Whether I was falling asleep, losing the plot, dulling out, or just plain forgetting why I was doing it to begin with, I made a committed practice out of struggling instead of meditating.
Now, I don’t want you to think that developing a rich and rewarding meditation practice has to take ten years! That’s just not true. In fact, there are some pretty simple reasons why we struggle in meditation.
And often, you only need to address one of these for things to change. I think you’ll be surprised when you see how quickly you can turn it around.
I’m someone who earned a PhD in making meditation harder than it had to be. So I thought it might be helpful to capitalize on that knowledge and create a little guide. Something to help you side-step a lot of needless anguish and extra effort.
Lord knows, I could have used a primer like this myself to prevent a few epic fails on the cushion. (Don’t believe you can make a fool of yourself in meditation? Imagine some of the more embarrassing things that could happen and you can bet they probably have.)
But more importantly, this guide will help you apply some simple techniques to empower your practice, stop struggling, and restore your meditation mojo.
If these 10-steps help you overcome even one obstacle on the path, the odds are good that you’re going to take a leap forward. And better still, if we can break through a few barriers, I bet you’ll be meditating like Buddha in no time.
So here are 10 reasons why you may be struggling in meditation and what you can do to change it.
1) Are you clear about your goals?
Do you know why you are meditating? Do you have a vision for what you are trying to accomplish and where you are headed? It’s important to get very clear about your intended outcome in meditation—your goal.
And yes, contrary to what some might suggest, it’s totally possible to have a goal in meditation.
Do you want to experience a state of relaxation? Do you want to find a deeper rudder to guide you through the inevitable storms of life? Do you want to have a greater capacity for concentration? Or maybe you want to get enlightened?
If you aren’t clear about your goals, you can be sure that you aren’t getting the most out of your meditation practice. The good news is, you can change that right away. Write down your reasons for meditating and then decide how you want to achieve them. You’ll be surprised how much clarity this can bring to your practice and how quickly things can change.
2) Do you have a routine?
Don’t underestimate the power of a routine. If you are haphazardly trying to squeeze meditation in with everything else, you are setting yourself up for a challenge.
It’s hard to be consistent when you don’t have a specific time and place allocated for your practice. When you don’t have a daily time or place designated, it’s difficult to get in the right frame of mind, and it’s hard to build up momentum in your practice. Consistency, attitude, drive…these are important.
We are all busy. But if you really want your practice to yield benefits, you need to lock in a time and place for your practice. When you do, it’s a sign to yourself that meditation is important to you and that act will strengthen your intention. The stronger your intention, the more fruit your meditation will bear over time.
3) Where is your support network?
We all need support. It can come from many sources. Be assured, meditation is easier in the company of others. Also, speaking about meditation with fellow practitioners yields inspiration, insights, and a host of other benefits.
One of the biggest benefits of meditating with others is that it can accelerate your own practice by helping you experience expanded states of awareness. There’s nothing like meditating with others to carry you beyond a plateau in your practice or help you move past a block.
4) Are you inspired to meditate?
Inspiration is an important part of the path. If you aren’t inspired, you’re not going to give everything to your practice. And, it’s important to remember that you can’t meditate half-baked. You are either meditating or not. There is no real in between. You are either letting go or you aren’t.
That’s why inspiration is key. It’s important to keep your mojo when you’re meditating. If you find that you’re not really motivated or lacking enthusiasm to practice, or if you feel that you aren’t making any progress for a long time, it’s important to renew you motivation and get inspired.
There are a lot of ways to fuel your meditation fire. You can read spiritual books, listen to audios or watch videos of dynamic meditation teachers. Some of my biggest surges in meditation have come through reading autobiographies of great teachers.
Ultimately, your own practice will become the source of your inspiration, but that takes times to cultivate.
5) Have you committed to a specific practice?
What is your core practice? If you can’t answer this question, it might be preventing you from progressing in your practice.
At a certain point, after trying different practices and paths, it’s important to choose one that you feel works best for you. And when you do, you should stick with it for a while. It’s important to make a commitment to one practice. Like most good things, learning the subtle art of it takes time. In my experience, that’s especially true with the art and science of meditation.
If you bounce around without eventually committing to a single practice, you are going stay on the surface of things. To reap the deeper fruits of meditation, commitment is key. Choose your practice, plant your stake in the ground, and then go for it.
6) Do you think your mind needs to be quiet to meditate?
If the answer is yes, then let me give you a failsafe piece of advice. Nothing in your mind is an obstacle to meditation. If you are waiting for your ‘monkey mind’ to settle down and be quiet, you’ll never experience the peace, joy, and ease of being that comes from authentic meditation.
Why? Because you’ll be too busy fighting your mind.
