You're Not Alone, Meditation is Even Hard for the Professionals
The other day at a training another yoga teacher approached me and knowing I work a lot with meditation as a therapeutic tool asked "Why is meditation so hard?" She went on to explain that she was bad at meditation and she just couldn't seem to stop fidgeting during meditation and felt like she was constantly distracted.
She explained that it felt like there was just incessant chatter going on in her brain and it just felt insanely noisy in her mind whenever she sat down to meditate. If you've been trying to meditate does this sound familiar to you? This was a yoga teacher, not just your average joe. This was an individual who has spent theoretically hundreds of hours moving mindfully and watching her breath to some degree and she was still totally lost when it came to her mediation practice.
You Have the Wrong Goal
I explained to her that one possible reason why meditation is so hard is that you are trying to do too much. You may be trying to change your thoughts, change your emotions, change your behavior, and become enlightened all at the same time. This is an impossible task.
Instead, you should focus on the singular goal of meditation, which is to develop a calm and clear mind. When your mind is calm and clear, you will be able to see things more clearly and you will be less likely to be disturbed by your thoughts and emotions.
Meditation is not as hard as you think
The way you achieve a calm and clear mind doesn't take a special technique (although there are many that are helpful). It just takes sitting and staying with your breath and not getting frustrated or stuck in your thoughts when they arise. Over time, as you let things arise and play themselves out in your mind while you watch your breath, you'll find everything gradually becomes quieter.
The simple act of becoming aware of what is going on for you, even if that means just becoming aware of the fact that you are thinking, will allow you to become more self aware. Self awareness will allow more space to open up in your mind and will help you to cultivate equanimity, eventually bringing some degree of peace.
Three concrete reasons why meditation feels hard
As a functional stress management specialist I've heard many people claim to be "bad at meditation". I don't think anyone can really be bad at meditation but there are usually one of three very concrete challenges people face.
The first reason meditation can be hard for some people is because it requires focus and concentration. This means that you have to be completely present in the moment and bring your mind back when it begins to wander. This can be difficult for people who are used to being constantly distracted by their thoughts and surroundings. I've heard many people who struggle with this challenge say that meditation feels too boring, but the reality is that if you're really tuned in conscious relaxation should take all of your attention and utilize all of your senses.
The second reason why meditation can be difficult is because it can be difficult to sit still for an extended period of time. This is especially true for people who are used to being active and always on the go. Sitting still and focusing on your breath can be a challenge for some people. When my yoga teacher friend mentioned that she struggled with fidgeting during meditation I figured this might be part of the challenge for her. For some the act of sitting still can also be painful, and this is where a meditation instructor can come in handy to help provide alternative mediation postures.
The third reason why meditation can feel hard is that some people find it difficult to quiet their minds and focus on their breath. This can be due to a variety of reasons such as stress, anxiety, and depression. If you are struggling with quieting your mind and you find that the things arising for you feel very uncomfortable, it may be helpful to seek out a therapist or counselor who can help you address the underlying issues that are causing your mind to be so active.
How to Make Meditation Easier
If sitting still is your biggest hurdle for any of the three reasons listed above, many meditators suggest trying on mindfulness in the midst of slow daily tasks as a starting block. In an article for Psychology Today Dr. Leah Katz writes “You can bring mindfulness to literally anything and everything you are already doing- by participating in a different, more present kind of way. Try using the word “mindfulness” if the word “meditation” feels too daunting or repelling.”
Ease Meditation into Your Daily Life
Try pausing to breath before answering the telephone or noticing the sensation of the water on your hands while washing dishes. These little moments of mindfulness can add up over time and set you up for a smoother ride when you sit down on the meditation cushion.
Here are some examples of how you can try experimenting with incorporating more mindfulness throughout life. Bring mindful attention when you are:
the sensation of the toothbrush when brushing your teeth
the sensation of your feet in your shoes when walking the dog
the sound your car makes when you start it
the feel of the steering wheel in your hands while driving
the feel of the water when washing your hands
the sound of the coffee maker in the morning and the smell of the coffee
the feel of the sheets in your bed
the feel of your loved one's hand or sound of their voice
the warmth of the sun on your face
the sensation of your cat's purring
There are many ways to meditate, so find one that works for you and start small. Practicing these little moments will help reorient from your mind's natural self-centeredness and focus on the world existing around you. This will make sitting down to meditate less of a struggle as you'll already have started to re-calibrate your attention.
Try Out Guided Meditations
Another easy way to get started meditating if you're struggling on your own is listening to guided meditations. I created five free downloadable meditations for folks that are just starting their meditation journey. You can grab those here.
Meditation is hard because it requires us to be still, both physically and mentally. We live in a world that is constantly moving and constantly changing, so it can be hard to find the time and space to just be.
With a little bit of practice, we can learn to quiet our minds and find the peace that lies within but it's important to remember that even the most dedicated meditator still has days where their brains are noisy.