Perhaps the potential benefits of meditation convinced you to give it a try. After having thought for many days, “I should start meditating.” finally, one day you sat.
You started counting the breath. You counted two breaths and off went your mind. The 2-minute timer went off and you realized you just didn’t focus on the breath at all.
That might feel very frustrating. If you continue to push yourself, very soon it becomes extremely uncomfortable to sit.
You shuffle and shift around. Then it starts itching. First on the tip of the nose, then near the eyebrow. Then in the back.
Amidst all this, you are still unable to focus on the breath. Not even for a second.
Your frustration level just goes through the roof, you peek and look at the watch and you stop. There you go. You think, meditation is not for you.
You are not alone. Many people find it extremely difficult to meditate. And it may frustrate you even more because you could really use the benefits, but you are just unable to do it. So….
Is Meditation Really Hard or Is It Just Me?
Well, some teachers might tell you that actually meditation in itself is not hard, but it feels hard because of the way you relate to that experience. To put it in other words you expect meditation to be a certain way, which it really is not.
This argument is true not just for meditation, but anything that feels hard.
There is, at least, a germ of truth in that argument. Anything that feels hard is because of the way you relate to that phenomena without you fully realizing that relationship.
It is actually the meditation practice that helps bring awareness to how you subconsciously relate to your experience. And this very lack of awareness can become an obstacle to your meditation practice.
Conventionally you just know that meditation feels hard. But why is it so?
If I were to give you a very short answer, why meditation feels very hard, it is evolution.
Well, evolution is responsible for pretty much anything that you feel unpleasant. Because you have evolved to survive. You haven’t evolved to feel pleasant, have peace of mind or be happy.
That may sound silly, but let’s dig deeper. If you have seen this earlier post, meditation really means attention training. And how do you train attention?
You train attention by practicing paying attention. You engage attention and you try to sustain attention. Just like lifting weights to build muscles.
You have always known that attention is a scarce resource. You are supposed to ‘pay’ it. Our language reflects this implicit scarcity of attention.
Born with ADHD
You are hard wired to not pay attention. Let me explain.
If it were easy for you to focus on something and sustain that focus, it would become very difficult for you to notice changes in your surrounding.
Imagine the African Savannah 50,000 years back. Life is way more precarious. You are surrounded by predators. You have to be on a much-heightened vigil, in order to survive.
If you happened to be that person, for whom paying attention came naturally. It can spell doom for you.
If you are stuck sustaining attention and didn’t notice what was going on on the horizon, you can easily be wiped out. Those with ADHD would have noticed the danger and would have fled.
It is just plain difficult to sustain attention. It is not that difficult to start paying attention.
You just can’t keep looking at the same object or keep hearing the same sound for a long period of time.
Before each meditation session, remind yourself that you are embarking on an inherently difficult endeavor. But it is a unique kind where you cannot fail.
Nobody fails at meditation because it is hard. You can only give up. It is by practicing what is hard, you get better at that.
To top this off, your mind continuously wanders. When a teacher in the classroom reprimands the student to pay attention, he is not just asking the student to see him or the chalkboard.
He is really asking to bring your mind over there. And guess what, just like it is difficult for you to continue to look at something for a long time, it is even more difficult to keep your mind on something for a while.
Mind wanders and that is its nature. I am not an expert in evolution, but mind wandering is also likely to be an evolutionary adaptation.
You may think mind wandering makes you not so productive. Well, evolution doesn’t care so much about productivity. Its main aim is survival.
Maybe the wandering minds are more creative and creative minds are more suited for natural selection. You don’t know.
A wandering mind is neither good neither bad, it is just wandering mind. But wandering does make paying attention and hence meditation difficult.
Before each meditation, remind yourself that the mind will wander. Try to affirm an intention to forgive yourself for wandering thoughts.
The next factor that makes meditation harder is sleep.
Lack of Sleep
Ever since Edison invented lightbulb we are all sleep deprived. At least up to some extent.
Before the artificial light people used to sleep on average 10 hours. But now it is more like 7 hours.
You are very likely to be sleep deprived even without your knowledge. And a lack of sleep is good for nothing.
When you are sleep deprived, your attention span suffers. It gets tougher for you to pay attention.
Many of you need more sleep than meditation. Sleep directly affects your ability to meditate.
This is one more of those vicious cycles. You are probably stressed and unable to sleep well. That might well be the reason why you turn to meditation.
And it is the lack of sleep which is going to make it harder for you to get going with your meditation practice.
In general, if you lack sleep, you might want to catch up on sleep before you start meditating.
Distractions of Modern Living
Although it is inherently difficult for the mind to pay attention. Your mind is also hard wired to orient to an external stimulus. This means your mind prone to distractions.
As soon as there is any change in the visual field, in sounds, in tastes or in physical sensations, your mind tends to latch on to that change.
It is just extremely difficult nowadays for you to walk into a jungle or a cave routinely. No matter where you live, there is always things happening around you.
There are people living around you, there are vehicles moving around you. Then there are distractions from technology.
Distractions make it difficult for you to meditate. In one of the earlier post, I discussed that meditation is all about understanding the nature of distractions and minimizing them.
Find the least noisy room in your home. Sit in the closet. Sit in the bathroom if you can.
See if you can close your eyes. That would take care of most of the visual distractions. If you can’t close your eyes don’t look at moving people or moving vehicles.
