Do You Encounter Obstacles When You Try to Meditate?
When I started to meditate, I struggled with a number of obstacles. Some of these obstacles, like sleepiness and distraction, were common experiences that others experience and that I’ve written on in a number of posts on this blog. In fact, I’ve covered many of the obstacles that I encountered in my ebook, How to Work With the Four Distractions.
Every once in a while, I like to offer you something different in a writing voice, a post by someone else who tells their story a little differently. In this case, I’m going to share a post written by Sandra Pawula, titled, 7 Common Emotional Obstacles in Meditation and How to Melt Them Away. After you’re done reading this, please let me know whether you’d like me to post additional material by Sandra. I’m always trying to keep things fresh here and having guest-posts is one of the ways that I do that. Here’s the post:
When you set out to learn meditation, your emotional patterns will delightfully come along. In fact, they will probably be your first and fiercest obstacles to overcome. While you may consistently falter due to their incessant influence, you may not even notice given how unconscious and instantaneous these responses have become.
Are any of these seven common tendencies dampening your meditation?
Perfectionism. An intense drive to clarify every element of the instruction and apply the methods faultlessly. Comes with a long list of questions on how to do it right, a furrowed brow, and muscle tension. Don’t confuse the methods with meditation itself. Meditation transforms the ambiance of the mind. An over focus on technique constrains it.
Busyness. Although you know all the benefits of meditation and say you really want to learn, you can never find the time. The solution: meditate right now. Wherever you are, stop for a moment, relax your mind, and simply be mindful and aware of the present moment. Start with short bursts, even just a minute long. Gradually expand one minute at a time.
Fear. You feel trepidation as to what you might discover about yourself and the world if you really engage in meditation. The heebie-jeebies arise just about every time you sit on the cushion. Fear of change has a stranglehold on you. Gently lean into the fear. You’ll find greater happiness on the other side of fear.
Impatience. You say you’ve been meditating every day for two weeks now, at least five or ten minutes, but your mind keeps humming like a busy bee. What’s wrong? Why are there still so many thoughts? The thoughts were always there; you’re just noticing them for the first time. Turning around our lifelong habit of distraction takes time. Don’t lose heart. With more time and practice, thoughts will begin to naturally fall away.
Self-Judgement. You feel guilty if you miss a meditation session and give yourself a hard time. Judgment never helps. Whenever you miss a meditation session or even weeks at a time, just start again without all the negative self-talk.
Arrogance or Naivete – You mistake transitory experiences like bliss, clarity, the absence of thoughts or sensation-based experiences for the true nature of mind. You speak casually about bliss, emptiness, and experiences as though you’re a realized practitioner after a few weeks or months. Attachment to experience can become an obstacle in meditation. Don’t cling to whatever rises in your mind. Let experiences come and go.
Self-Doubt – You compare yourself to other meditators. Everyone else seems to be progressing in leaps and bounds. “What’s the matter with me?” you ask. Everyone needs to go at their own pace. It may take you longer to settle into meditation, but your practice may be more solid in the long run.
How to Melt Away Destructive Emotional Patterns
Transforming negative thoughts and emotions – the causes of suffering for ourselves and others – is the whole point of meditation. It’s said there are five core disturbing emotions:
- Ignorance (of our true nature)
These can be elaborated into twenty subsidiary destructive emotions and even more. [Here Sandra refers to Buddhist theory, the Twenty Subsidiary Destructive Emotions. The list seems to be appropriate, even for Westerners (like me) who don't know a lot about Buddhism]. But, don’t be discouraged. Disturbing emotions are not permanent. You can train your mind to melt them away.
Use these steps when emotional patterns start to trip you up in meditation.
- Recognize. Recognize the pattern exists and observe how it causes you suffering. Without recognition, you will be unable to create change. Make an intention to notice negative emotions on the spot.
- Relax. We all bring idiosyncratic patterns into meditation. You are not the only one.
- Rejoice. When negative tendencies arise, we have the opportunity to see and transform them. Instead of meeting them with aversion, inject delight.
- Humor. When we stop taking our patterns so seriously, we can have a good laugh instead. “Oh, this is just my worried side trying to get me once again. I don’t have to listen.” Humor creates a sense of spaciousness, which begins to defuse the strength of the ingrained pattern.
- Mindfulness and Awareness. In meditation, simply be aware of whatever thoughts or emotions arise in the mind and allow them to pass by like clouds floating in the sky. If you find yourself distracted and entangled in afterthoughts, just bring your mind back to the present moment. This is the essence of basic meditation and a method that you will have to employ thousands of times. But, each time you bring your mind home, you strengthen the positive habit and weaken your negative patterns at the same time.
- Loving Kindness. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t blame, judge, or express harshness when long-held patterns arise. Instead, send loving kindness to these dark corners of your mind. The more we apply an antidote like loving kindness, compassion, insight or patience, the more powerful it will become. In time, your negative emotional backtalk won’t stand a chance.
Our standard emotional responses are often deeply entrenched, having been formed in our earliest years as a means of self-protection or self-care. They won’t change overnight, but recognition coupled with the process of meditation or the use of antidotes will transform them into a spacious, open, and joyful mind.
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So that was Sandra’s post. Please let me know if it was helpful.
Meditation Guidance and Support
Here’s the news flash: In the next few months, I’ll be rolling-out a menu of meditation guidance and support services and products designed especially for…you. Based on questions and feedback that I’ve received from readers, I’m designing a way for you to work one-on-one with me, or in a group format, to support you in your meditation practice. I’m still in the process of putting together the content for these support tools so please do feel free to contact me and let me know how I may best serve you.
This site has tons of tools for learning how to meditate and be compassionate.
I encourage you to look through the HUNDREDS of articles that I’ve written and especially check out my weekly meditation tips and other useful meditation materials provided for your health and well being. Please let me know if you’d like to discuss anything with me, have any questions or need clarification regarding anything that I’ve written about.
Other Great Meditation Resources and Information:
Please view the Related Stuff below for help getting started in your meditation practice! Also don’t forget to download my free e-book, Can Meditation Change the Way that You View Your World? and download the free e-book, How to Work with the Four Distractions to Meditation and get started learning how to deal with some of the major obstacles in meditation.
As always, please feel free to share your comments on meditation and contact me if you’d like to see additional content or other discussions on this site.