OK – if you are reading this website, you know that meditation isn’t always rose petals and instant bliss. Sometimes life seems to conspire to make meditation difficult. Here are some ideas on how to overcome challenges in meditation.
Here is Meryl Davids Landay with 6 Tips For When Meditation Gets Rocky.
Here’s what happened when I went to meditate the other day: The phone rang as I was about to start. I figured I hadn’t even closed my eyes yet, so I answered. After finally extricating myself from the call, I had to search high and low for my lighter to get my candle glowing. Then I sat down and momentarily entered the stillness, only to be jarred by a honking car outside. Roughly five minutes in, I realized I had to go to the bathroom in the worst way.
Alas, this was not an uncommon session — and it was an occasion when I actually got around to putting butt to cushion, which I freely admit isn’t every day. Like many of you, I know I “should” meditate more often. These shifts in consciousness bring calmness and inner peace, and scientists have proven that regular meditation lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases the brain’s gray matter, and according to a recent study, reduces healthcare costs.
But most people — myself among them — find meditating a challenge. We’re so caught up in our busyness, the idea of stopping and being still may not even enter our minds. Or if it does, it can be tough to dial down our brains so abruptly. “I’ve tried meditating, and I can’t do it,” a yoga-loving friend recently confided. I knew that she meant: She’d tried stilling her mind, and it would not be stilled, because mine often won’t either.
Yet, from studying with meditation teachers and muddling through my own sitting practice for years now, I’ve come to realize her comment stems from a misunderstanding of what meditation is, and what it isn’t.
Here’s what I remind myself when the going gets rocky:
The Goal Is Space, Not Silence
The late Swami Satchidananda, renowned for opening the Woodstock festival with his chanting, directed meditators to aim “see what is happening within you.
“Become a witness … be still and watch what is happening in your mind and in your body.”
Note that he didn’t say, “shut your crazy mind up”– because that’s impossible. Meditation is about observing your thoughts, not about making them stop (although it’s possible to slow them).
When you can view those thoughts as separate from yourself (in your sitting meditation and, ultimately, throughout your day), you will inevitably be less storm-tossed by them.
After floundering during the start of that wobbly meditation, I finally got grounded by focusing on the noise and smells around me.
Meditation teachers typically suggest finding a quiet place to sit, but the reality is even an-out-of-the-way corner is a whirlwind of ticking clocks, purring refrigerators, noisy neighbors, and yes, honking cars.
Rather than try to fight them, I find it better to use these sounds to focus. The key is to hone in on the tones and vibrations — in other words, to experience listening — rather than to mentally ponder their source or meaning.
Just Show Up!
A meditation teacher once told me never to stop before my pre-determined schedule. “If you were planning to meditate 20 minutes, don’t get up after 10,” she admonished.
You’re trying to teach your mind that it doesn’t always run the show. Letting it run your meditation time-clock is not a good way to impart this lesson.
Nonetheless, if those 20 minutes prove agonizing, it’s okay to plan for 10 the next time around.
You Won’t Always “Feel It”
Deepak Chopra uses this term to describe the space of bliss and stillness that we think of as meditation. But you can have a wonderful session without staying there.
Consider your practice a success if you notice even once that there is space between your thoughts or mantra; this is the place where pure consciousness resides, and just seeing that it’s there is sufficient.
E For Effort
If you judge yourself because your meditation isn’t going the way you had planned, you are separating yourself from the higher, spiritual self that adores you.
This is ironic, since connecting with that essence is the reason you’re meditating in the first place.
In its description of meditation, the University of Rochester Counseling Center recommends bringing “as much patience into the process as possible.” Your higher self agrees, no doubt.
It’s About Your Life – Watch For Results
Ultimately, the goal of a successful practice is not what happens on the cushion (or chair — no law says that just because the ancient Hindus sat on the floor, you have to).
The real purpose of meditation is to influence that other parts of our life, allowing — through the increasing ability to separate ourselves from our rambling thoughts — a flow of serenity and connection.
If you notice that peace filtering into any part of your day, consider your meditation a triumph.
What are your best tips on how to overcome challenges in meditation?
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