Overcoming Obstacles to Meditating

Green Elephant
Overcoming Obstacles to Meditating

My mind is too busy to meditate….
We’re wired to generate thoughts. We’re also wired to catch a current that takes us inside.

One of the first things Yoga Teacher trainees learn, from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, is: Yoga stills the thought waves of the mind.

It’s important to remember we’re talking about live Yogis here and that the essence of life is pulsation, movement.

There are many levels of samadhi or meditative absorption. My Teacher, Sally Kempton, who is a Master Teacher of mostly Tantric philosophy and meditation (as well as diverse meditation approaches including “Direct Path”) mentioned in a workshop recently that the sages of Tantra, looked down on the state of samadhi (meditative absorption) that is a state of inert consciousness.

So liberate yourself from this idea that if thoughts arise, you’re not good at meditating. Eventually you may be graced with experiences of nirodha, stillness, and many other states, but it’s very important not to judge yourself during or after meditating, especially when you’re getting started. I recommend cultivating a celebratory mood after you do your daily meditation; give yourself credit for having followed through on your intention to sit.

There are many different ways to work with thoughts. Witnessing and cultivating detachment from thoughts is a very common approach. You gently bring your awareness back to the breath or the mantra. But there are other approaches. The Sufis, for example, recommend “drowning your thoughts in love.” What works for you depends on your temperament and the meditation path/approach that is ideal for you.

As we focus our attention on the breath, the mantra, sounds, sensations, different centers in the body, we become more aware of what’s beyond thoughts – awareness. Over time it becomes natural to rest in awareness which is “unconditioned,” free of thoughts. When we do, we free ourselves from the unconscious conditioning we absorbed from our families, schools, religious institutions, and cultures that limits us and determines so much of our experience.

I’m not “spiritual.”
Fortunately you don’t have to be “spiritual” to reap the documented benefits of a daily meditation or yoga practice.

For many people, words like “spiritual” and “God” have a negative charge. Regardless of the identities we ascribe to ourselves – “spiritual” or “not spiritual” – it’s best to approach meditation and yoga as practices, without the labels.

If you have a strong aversion to spirituality, I recommend reading Waking Up by Sam Harris.

I don’t have time to practice.
We only need to practice for a little while every day before we begin to notice shifts. We might notice that our day goes better when we sit to meditate, that we’re less reactive, that we feel content even when life is challenging or that we’re more acutely aware of beauty.

When we begin to experience the benefits of practice – a deeper sense of well-being, more peace and contentment – we’re then motivated to practice more.

When we embrace a regular meditation practice, our meditation energy unfolds in a way that is unique and beneficial to us.

All of the research, articles and blogs on creating a new habit say the same thing: practice every day – even for just a few minutes – so that it becomes a natural, easeful part of your daily routine.

As Doctor Timothy McCall says, “every time we do something, we increase the likelihood that we’ll do it again.”

I get bored.
Ask: Who knows I’m bored? Widen your awareness and shift your attention away from the thoughts to the more spacious awareness that knows you’re bored.

I’m too tired to practice.
It’s a good strategy to listen to a (short) guided meditation when you’re tired, or lay in savasana (corpse pose) and plug into a guided deep relaxation, called “yoga nidra” (yogic sleep).

These kinds of practices are likely what you need when you’re tired; they enable you to reinforce your meditation habit in a way that is effortless.

I’m traveling early in the morning which is when I usually meditate.
When you have to get up extra early to travel, it works to bring ear plugs and do your daily mediation after you’re settled in to your seat, as your plane is taking off or when your train is pulling out of the station. You might also opt for a guided audio meditation on travel days.

*Ganesh, shown in the photo, is the beloved Hindu deity who is worshipped as the remover of obstacles. When we practice, we remove the obstacles in our awareness – the limiting beliefs or egoic tendencies – that prevent or hinder us from knowing ourselves at being, consciousness and bliss, and that hinder our expansion.