Almost every new meditator hits a wall. As I started to meditate regularly, I remember struggling to breathe at times, a problem I’ve still never had elsewhere in my life. My girlfriend went through a similar experience: after “loving” meditation for the first two months or so, she ran up against the same symptoms I did, complete with shortness of breath.
I think a lot of experienced meditators are hamstrung by the felt memory that meditation is a struggle.
Those of us who continue meditating find some way to get past this wall, which is a topic in itself. But my topic here is the residue that the wall leaves in our minds: the memory that meditation is an awkward and frustrating thing to do. I think a lot of experienced meditators are hamstrung by our past—by the felt memory that meditation is an epic struggle, when in fact those days may be long behind us.
“This feels great! …Why didn’t I want to do it?”
For a long time, meditation practice has been one of the most beautiful and fulfilling things in my life, and responsible for most of my most powerful life experiences. What’s relatively new is that meditation is enjoyable: it feels good in a way that immediate and literal. It’s not only virtuous, but fun.
But on a daily basis, meditation is still something I have to will myself to do. I’m prone to leave it until the last thing, or to default to other fun things (like watching online videos) in my free time. It’s always been true that I meditate less than I wish I did, but it’s becoming more and more true that I meditate less than I want to.
My attitudes to meditation were formed when meditating was frequently arduous and painful.
I think the problem is that my attitudes to meditation were formed when meditating was frequently arduous and painful. A lot has changed since then, but meditation is still in the “Have To” category—which is deadly for actually doing it—even though the moment I sit down I can see how much I really “Want To” do it.
What to do if this sounds familiar
I think a lot of things should work. Items 3 and 5 in our list of ways to turn meditation into something we want to do seem especially relevant.
I’d suggest looking at your resistance to meditation directly, and asking, “Does this make sense, given how meditation feels now?”
I’d also suggest a bit of cognitive therapy: looking at your resistance to meditation directly, and asking, “Does this make sense, given how meditation feels now?” If the answer is yes, this is a good suggestion to spend some time with a qualified meditation instructor. If the answer is no, then ask, “Okay, what attitude to meditation does make sense?” Be genuine: What approach to meditation do you honestly feel like taking, given your experience of meditation as well as your other commitments and the other things you love to do? When you know what you honestly want, then willpower only needs to have the very light touch of actually doing it.
For me, I’m working with acting on my impulses to meditate. There’s a part of me that says, “There’s no way you’d actually do this for fun!” That second-guessing is understandable, given how much discipline meditation has seemed to take during much of my time with it; but I’m working on letting my actual love for meditation guide my behavior rather than that skeptical voice.
What do you think?
Does this sound familiar? Or is meditation helpful but strenuous? (It’s been that way for me during most of my time as a meditator, and returns to that when I’m having difficulties in my life.) Or are you hitting the initial wall itself? Or something else? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!