You’re convinced of all of the benefits of meditation and really believe it can improve your life. You’ve listened to some guided meditations, perhaps attended a group meditation session, and you understand the basics. However, when you make the intention to sit at home and practice, either it doesn’t happen at all or it is so difficult that you give up. You don’t have time. Your mind is too busy. It’s too uncomfortable. You just can’t do it.
These are extremely common thoughts at the beginning stages of establishing a meditation practice. All of these difficulties happen to almost everyone, so know that you are not alone! I felt this way when I started too and it took me years to get past some of these obstacles and really commit to meditating daily. And now that I’ve (mostly!) passed these initial challenges, I can share how you too can get past these hurdles.
Below are the most common issues that people I teach raise with me and some suggestions on how to deal with them.
1) Not enough time
Not having enough time is the most common complaint I receive. Your days are so busy – how are you supposed to stop doing everything for 10 minutes? It’s impractical.
Except that it’s the best thing you can do for yourself to allow the rest of your day to flow with ease. Putting this time aside for yourself allows you to restore, re-balance, and gives you mental space so that all of the thousands of thoughts swirling around in your head can organize themselves more efficiently. Most people come out of their meditation feeling refreshed, with more clarity, patience and focus to tackle the rest of the day’s tasks. Once you start meditating every day, your productivity will increase and you will find that you have even more time throughout the day than you did before!
- Set a timer that reminds you to meditate and DO IT. No excuses. Whether you meditate in the morning, in the afternoon or at night, try to stay consistent. I found when I started that meditating before bed was the only time I could give myself throughout the day, so I would take 10 minutes out of my sleep time.
- Make your meditation time a priority. It is imperative that you take care of yourself. As they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup! There are very few activities that are as healthy and nourishing, and particularly that can be done in a measly 10 minutes a day. We waste so much time throughout the day browsing the internet, staring at our phones or getting distracted by small chores that can really wait. Give yourself the gift of mental clarity and balance, and make your meditation time a priority.
- Use an app that tracks your meditations and encourages you to be consistent. The Insight Timer App is my favourite. It gives you a star when you hit 10 consecutive days, 50 days total, etc. If you have any competitiveness in you, as I do, this will help you stay consistent.
2) Feeling restless or impatient
As you sit, it is common to feel impatient or restless, as thoughts of what else you could or should be doing arise. This is completely natural, as we are so used to constantly “doing” that just sitting and “being” can be extremely uncomfortable. But it is exactly because it is uncomfortable that it is so helpful, as we need to re-train our minds and bodies to rest and be present.
It takes practice to be able to sit through these urges to stand up and get back to our to-do list, and it is this practice that is the basis of meditation.
- When some task comes to mind that suddenly needs to be done, before immediately opening your eyes and standing up, evaluate whether getting to it in 10 minutes instead will really make any difference. Be honest. Almost everything can wait that amount of time, and once you realize that it is not actually that urgent, the feeling of restlessness will pass.
- As the feeling arises, don’t resist it. Name it for what it is – discomfort, restlessness, impatience, boredom – and allow yourself to feel it. Place your attention on this feeling and be curious about it. How does it feel in your body? Where do you feel it? Is the feeling itself actually uncomfortable, or is it that you have just never really sat with it and studied it? Get to know the feeling as well as you can, allowing it to fully express itself, and observe it with interested detachment. Once it has fully arisen and you continue to just sit and watch it, it will fade away.
- If the feeling continues to return, wait for it to re-appear for the third time before giving in to it and ending your practice if you must. This way you will have put in a solid effort and will have gained knowledge of the feeling that you can use the next time it arises when you are sitting, but without torturing yourself throughout an entire meditation. Your time meditating should not be miserable!
3) So many thoughts!
“My mind won’t settle.” “I can’t do it.” “I have too many thoughts.” This is so common that I think every single person who begins a meditation practice feels this way. Our minds are intended to have thoughts, and have never stopped having thoughts our entire lives. How can we expect our thoughts to just magically disappear the first few times we sit quietly? It’s impossible and it’s not expected whatsoever in meditation.
- As thoughts arise and distract you from the present moment, try not to resist them but instead allow them to come up naturally. Resisting or repressing them is impossible anyways and trying to do so will just cause you mental stress, which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid!
What you are trying to do as you meditate is OBSERVE your thoughts, without getting caught up in their story, and then come back to your point of focus. THIS is the practice of meditation - coming back to your point of focus over and over again. Eventually, the space between getting distracted and realizing you’re distracted will decrease, and your thoughts will begin to settle on their own. There is nothing you can do to speed up this process except practice.
- Think of your mind as a puppy that you are asking to sit quietly in front of you. The puppy may sit for a second or two, but then runs away as it gets distracted. You gently pick up the puppy, put it in front of you and ask it to sit again. Two seconds later, it runs away again. Repeat.
Treat yourself as gently as you would treat that puppy: with patience and kindness. It is your mind’s purpose to think - you can't blame it for doing its job! Gently bringing your focus back over and over again will eventually train it to remain focused for longer and longer periods of time.
- Another useful analogy is imagining thoughts like clouds in the sky. There is no good or bad shaped cloud, and clouds leave no trace or scars in the sky. Similarly, don’t judge the thoughts that arise as you meditate but simply observe them and allow them to float on by. Thoughts are just thoughts. They don’t need to leave a lingering effect unless you hold on to them.
4) Feeling as though you’re doing it wrong
No you’re not. I promise. If you are sitting quietly and trying to focus on your breath or the present moment, you are doing it right. If you end up thinking the entire time you are sitting and notice that you spent the entire time thinking, then you are doing it right. It is the noticing part that is meditation. Being aware of what is going on is the key. So no matter how distracted you feel, how uncomfortable you are or how little focus you have, as long as you are aware of this occurring, you are meditating correctly. Focus and a quiet mind will come with practice and time, so don’t expect it to come right away. If our minds were already quiet, we wouldn’t need to meditate.
- Be kind to yourself. We are so hard on ourselves in so many areas of our lives, which is the last thing we need in the competitive, crazy world we live in. Putting yourself down is counter-productive and will make you less inclined to give yourself the time to get to know yourself and work on your health. By being the kindest person to yourself and treating yourself with love and compassion, you will begin to feel more confident and worthy of taking this time to yourself.
- Don’t stress about your meditation practice. If you miss a day, start with a clean slate the next day. Don’t beat yourself up about it or let it cause you stress. You’re doing the best you can and that’s fantastic.
- Keep practicing. Consistency in your practice is the fastest way to begin to feel all of the wonderful benefits of meditation.
Meditation is not easy. But it is the effort and dedication that we put into it that makes it so rewarding. Ultimately, once you feel the peace and sense of ease that begins to infiltrate your life, any doubts that you ever had about how worthwhile this practice is will vanish and you will be forever grateful to yourself. So stick with it!