Don’t look at decorated or busy wall. Look down at the plain floor or at a plain wall.
Better you are able to know the distractions in your practice and better you can minimize them. And faster you will progress along your meditation journey.
Not Enough Exercise
Meditation is not a replacement for exercise. It is just the exercise for you mind. Your body still needs exercise.
More regular you exercise, easier it becomes to meditate. The mind and the body are intricately connected.
Better you take care of one, the other automatically improves. Exercise makes it easier for you to pay attention and hence meditate.
Exercise is a complementary practice and you should continue to exercise along with your meditation practice.
From this perspective, the walking or jogging meditation could bring you the benefits of both worlds.
Not Finding Enough Time to Meditate
This one is probably the most common problem that you all face when you want to get started on meditation practice.
Meditation requires time. It is unlike a pill, which you can pop right away.
Your life is busier than ever. In fact, the busyness typically is the source of the stress and you are seeking meditation to relieve stress.
It is a catch 22 situation. Often it is joked in meditation classes, trying to take meditation classes with the goal of reducing stress could be more stressful.
For meditation, you have to make time. Making time is hard. But it is not impossible.
Your plate will always be full. You will always have conflicting priorities.
You always have to make time!
If you prioritize something enough, you will make time for that.
Your challenge is: How are you going to prioritize meditation?
Not Knowing the Proper Posture for Meditation
You might be thinking that full lotus cross-legged is the only real way to meditate. You have seen enough of those images in the media.
But it is not true. You don’t have to meditate in full lotus, half lotus or any type of lotus or cross-legged posture.
You can meditate sitting on the chair. You can meditate standing up. You can meditate lying on the bed or the floor.
You chose the posture of meditation in a way that minimizes distractions. Typically it is not recommended to meditate lying down.
We talked earlier that you are likely to be sleep deprived. Also, meditation has a tendency to relax you.
It might not always, but tends to. That is one of the reasons, why some scientists call it a ‘relaxation response’.
When you are sleep deprived and if body relaxes, the body thinks it is time to fall asleep. Sleepiness is very common during meditation.
Although sleep is wonderful it is not meditation. Lethargy or sleepiness is a distraction for your meditation.
Hence, you should avoid lying down in general. But if you can’t sit on the floor, can’t sit on the chair or can’t even stand up, then you meditate lying down.
If trying to sit cross legged is bogging you down, stop that. Sit the way you are comfortable.
If and when you sit on the chair, you don’t sit as if you are watching TV. When you sit on a chair, you sit with your back upright. Neither too tight nor too relaxed.
Not Knowing Your Expectations
You are primed to expect quick results. More than you realize.
You are incessantly bombarded by marketers. They are constantly telling you that you can get quick and easy results.
These messages are designed to appeal an older part of your brain that likes things that are quick and easy. With repeated exposure to such messages, you get conditioned to expect that.
Take an Advil and your headache will be gone in 30 minutes. Unfortunately, not all things in life are quick and easy. Things only unfold in their own time.
Some of the things can’t be just expedited. Trying to expedite what really can’t be expedited can only hurt.
It is like trying to break open chrysalis because you want the butterfly to come out faster.
You may not even realize that, but you might be expecting quick results when you start meditating. But meditation is not about quick results.
Of course for some of the benefits of meditation, you don’t have to wait for years. But nothing will change right away.
You will have to be patient. You will have to get to know your expectations and put them in perspective. Patience and trust are crucial.
More patient you are, more likely you are going to experience the benefits of meditation. You will have to learn to trust the process.
Of course, meditation may not work for everyone. You may have to stop chasing it after a while if it doesn’t produce enough results for you.
You are more likely to stop meditating prematurely than giving it due time. Because of your priming to expect faster results.
Doubting Too Much
Just as you are primed to expect quick results, the mind usually tends to doubt a lot. This is actually a good thing.
You don’t want to be credulous and fall for a trick. You want to have a healthy skepticism. But if you have a strong doubt to begin with that it will just not work for you, it will actually not work for you.
Because at the slightest discomfort, you will give up. And there will definitely be discomfort as you start meditating.
In meditation, you cannot avoid discomfort. It is an integral part of all meditation practices.
Doubting is normal and expected to take place. More you realize this, easier it will become for you to continue the practice.
Not Having a Good Teacher
Hiring a teacher is expensive. With the proliferation of apps and online resources, you may feel that you don’t need a teacher.
And you might be right.
It is still important to have an expert that you can reach out and discuss your problems or difficulties in meditation. Don’t try to do it completely on your own.
Meditation is hard. Meditation is also the gateway to inquiring what makes hard, hard?
The main reason why mediation is hard: Evolution.
You are born with ADHD. You are hard wired to not pay attention.
The nature of human mind is to wander. It makes meditation difficult. This may quite well be an evolutionary adaptation.
Your lack of sleep could be the reason why meditation is hard.
You may have too many distractions, which is why meditation becomes more difficult.
If you exercise more your meditation may become easier.
If you can figure out a way to make meditation a priority, it will become easier to make time for it.
Not knowing what are the appropriate postures for meditation may make it harder.
Although you need to have a healthy skepticism for meditation, a strong doubting mind can make meditation much more difficult.
Lack of a good teacher makes meditation hard.
Download a free ‘Why Is It So Hard to Meditate?’ video by clicking on the image below.