Meditation is hard
About two weeks ago Abby and I started a daily meditation practice in the morning. We’re still at it.
The plain fact is that meditation is hard. There might be some kind of stereotype of meditation as “relaxing” or as blissing out or some such thing, but actually, meditation is quite hard.
Why is it so hard, and does putting effort into it somehow violate the point of it?
Difficulty of meditation
For me, there is always some physical difficulty in doing sitting meditation. Sitting “perfectly upright” is not easy for me when my legs are crossed and on the floor, because I’m not all that flexible where it matters (I’ve been working on that for years, with real incremental progress).
And because of asymmetry, I use a different “dominant” leg alternating days. Trying to relax is difficult because the default result is slumping.
I slip into daydreams and weird thoughts very easily during meditation. I’ll have thoughts about things I need to do for the day, things I needed to do yesterday, or events coming up in weeks, or events in the past. In a single ten-minute session of meditation I might experience sadness over something, anxiety, anger, disgust, relief, excitement, you name it! My mind will go all over the place. If there are people who are blissing out doing meditation, I don’t know if I’m the same species as them.
Way back when I first started meditation, my main problem was actually that I would get disappointed and disgusted about my thoughts during meditation, and this of course created a cycle of more unrest during meditation. I got one important insight out of this: that I had a lifelong habit of hating myself, of perfectionism that I needed to let go of. When I realized this, I was able to break the cycle, both in meditation and in my “regular” life. I still have silly thoughts during meditation, but the difference now is that I don’t let them take over. They are what they are, and I return to the breath, return to posture.
Also, a year ago when I first started sitting with people, I got very self-conscious and worried about what they thought about my posture or breathing or whatever. After a couple of months, that anxiety completely disappeared. I’m doing what I’m doing; what is the point of adding extraneous thoughts and worries?
What level of effort do I apply when meditating? I think I go by feel. Basically, if I believe that putting a certain amount of effort in will disrupt me worse than the chaos that already exists, then I pull back. If I’m perpetually adjusting my shoulders or legs, then that will dominate the whole experience and I will be unsettled. If I try too hard to control my mind and make sure it doesn’t wander too far, then that can backfire too.
So I currently do more modest things that I believe from experience will not backfire. I’ll straighten my back enough to reboot my breath and awareness, but then let go of focusing on my back, and move to something else instead.
Also helpful to me has been returning to an awareness of external noises (such as humming of appliances or traffic outside). This is because in the past, sometimes I would zone out and not be aware of external noises, and when the ending bell sounded, I would be startled and know instantly that I had zoned out instead of being present. Paying attention to physical sensations in my body as well as external noises outside my control has been helpful.
Meditation is hard work. There is no shortage of instruction on how to do it, but like everything else, I don’t really know any way to do it other than honest personal trial and error and experience.comments powered by Disqus