now. You don’t have to wait until you have 30 minutes a day or the perfect cushion to sit on. You can start as simple as 1 minute a day for 30 days then slowly increment the time. On busy days when I am traveling I made the routine even smaller I try taking 3 deep breaths at least 3-5 times a day.
Give yourself a BREAK – Don’t worry if you need to take a break. there are times in all of our lives when practicing mindfulness or meditation may not be the best thing to do. Perhaps we are too tired, physically ill, or emotionally raw. If any mindfulness or meditation exercise does not feel safe, please stop and take care of yourself in another way. Don’t get frustrated if you find yourself bombarded with thoughts. Everyone has good days and bad days with meditation and the more practice the easier it will become and the calmer you will be.