Overcoming 9 Obstacles To Meditating
By Glenda Irwin, Red Letter Mindfulness & Positive Psychological
We all know the benefits of meditation.
So, why is it so difficult to just sit down and meditate?
Hi, my name is Glenda Irwin and I train clients to meditate. Since I have been a meditator myself for many years, I know the benefits that clients will gain from meditation as a foundation to our work together. Securing a contract that is their commitment to meditating is something of a guarantee that they will reach goals they hoped to gain from using my services.
Over the years I have heard many reasons as to why people have not managed to reach their intended meditation goals. Some of these are worth noting since they can be addressed with simple and clear advice/compassion.
I call these difficulties “The 9 Obstacles to Stillness.”
1. Not choosing to practice
Many people simply don’t like sitting still. And so, I hear “I don’t like meditating”.
Meditation or ‘one pointed focus’ actually changes the shape of the brain enabling new behaviours as a result. For those who don’t like to sit still, finding they can meditate can be a personal triumph. I find it’s best to be direct and firm with those who claim, “I can’t” and reply thus, “you don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.”
2. Too tired to practice meditation
The reasons we come to meditation are often exhausting: stress, anxiety, depression, doubt, miscommunication can be very tiring. Mindful meditation makes us less reactive and calmer. Being less reactionary means we exert less energy. The response (as opposed to reactive) quality of meditation reserves energy.
3. Too busy for meditation
Even if its short term, perhaps just for the next 24 hours, we might have to think of something (formerly unthinkable) that we eliminate from our daily routines to replace with meditation. How does the old adage go: “if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll always get, what you’ve always got.” Time for a drastic rethink.
4. I get lost in thought
This is what mind’s do! In fact, a mind thinks it’s been lost if it hasn’t got a loud presence of thought. Use the thoughts, they are yet another place at which to lay our curiosity. Notice and note “ah, I’m thinking.” Returning to body sensations thereafter, derails the intensity of thought and strengths the new nerve pathways that are attention to the present moment.
5. I notice all the pain in my body when I meditate
It’s a natural and rightful reaction to move away from pain, the brain is designed to do so. But with meditation we are the observer and in so much, not acting on fixing the pain but truly turning up for what its tone, size, and density may be. Avoiding pain keeps us interpreting our sensations as threats. This is how easy it is to be lost in the loop of pain – by avoiding its qualities and clambering for distraction. Best of all, mindfulness interrupts the production of stress hormones which can help reduce pain.
6. I get drowsy
Is the room to warm or too dark? Have you come to meditation with a full or empty stomach? Is your seat too comfy? What time of day is it? Check out all the ‘hardware’ of meditation preparations and note that you could tweak that for next practice session. Drowsiness is just another thing to notice, like pain or thoughts we are here to observe not get caught up in trying to fix the moment. If you like – this is the language not the conversation, learning to note what is in the moment does not mean getting it perfectly under control.
7. I can’t feel the parts of the body the meditation asks me to feel
Feeling body sensations is called ‘interoception’. It’s perfectly normal to have low interoception to begin with. Our brain is designed to notice the big pain or sensations to not be drawn away from other pressing information. Once nerves are connected, we become better at this skill. Remember there is no right or wrong in meditation. This is the ultimate in grey scale: no ‘black or white thinking’ here.
Noises, time concerns, discomfort, and expectations may mean we become disgruntled or despondent about meditating. Meditation is a practice of close attention without reaction to the experience, even if it is unpleasant. The key is to not become entangled in agitation but to notice it has arisen.
9. Confusion & Doubt
“What am I doing here with closed eyes, watching my breath and body sensations. Is this a waste of my time? I’ve got so much to do!” There will always be a conflict of interest or doubt that we could ponder. My best advice for this concern is a committed practice of 7 days duration. There is no arguing with the benefits experienced by meditating for a week. No doubt and no confusion over the wellness that we bring to ourselves through choosing to meditate.
‘The 9 Obstacles to Stillness’ are the often-cited issues of beginner meditators although there are as many reasons why people choose not to meditate as there are human struggles. Having these few responses may help you whilst you settle people into their less reactive mindset and, ultimately, guide them towards their most flourishing life experience.
This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.
Glenda Irwin is a mindfulness/meditation teacher living in Auckland. Her consultancy ‘Red Letter Mindfulness & Positive Psychological Services’ works in corporate mentorship and for individuals working through life struggles and stages.