By Erin Lee, Founder of The Mindful Yoga School & Author, The Little Book of Big Intentions.
We already know how beneficial it is - if not from the plethora of evidence-based studies around now, then definitely through our own experience with it.
Why is it then, that so many of us experience a block with practicing it consistently?
Meditation is an ancient practice that dates back thousands of years (likely well in train before that too). It’s used to understand the workings of our own mind, through:
Why do we want to promote concentration and insight?
Because it’s a pathway to liberating ourselves from all those obstacles that get in the way of a freer, lighter and happier life.
Well….if you’re like the 99.9% of meditation students I spend time with - and even meditation and mindfulness teacher trainees and graduated teachers, then you too get challenged with maintaining a consistent, regular practice of meditation.
Yes! Even though you know it is what promotes genuine happiness.
What is it that gets in the way of a regular practice?
Here are the top 5 reasons I’ve summarised, based on maaaaany discussions and observations and over the years (including my own personal barriers that come up from time-to-time!):
Let’s face it, we live in a society where busy-ness is highly valued, and success is commonly measured by how much we achieve and accomplish. No wonder it’s so challenging to sit still for a period of time and just BE.
Then, just as you’ve made it into your seat of meditation, now you’ve got your busy mind to deal with, listing off all the other things you could be doing right now.
It’s at this point that we tend to feel like packing it all in, and just doing the tasks instead. ‘Then I’ll meditate…’, we tell ourselves. Have you noticed though, that the list of things to do never actually ends?
In her book ‘How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends With Your Mind’ (required reading for my Meditation & Mindfulness Teacher trainees) Pema Chodron suggests an attitude of ‘keep coming back’.
To know that the mind will wander off - onto the to-do-list, into stories and thoughts, is to be celebrated. It’s a massive win knowing that this is the normal way of the mind. We can notice this is happening, and then choose to ‘keep coming back’ to the present moment.
An attitude of ‘keep coming back’ will support you to stay in your seat of mediation, and simply notice the impulse to do something ‘more important’.
A barking dog, noisy children, it’s too hot/cold…
If we were to rely on conditions being perfectly pleasant in order to meditate, it’s highly unlikely it would ever happen!
Mindfulness meditation is about leaning into what is, right now - whether it feels good or not. This includes any noises, unpleasant sensations, uncomfortableness, and highly charged emotions. Practicing this in meditation, grows our capacity to lean into the unpleasantries of life without avoiding, judging or closing down.
We’re naturally wired to desire pleasant conditions, and move towards things that make us feel good. Yet, waiting for the perfect zen-like environment to be able to mediate is counter-productive to what it is we’re actually practicing and cultivating in meditation.
Life isn’t always smooth sailing!
Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable in our seat of meditation, increases our capacity to lean into ALL aspects of life - the pleasant and the unpleasant, while keeping an open mind and an open heart.
‘I’m not good at meditation, my mind won’t stop thinking!’
This is a common barrier to a regular practice of meditation and it’s a HUGE misunderstanding.
Thinking is normal. But there’s a big difference between believing and being led by thoughts versus being able to observe thoughts without mentally fusing with them.
In meditation, we get hooked by all sorts of things - thoughts, stories, memories, sensations. The moment we notice that we’ve been hooked, is the same moment that we remember to unhook ourselves, and return to the present moment.
Taking the time to meditate, then noticing that we have a busy mind is a big WIN. Now, we’re aware of exactly where things are at. Now we can relate to our busy mind in a new way - without judgment. Now we can be aware that our mind is busy AND we can continue meditating.
Finding stillness in the body seems to make everything in the mind boil to the surface. If the mind had a volume dial, it’s as though it maxes out when we’re first getting started! What lies beneath the surface of the mind can feel confronting when it’s brought up for us to examine.
We can be carrying many suppressed and stored thoughts, memories and emotions with us at any given moment. There may be some that we simply haven’t felt ready to lean into and deal with just yet.
So, it can feel easier to not meditate, and instead continue to avoid that which feels too hard - too unpleasant.
However, what we resist persists!
In meditation, we’re not making events of the past ok. What we are doing is examining the relationship we have to whatever arises. Sensations in the body, the way each inhale and exhale, and the nature of the mind, for example.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed in meditation, it can pay to keep your awareness grounded and focused on your body.
Whenever your mind wanders off somewhere that creates the energy of overwhelm, keep coming back to awarenessing your body. A 10-Minute Body Scan Meditation is a great place to start.
Practice cultivating qualities like presence, patience, acceptance and compassion with your body. Then, with time you can advance to a meditation on the breath. Keep practicing presence, patience, acceptance and compassion there. Then, one day you will be so well-rehearsed in operating with presence, patience, acceptance and compassion that you can apply them to your own thoughts, memories and emotions.
How we practice one thing, is how we practice everything.
Yes, meditation is about sitting with yourself, and becoming familiar with the workings of your own mind.
But are you in companionship with others in life who are doing the same?
Seek out others who are also into meditation, and you’re more likely to keep up with your own practice.
I spend a lot of time at Chenrezig Institute where most of The Mindful Yoga School classes and trainings are held, amongst a community of Tibetan Buddhist monks, nuns and fellow volunteers who are all passionate about practicing meditation.
We share a common interest, and can openly chat about the nature of our minds without judgment, in honour of keeping up with the practice of something that is of great benefit.
How can you connect with (or create!) a community of people who are also interested in meditation?
It may even be that you further your study of meditation through the Meditation & Mindfulness Teacher Training program (suitable for a deeper immersion into meditation even if you don’t want to teach). Or seek out great books and podcasts about meditation!
Finding your community, and sharing stories and experiences from your own personal practice, is a great way to stay accountable to a consistent meditation practice.
Find out more about the upcoming online Meditation & Mindfulness Teacher Training with The Mindful Yoga School >
It's a great way to continue immersing in meditation for your own personal and spiritual growth, and you'll also learn how to introduce others to this ancient practice too.