Much like my meditation practice, I was procrastinating and finding ways to distract myself from sitting down and writing this blog. It’s fascinating how wild the mind can be, rarely wanting to settle for a moment unless it has been trained to do so. Ironically, one of the greatest benefits of meditation, increased focus, can help us overcome one of the greatest obstacles to meditation practice, restlessness. If only we could have the focus first, it would help many of us get over the hump and become more consistent with our meditation practice.
I have meditated off and on ever since discovering yoga near the turn of the century. There have been periods, mostly in the structured environments of my trainings, that I have meditated daily for a length of time. However, like many students who tell me that they are off & on with their practice, I’ve spent more days off than on. Good thing it’s not a job, otherwise laziness would’ve gotten me fired a long time ago. Laziness, restlessness; what else stands in our way? Fear? Doubt? Why is it that establishing a regular meditation practice is so difficult?
For me, the greatest challenge is just going and doing it. The experience is ultimately gratifying and calming. I’m not going to lie and tell you that the practice of sitting is all rainbows and unicorns. They say the mind is like a monkey, I think mine is more like a flying squirrel that floats from thought to thought and occasionally nests on the branches of familiar ones. Sometimes it’s like I’m listening to a dull monologue of problems that I’ve heard before and I can’t seem to escape. Oh, and my body aches, too. I assume that’s all relatively normal and so I do my best not to feed into the thoughts my mind loves to fixate on. One thing I’ve learned is if you want to establish a practice you have to look directly at what’s getting in the way and allow those obstacles to be your greatest teachers.
Perhaps I’ve already answered the central question, so let’s explore the various obstacles that prevent us from actually getting started on the path and/or finding consistency with our meditation practice. Let’s start with doubt, since I think for many of us this lurking feeling of uncertainty stops us before we start. We may wonder whether meditation will be worth our time. We may second-guess, despite knowing that it has been helping people for thousands of years and studies are proving it’s benefits, whether it will ‘work’ for us. It’s helpful to remember that thoughts are just that, thoughts, not truths – even the ones that say they are. When we sense doubt, or fear, or other limiting ideas that prevent us from taking action it’s empowering to simply take note. We may able to sense where these feelings arise, as well as watch their movement, which helps us see their impermanence.
What about fear? Ah, fear, a favorite foe. Closely related to doubt, another unpleasant emotion caused by misperceptions, it too can hinder our progress. I don’t think we are actually afraid of sitting and breathing of course. What we may be afraid of is actually seeing our ego’s strong grip on defining who we are. The ego has engrained itself as existing, which is perhaps why there is so much resistance to creating a habit of meditation. Meditation allows us to see clearly. The practice helps us truly see what is real. We can also clearly see what is false, included are the maskings we construct, the ego, which is now vulnerable and disposable, exactly what it doesn’t want us to see. Learning to label our thoughts and feelings, like fear, with meditation can send us on our way to living at our highest potential.
For nearly all of us sitting still isn’t easy. We’ve been trained from a young age to be productive, to do. This doing becomes all-to familiar and ultimately becomes a way of distracting ourselves from being. If we sit still for too long then we become restless. Years of busy mind, years of creating and maintaining dramas, years of stresses and confusion and self-centeredness, and the mind has no idea how to be still. Rather, it craves entertainment. It’s not as if we can suddenly turn it off when we meditate. This experience of the mind being so busy is very normal. The sensation of restlessness is like any other, and often beneath it is anxiety or fear. We can regain our center when we identify the sensation or thought, name it and refocus on the breath. It’s not necessary that we explore it, unless we feel that is what we need. Additionally, the body reflects the mind and it can be physically challenging and uncomfortable to sit. First off, I recommend if you are new to meditation, then try start with short periods of time, such as 10 minutes. I also recommend exploring different postures, having back support is essential for many students. I sometimes alternate between siddhasana and virasana and have tried propping in different ways. It may take some time to find the perfect seat.
If you’re like me, then you’ve definitely used the ‘I’m too busy, I don’t have the time’ excuse. I don’t know a single soul in the world these days who doesn’t claim to be busy, and it may certainly be true. However, most of us spend plenty of time idly surfing the web or playing games on our phones or watching tv. It only appears like we don’t have the time because we usually fill every moment with activity and never press the pause button. Making a commitment to meditate 10, maybe 20, minutes a day is only going to help us stay focused throughout the day, which helps us become more efficient and we’ll feel better doing it. The key to overcoming laziness is making a commitment. Meditation is definitely something you can do with a living partner, if that will help. It’s generally best to do it first thing each day, so that it doesn’t fall down the laundry list of items that need to get done.
Ultimately, having a steady, consistent mindfulness meditation seems so simple, but practice isn’t always easy. We have to contend with various obstacles, we have to make space for it in our lives, plus we have to make peace with our busy brains. Set an intention to stay with the practice each day, each week, and before long you may just be a regular meditator reaping the rewards of a sublime and beneficial practice. Be forgiving of yourself as you go and remember you can always begin again.
I’m on the journey with you. Feel free to reach out with support, and with questions. Hopefully, we can help each other out.