You wake up in the morning and you see your meditation seat in the other room. It looks very far away, the floor looks very cold, and your partner in bed next to you is very, very warm. You don’t want to meditate. Maybe, just today, you should be lazy! You hit snooze. Later on, you wake up, rush to work, swearing that you’ll meditate when you get home. But an old friend calls and asks to meet up, your dinner plans go long, and then you space out in front of the television when you get home. Now you tell yourself you’ll meditate tomorrow. After several days of living like this you realize you’re disheartened—you never meditate anymore and thus you’re not experiencing the benefits of regular practice.
These are the three main obstacles that have been discussed in meditation circles for thousands of years: laziness, speedy-busyness, and disheartenment. But there is good news: As long as these obstacles have been discussed, antidotes have been presented. Here are four things you can reflect on to strengthen your meditation practice:
1. Set an Intention
Before you meditate, it’s important to know why you meditate. Is it because you’re stressed out and want to be calmer in your day-to-day life? Is it because you’re going through a difficult period and want to learn to work with strong emotions? Is it that you feel spacey and want to connect with others and be more present? I invite you to take a moment (right now) to think about why you meditate. I’ll wait.
The good news is that there is rarely a “bad” reason to meditate. Whatever your personal motivation may be, hold to it. When you do feel like there are obstacles to your meditation practice, reflect back on this aspiration. If you are feeling lazy, or think you’re too busy, or start thinking, “What’s the point?” just say to yourself: “This is why I do it.” Whatever your why, let it motivate you to the cushion.
2. Get Inquisitive
Sometimes we feel like we simply can’t do it. There’s too much going on in life and there’s no time to meditate. When I hear people say that, I remember an old Zen saying: If you are too busy to meditate for 10 minutes, then you should meditate for 20. The reason this saying has been offered over the ages is because thinking we’re too busy to meditate is a sign that our mind has become very rigid and inflexible. In order to allow ourselves some mental space, we need to become inquisitive about our experience. When you next find yourself doubting whether you should meditate, see if you can develop a suppleness of mind in that moment. In other words, ask yourself a lot of questions. “Why do I feel like I can’t meditate? Am I really that busy? Am I just feeling insecure about its effects on me?” The more questions we ask ourselves around why we are so rigid about not meditating, the more likely we see our way through to actually sitting down and doing the practice.
3. Trust Your Experience
Most likely at some point (if even for a minute) you were able to rest with the breath. In that moment you may have thought, “Oh. This might be the whole inner peace thing I’m always hearing about. That’s cool.” It is cool. And more importantly, you now have seen the effects of meditation for yourself. This may have happened on the cushion or you may have noticed that through weeks of practicing you have become kinder, more present, or compassionate.
“Faith” is a loaded term for many people. In the Buddhist world though, faith is not having trust in what I say as a meditation teacher, or trusting some book you’re reading. It’s faith in your own experience. Whatever positive effects the practice is having on you, cherish those. Don’t cling to them and expect them for all time, but when you notice that you’re avoiding practice just reflect back on them. Let trust in your own meditative experiences motivate you back to taking your seat.
4. Exert Yourself
You know how good it feels to get dressed, hustle to the yoga studio or gym, and exert yourself for an hour and a half. At the end of that time you don’t look back and regret it. You’re glad you exerted yourself. The same goes for meditation practice. You can remember that when you actually do swing your legs off the bed and across the cold floor to the meditation seat that you will thank yourself for it later on. A little bit of exertion goes a long way in strengthening your practice.
Whenever an obstacle comes up in your meditation practice, it is a sign that the practice is working on you. It can be uncomfortable to look at your own mind, I get it. But through rousing an aspiration for why you want to do the practice, becoming inquisitive when you doubt you are able to do it, trusting those glimpses of positive effects that come from the practice, and exerting yourself just a little bit beyond your comfort level, you will find that over time it becomes infinitely easier to meditate on a consistent basis. If these four antidotes to the obstacles have worked for thousands of years on countless meditation practitioners, it’s worth us giving them a try.