The mind is a thinking machine so…let it think. You just need to focus on not trying to control or change any of it. Meditation means letting everything be as it is. It also points our attention to a dimension of self that lies beyond the mind. Learning how to access that limitless dimension is a big part of what meditation is all about.
So yes, having a quiet or still mind is wonderful. If it happens for you, that’s wonderful. But, that’s not necessarily meditation. Meditation is the simple practice of letting everything be. That means if your mind is quiet, great. If it’s a hurricane of fear, lust, and rage, that’s ok too. When we meditate, we let it all go. No matter what’s happening inside or out, we let it go.
Think about it for a moment. If we had to depend on the condition of our mind to determine our inner freedom, we’d all be in real trouble. Thankfully, we don’t! Meditation is about letting everything go, including your mind and it’s endless pendulum of ups and downs.
7) Are you making a problem?
This is one of the easiest things to do. It will also derail your meditation practice faster than anything.
Here’s the thing. The mind loves problems, because then it can fix them. The mind is designed to solve problems. That’s an incredible gift and has helped us evolve as a race. But for meditation? Not so good.
The Golden Rule of meditation is don’t make a problem. This is something my former teacher emphasized all the time. Here are a few common problems we like to make:
I’m failing at meditation.
I’m doing it wrong.
I feel agitated, and that’s not meditation.
My mind is crazy and that’s not meditation.
It’s been so long since I experienced any deep peace or stillness in meditation. Etc etc etc.
The mind will find a million ways to create problems out of our practice. Just observe for yourself all the ways that your mind is telling you there is a problem. If you can see through this, and let go of any and every idea that there is or could ever be a problem when you are sitting silent and still, you’ll be meditating like an old pro.
Trust me, this is a big one.
8) Are you convinced you can’t meditate?
Talk about making a problem! Don’t fret, because this is pretty common. It’s also not true. You can meditate. Just because it’s hard or because your mind mercilessly has no “Off” button doesn’t mean you can’t meditate.
If you’ve built up an idea that you can’t do it, hit the reset button. This will help you sidestep that nasty little idea that’s holding you back. The simple truth is this—with practice, anyone and everyone can meditate. Let go of the idea that you can’t.
In time, you will find that there is a rock solid center within that is never tarnished by this world. It’s always already free, at peace, and limitless. Meditation helps you to know, understand, and access this part of yourself. Greater women and men than me have attested to this for at least the last 2,500 years.
9) Maybe you aren’t following the instructions?
This is easier than you might think. One of the hardest things to do when you are meditating is to stay focused on the instructions. Think about how easy it is to get distracted—one minute we’re totally focused, then without even realizing it, we’re totally mesmerized by a particular thought, feeling, or fantasy. It’s like missing a turn when you’re driving down the road because you got distracted by the captivating scenery. It’s that easy.
But here’s the thing. If you aren’t following your meditation instructions with commitment, intention, and focus, you will struggle.
The fix for this is just as simple. Give all of your attention—100 percent—to following your meditation instructions. If you have been trying half-heartedly, that would explain why you are struggling. Meditation is an all or nothing proposition. There are no shades of grey. You are either meditating or you are daydreaming. Daydreaming can feel good, and there’s definitely a place for that, but it’s not meditation.
The truth is, all of us need to be mindful of this. It’s so easy to get lazy and drift along. This point never goes out of vogue, no matter how seasoned you are. Be honest with yourself, and if you aren’t following the instructions, step back and recommit yourself.
10) Do you have authentic motivation?
This is subtle. Of all the steps in this guide, this question is the most important to be clear about.
Meditation usually requires strong motivation and commitment to be fruitful. Having an authentic motivation means that you meditate because you really want to.
If you’re only meditating because your teacher, peers, or doctor told you to, it’s going to be hard. If you are meditating just because it was on the cover of Time magazine, it’s probably going to be challenging to make a lot of progress.
Meditation is easiest and most natural when you are deeply motivated to change something in your life and you feel that meditation is going to help you make that change. You are already convinced that it’s the right thing for you to do.
That conviction and ownership cuts through a lot of the doubt and ambivalence that naturally arises on the path of meditation. When your motivation is authentic, you’ll find that meditation comes more naturally.
In truth, there is no “fix” for this one. Each of us needs to examine for ourselves whether we have a genuine and authentic motivation and then we need to be honest with ourselves. It’s not a problem at all if you find out that you aren’t clear about it. Don’t force anything. Sit with the question in an easy way and sooner or later it will become clear. When it does, you can make a decision about how to continue based on what you learn.
Once your motivation is clear, your meditation will be strong and vibrant. Soon, your practice and your motivation will create a positive feedback cycle, fueling each other, as you move from strength to strength.