How to Overcome the 3 Most Common Obstacles to Meditation
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I began teaching meditation in 2006 and opened a meditation center in Chicago in 2013. The center was specifically geared towards teaching how to develop a solid, reliable meditation practice for total beginners, newbies (those who tried and didn’t continue) and intermediate students.
Over the years in operation, trends became evident why meditation was so difficult to learn for some and then it was even harder to practice regularly. Here, I will share the 3 most common obstacles which prevented students from becoming engaged enough to consistently practice at least 3 times a week:
Obstacle #1: “I can’t fit it into my schedule. I’m too busy.”
A lot of people who took our courses signed up hoping to calm their thinking because their schedules were so jam-packed. I would hear: “I really need meditation. My life is out of control.” I believe that a brand new student to meditation could do quite well if they practiced for about twenty minutes, 4 times a week or basically every other day.
Three weeks in, only about half of the students were doing so. When asked, people said they couldn’t find the time to fit it in.
How to fix this
The idea that one is too busy is generally an either/or situation. Either it is true that the individual’s life is so utterly crammed with things to do that it is nearly impossible to find 20 minutes to sit quietly or they don’t quite have the discipline to overcome their resistance to the work.
Meditation puts you face to face with all your thoughts. For most people, their minds are hyperactive much of the day. This has become a comfortable state even though it can feel draining. In order to alleviate this condition, one has to be willing to practice.
Overcoming resistance to the work required can be accomplished by making a firm commitment. Tell yourself that you must meditate 4 times a week. Make the commitment and let others know you have done so. Being accountable for your own word is good, but when others know you have made the commitment, the motivation to succeed is greater.
Here’s a tip: try to get your meditation session done before you leave the house each day. It tends to be easier to wake up a little earlier than squeezing it in before bed when you might be too tired. Meditation requires effort to concentrate and the morning is normally better for this.
If, in fact, you are too busy, I suggest examining your priorities and making any changes you can to free up some time. In reality, the idea that someone has too much stuff to do to find just 20 minutes to meditate is just ridiculous. Most of the people who feel they’re too busy, most of the times it’s because they do not manage their time well or are too averse to the temporary discomfort that learning meditation stirs up.
Obstacle #2: No good place to practice
The most common issues regarding the location where people tried to practice included a noisy apartment (street noise, neighbor noise, construction noise, etc.), roommates, pets, and the lack of a suitable room. To be fair, this is a legitimate concern if you are renting since there tend to be too many factors out of your control.
Recently, I traveled through parts of Central and South America mostly using Airbnb for my accommodation. My top priority was finding a place to stay that was quiet enough to meditate that had a suitable chair to sit in (not always easy to tell just looking at the online photos). Despite being very picky and communicating with the hosts before booking, many times, I found that there was significant noise through much of the day making meditation particularly challenging.
How to fix this
The ultimate solution to the issue of meditation space is to make it a priority next time you look for a place to live. In other words, before buying or renting your next place, keep in mind the importance of a good meditation space. E.g. avoid living on busy streets.
Get your own place if possible and do your research. Find out what you can about the neighbors and make sure you’ll be at peace and quiet. In addition, as you scope out your next abode, look for where you will set up your meditation area.
If you’re not in a position to move in the near future, the best solution I have found is the use of ‘intentional noise’ or white noise to block out the distracting sounds. Noise cancellation headphones in which you hear a guided meditation recording is a good option. People have asked me if using headphones is recommended when meditating. Honestly, if it drowns out the ambient noise and you can get into a solid meditation, definitely. When given a choice, I prefer not wearing headphones but I would wear them in a heartbeat rather than skipping a session altogether.
My personal favorite solution to overcoming unwelcomed noise when I want to meditate is the use of a fan. The white noise of a fan at the right speed will drown out most noises and after a while, I don’t even hear it. Box fans that sit on the floor tend to have more power than the table top fans that rotate.
If the issue isn’t about noise but is more about other people like a roommate, kids or significant others, the solution becomes about strategizing the best time to meditate. This does put a little pressure on you since you have to seize the moment when it arises.
You might not be able to practice at the exact time you feel like it but have to do it when the opportunity presents itself. This can become a positive because it increases your commitment to meditation. Since you know your window to practice is shorter, you will quickly see how important it is for you to succeed. If you do everything in your power to practice regularly, it is a good sign that you really want to learn the art of meditation!
Tip: If you just can’t block the noise at home, try a silent meditation retreat to at least give yourself a few days of silence.
Obstacle #3: A perception that one’s mind can’t be calmed down
Despite a lot of people who found getting to meditation several times a week a challenge, there were plenty of people who followed the recommendation and practiced diligently 4 or more times each week. They would often report feeling better as a result but still could barely calm their thinking to a point that their minds felt still.
What I often heard was that so long as there was spoken guidance to the meditation, their minds were quieter but once the guidance ended, they could no longer control their thoughts.
How to fix this
The solution to this issue is multi-leveled. It begins with a more thorough understanding of what meditation is and what it isn’t. If you are taught that meditation is about reaching a state where the mind is essentially blank, you may find yourself quite frustrated. Some meditation styles focus on the total stillness of all thoughts but this can take years to achieve and much longer to master.
Shifting expectations will help in overcoming this obstacle. Rather than believing you are only succeeding if you can reach a state where your mind is totally quiet, focus on subtle incremental improvements. In fact, gradually gaining more control of the mind and learning how to curb negative thinking is more achievable than being able to completely turn the mind off.
First, choose a style of meditation that resonates with your goals. Next, believe that regular repetition of a given practice (4 times a week) will slowly move you towards your goal of greater inner peace. Follow the guidance you receive and make a concerted effort not to assess your progress overly often. Meditation can be compared to losing weight. It’s gradual and requires that you stay in the process for longer than you had hoped.
Finally, give credit to your meditation practice when you see minor shifts in your energy and disposition. It was common for people taking our courses to notice better sleep, more vivid dreams and less emotional volatility within the first month of started meditation. Believe that meditation is having positive effects and over time you will see your life transform. With good effort and patience, you will learn how to manage your mind and maintain good productive and positive thought processes!
Looking for the right meditation style for you? Why don’t you try a few chants on a mantra meditation retreat?
Check out Andrew’s meditation center at meditatecenter.com.