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Internal vs External

How To Deal With Challenges As A New Practitioner

Photo by Mustafa Sayin

Meditation is a skill that can be learned and improved with practice. In its essence it is about looking within, extending ourselves beyond the sensory world, and through this increasing consciousness. Meditation practice can help with wide range of areas in your life such as improved focus, reduced compulsive behaviour, increased physical/mental awareness, and dealing with most stress related chronic diseases. As a beginner it can help to look at meditation as a skill that you train and get better through practice. By looking at it this way you may prevent an unnecessary but common issue which is “frustration” about your first couple attempts. 

When it comes to taking your “comfortable yet alert” seated position to practice meditation, the most common challenge for beginners is the constant disturbances that arise during a session. Some challenges are environmental like the sound of a door opening, a car passing or someone moving around you. And some challenges are internal like your own thoughts or a sensation in your body that is causing you to fidget. After all, you are trying to let go of your thoughts and tune into your deepest, utmost layer while wondering how you are going to get to the level of quite and calm so that you can begin to receive the fruits of your practice. And you need those fruits asap!

Your biggest challenge in meditation practice may be that you insist on a perfectly quite and peaceful place to open up for you so you can succeed. I will classify this challenge as a personal challenge because you have the “power” to manipulate this, you only need to have the right tools to do so. Instead of waiting for everything to be perfect, you can use the environmental challenges to “strengthen your ability to focus and experience the quite and calmness within you”. How? Here are some tools that can help you cope with environmental challenges:

  • Begin with letting go of all expectations about how your experience should feel.
  • Choose a point of focus such as a mantra, visualizing an object like the flame of a candle in your mind’s eye or observing the movement on your body as you breath in and out. This will help you gather your attention into a single point.
  • Re-invite yourself back to the center of attention you choose in the beginning for each time you feel interrupted. This will help improve your ability to recenter yourself at challenging times.
  • Acknowledge each distrubance without engaging any further thoughts about them and return to your point of focus.
  • Label each sensation as “feeling” and let them pass as you return to your mantra/focal point. I like to visualize the thoughts passing, like a river running, allowing them to pass without chasing them and without falling into the river 🙂 
  • Be determined to begin fresh each moment you feel interrupted perhaps with a smile. Smile will help you soften your face and inner gaze, then you can get back to your practice with less tension. 

Most of the time internal challenges can be treated the same way as environmental challenges. When you notice a thought arising you can label it as “thought” and move on. One of the fruits of meditation practice is to see things as they are without being captured by them. While meditating things may arise on the outside environment and fluctuations in the mind can always happen, but you can always choose to be an observer of all these happenings without being drifted by them in every which direction (not to confuse an emergency situation which may require your reaction with something like a bird chirping as a distraction). By letting go of your expectations about how your experience should be in the beginning of each practice you will be opening yourself into a meditation experience with one less challenge. When you continue to practice you will get used to your mind’s tendencies and understand its nature better, therefore be less compulsive and able to control your own mind better. 

 Just as our lives are formed by our choices, your meditation practice will take its course through your ability to focus your attention. You will need to be determined to take each challenging moment for itself and see each situation that arises during your practice as an opportunity to strengthen and start fresh. This will help bring you back to a state of equanimity and calm. The gain is wisdom you find within. You can take this internal wisdom and extend it out into the world to be used for conscious creations. 

Note: Try my “Contemplative Intermission” practice at @olguyoga on Instagram. And see my other offerings at www.olguyoga.com.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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