Wisdom School - Top Seven Reasons Most People Don’t Continue in their Meditation Practice
By Andrew Shykofsky
Meditation can leave you feeling inspired, unburdened and renewed in your daily life. But you will need perseverance because meditating draws on abilities that are typically not well developed in most. While the actual practice is a solitary experience, meditating in a specific place where the energy is built up to be conducive to deep introspection and working with guidance is very important.
Here are 7 of the most common reasons that people fail to sustain a practice that delivers meaningful changes to their lives.
1. Expectations of what should happen are inaccurate
People have so many concepts about what meditation is, how it works, how it should make them feel and how to do it that the deck is heavily stacked against the sincere seeker right from the beginning. Meditation is often associated with Indian or Asian cultures, in a particular cross legged position whereby some miraculous state of being comes over the meditator and you are engulfed in a blissful peace.
While this can happen and probably does for some, it is by no means the goal nor the norm, especially not for people just starting out (which can include anyone in their first 3-5 years practicing). If all goes well and you are led properly, you will simply notice different things during and following each sitting. In other words, you’ll know that something happened though not sure what. And that’s perfect to keep going.
2. “I can’t stop my mind from wandering or thinking!”
No kidding! This is extremely hard and in fact, not even the goal. Trying to still the mind and bring it to a place of pure emptiness is an incredible feat of willpower. Is this possible to accomplish? Well, I suppose so but I don’t focus on that. For starters, there’s an easier way. And secondly, if someone accomplishes such a ‘skill’, generally the pride associated with this achievement will be a real obstacle to spiritual growth and attainment which requires an attitude of humility and love.
The true discipline is to make the mind your ally so that it cooperates with you. The mind can be trained much like a pet. You can learn to condition the mind to follow your direction so that it relaxes during the times you want to meditate. But much like a dog, you will never get it NOT to show excitement when it’s time to go for a walk or to eat. So think of the mind to be managed, in a loving way. It then loves to follow orders and be pleasing to the master much like a well trained pet. We will begin to empower the soul as the master of your being, not the mind.
3. Not knowing what exactly to do while in meditation
This is a huge problem that ties back to the first reason people fail. In the many meditation classes I’ve attended, the guide, though well intentioned, doesn’t always empower the student. The power comes from clear knowledge presented at the right time and at the right level. Encouraging words and validation of what was experienced help immensely as well. This means that each person needs fresh information to help them precisely where they are at in their development. This is recommended through the Teacher- student relationship in which the Teacher, having developed spiritual sight can guide the initiate in a meaningful way.
Consider the analogy of a team athlete. When football or basketball practice starts, the first part is about drills and conditioning. Later comes the scrimmage games. The same is true in our practice. We begin by learning to condition the faculties that tend to interrupt meditation. These fall into categories of body, mind, and emotions. So I recommend a practice that systematically moves through these aspects of yourself to check in and see what sort of activity is present. Then, using the skills you will be given, learn to relax your mind and drop into a different level of consciousness, notice your emotional state and deal with it decisively, and teach your body to manage its cravings and distractions in a firm but loving way.
As these skills develop, you will begin to note an internal space emerge that is the sought after meditative state, a concentrated inner atmosphere in which the ‘work’ of meditation can take place uninterrupted.
4. Over emphasis on the breath
Certainly awareness of your breathing is important. And it is particularly helpful because of the consistent and rhythmic nature of breathing. But just tuning into your breath and noticing that for an hour is not a very deep practice. To me, that’s like going the movies and just watching previews the whole time. I suppose it’s interesting but you wouldn’t get the satisfaction that comes from seeing a 2 hour movie with all its characters, plot twists and emotional content, which is what you paid for!
Using various techniques involving breathing can be very helpful in getting to the meditative state within. Once there, there is a whole universe of possibilities because in that tranquility and focus, the door to the spiritual realm opens. This is an experiential thing and not easily described. As well, each individual will have a unique experience that can be shared with a Teacher in order to help process and go deeper. So breath… yes but using awareness of breath as a step to ‘arrive’ at your session and relax into the deeper realm.
5. Thinking you’re doing it wrong because not much is happening
It’s not that meditation is hard but it is a practice that is directly contrary to what is widely encouraged in our culture; What most of us do here is work, stress out and seek constant outer stimulation to remain comforted, engaged and entertained. The emphasis in our world is rarely on the inner plane so keep in mind, the energies all around us are not supportive of this work. This means that you won’t always have the help you could use from your social or family circles when you hit dry patches or even when something big happens.
Gains at the gym, in learning a new language, playing an instrument, taking on a new job… these all generate excitement, but with them come frustration and moments of uncertainty. We are constantly having to re-decide if we want the thing we are working towards. With all the misconceptions about meditation, it is one of the easiest new practices to drop. But this would be a real tragedy because of how much peace, joy and energy meditation can bring into the life of the spiritual seeker. If you think you’re doing it wrong, seek out a teacher and get some feedback. But make sure you feel confident in the teacher as someone who knows what they are doing and has the right intention towards you.
6. Lack of consistency or regularity
Meditation reveals its gifts when practiced consistently and preferably daily. Our beings need to be conditioned spiritually much like fitness. But think of meditation as a conditioning of the soul, not the physical body. The body will need to cooperate and not get hungry, tired or itchy at inopportune moments.
Most people beginning a practice should think of themselves like an out of shape person beginning a new gym membership. Everyone else will appear to be doing much better and it will be quite hard some days. The gains may be slight for a while. But eventually, if practiced in a disciplined way, and hopefully a little bit each day, the clouds part and you recognize the changes that are coming on.
Commit to building 15 or 20 minutes into your daily routine at least 5 days a week and re-evaluate after a month.
7. Trying to progress without a Teacher
Spiritual experiences are wondrous, amazing, miraculous, subtle and life changing. But sorting through what goes on and being clear about how to progress is quite difficult if you just read books and attend lectures. The mind, the ego, the emotions… these aspects of ourselves can be tricky and love to draw lofty conclusions, many of which pump up the importance of the individual which is a big trap.
Working with a Teacher who you have observed and tested to make sure you can trust them is a great way to grow spiritually.
Teacher: Andrew Shykofsky