I have so many friends that claim the “can’t” meditate. My counter question is always “do you not know how to breathe either?”. Clearly they do! Meditation is not a practice that you undertake with the same strategies that you may employ in your daily life. In fact, the purpose of meditating is to snap you out of how you live your daily life. It is a practice to show you how you can live life at ease if you allow it flow to you instead of dragging it behind you.
In my experience there are 5 key challenges for anyone starting meditating. As a matter of fact, practitioners of any experience will fall into any these traps from time to time; I know I sure have. These are:
- Negative self-talk
Rev. Michael Beckwith puts it very nicely, “Every time you sit down to meditate, do it like it is your first time”. This is the pitfall most of us experience after having practised for a while. You stop noticing the slight energies or prompts and it becomes mundane and routine. In my classes I ask my clients to approach everything in their meditation with “childlike curiosity”.
Before you go into your meditation you set your intention, e.g. “I will have a deep and profound meditation”. I would ask you to believe and expect that to be true for your meditation. However, do not expect it to be deep and profound from your perspective, rather allow yourself to view what ever comes to you as deep and profound. Your expectation will disappoint you and then you will experience negative emotions, which will be counter productive to your practice.
One of the big challenges in life is that we try to forcefully control our external circumstances. It is perhaps when we burn ourselves out from this practice and seek other ways that we come across meditation. Old habits do die hard and beginners and seasoned practitioners alike try to control their meditation. As with the expectations above, meditation teaches us to let go of control, and it is when we find depths in meditation after relinquishing control that we have our “eureka moment”.
When we become more seasoned in meditation and you fall into the “expectation” trap, we typically try to control the flow because we “know” how it should be. This is where we learn the same lesson a second time; allow it to flow to you. Life is the same way, if you try to control that which is not for you to control, you will only meet resistance and suffering.
Life’s experiences are in the eye of the beholder, meditation is no different. Many times when I share my experiences in meditation, students compare their own journey to mine. You can always be in awe of someone’s experiences, but when you start to compare them to yours, you end up putting yourself in competition with others. There will always be someone who has experienced something you haven’t, so, if you chose to, there are always things you can beat yourself up about, but what’s the benefit of doing that?
We are all on different paths in life and instead of looking at where others are at, look at how far you have come, how many experiences you have amassed and how those experiences uniquely qualifies you to share them with the world.
Wouldn’t you agree that we have a tendency to punish ourselves when we don’t meet our own expectations, i.e. when we, in our own minds, fail? The beauty with meditation, unless you can’t breathe, in which case meditation is least of your challenges, is that you cannot fail. There is no right or wrong. Yet because of the other point on this list and our societal programming we create the illusion of failure.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that you have to quiet your mind. Now, if you were a Buddhist monk and had spent the last 10 years in silent retreat in the Himalayas then you could be aiming for that. In our busy lives with the tsunamis of impressions we take on board every day, there is very little chance that we would be able to fully quieting our minds. The idea of mindfulness is to tend to your mind, so we should aim to be more in tune with and aware of our thoughts so that we can manage them, rather than quieting them. As you practice meditation you become more accepting of who you are, but before you get there it is a practice of ceasing your negative self-talk, which will disrupt your meditating practice.
It is your journey that gets you to Enlightenment, not the sate of being. The same applies to meditation. What is the goal of meditating? Many result oriented people need to have quantifiable goals in their lives. Many will quantify it by the length of period that one meditates, but 30 seconds of conscious breathing where you are fully present in the now is going to be more beneficial than sitting still for an hour not being present in your practice. The fact is, when you really get into it, you can sit for an hour and it feels like 5 minutes. Setting goals for your meditating practice is not beneficial because you are going to measure yourself by the results compared against those goals. If you haven’t lived up to the goals you set, you will inevitably beat yourself up over it and potentially give up.
Get in to the habit of setting intentions instead, e.g. “I will have a deep and meaningful meditation” or perhaps “I will connect with my inner self”. As long as you measure these intentions against what is your best effort at the time, you will never come up short against your goals.
The keys to meditation are:
- Surrender to the process
- Release any expectations
- Allow yourself to receive the meditative state. Just like when you fall asleep, you don’t make yourself sleep, you allow it to come to you.
- Going within
- Childlike curiosity
- Allow yourself to be surprised.
Many aspects of meditating is paradoxical and you have to experience it to know it, again, how do you explain how it feels to be sleeping to someone who’s never slept, or describing the smell of a fragrant flower to someone who’s never smelled one?
In our meditation coaching programmes, our aim is to guide clients and students to places where they can experience these aspects of themselves. Once you know it you can’t ever not know it.