Can't Meditate? Is meditation hard?
Lately I have seen a few threads about can't meditate or hard to meditate, so I figured I would talk about that.
I'm going to speak to breath awareness because it's what I know.
The main reason I speak to breath awareness is it applies universally. Everyone is breathing and it can be done anywhere, anytime, in any posture, and I don't think there is a better foundation than breath awareness.
Before we jump the gun, it needs a bit of background because meditation exists within the broader context of your life and everything in your life impacts meditation. Unfinished business is going to play on your mind, so if you can start clearing things up, you'll lighten the load and have less to think about. You'll feel freer, life will be better, and meditation will improve.
As your external life is sorted out, your internal world becomes more orderly. Things also play on our minds internally and in relationships, so what ever plays on your mind internally or externally, try to resolve it and free up some space.
Free yourself up a bit and make meditation a part of organising your life. Improving your life will improve meditation because meditation is part of everything in your life. This way of looking at your life, externally and internally, is the essence of meditation.
Make a meditation time and stick to it. 'Whenever I feel like it' sounds nice, but it depends if meditation is something you work on or something you play at. Like learning the piano, if you have a daily hour for practice you improve progressively and yesterday's work flows into today's. If you are like 'I don't feel like it', I'm sorry to say, you suck at piano. It's fine to play at it and have some fun if you aren't aspiring to become good at it, but if you want to do well, schedule your practice and persist.
Before I get into the practice itself I have to address virtue. A virtuous heart keeps one true on the path. Whatever your moral values are, live up to them. Don't have ill-will or become harshly judgmental, and resolve any grudges as best you can. Meditation is a purification, and all nature of acrimony is counterproductive. Always be truthful with others and yourself and don't gossip, lie or speak ill. Always do what is beneficial and do no harm. Make a conscious intention to be wholesome in everything you do. Put a note on your mirror if it helps, and whatever it takes, be attentive to what you're thinking and doing so you don't waver from pure-heartedness.
If these the above are incorporated into your life, your mind will already become more settled as meditation is already blending into a more aware way of living.
Breath awareness meditation is very simple. In a quiet place, close your eyes and pay attention what your breathing feels like. That's it.
For most of us, the mind will wander away within a minute, so however long your attention span lasts, consider that to be good. It doesn't matter if attention span is long or short. Pay attention as best you can, and when you notice mind has wandered away, simply resume feeling what your breathing is like. With practice, attention span increases and distraction time decreases.
It's best to set a time rather than quitting whenever you feel like it. Having a timer is a good idea and I highly recommend it. If you decide to make your meditation session 1/2 hour, lets say - be determined do at least half an hour. You can go longer if you feel like it, but don't give up early because you don't feel like it. Whatever duration seems 'doable' to you is fine. Twice a day is better than once, and you can increase your meditation time whenever you want.
Posture would ideally be sitting upright, and cross legged on the floor or sitting in a chair is fine. Laying down is not very good for a formal practice, but extra practice can be done lying in bed, and additional practice can be done standing in line, on the bus, or whenever you are able to pay attention to how your breathing feels. As much as possible whenever possible is the way to think about it. Doing it here and there during the day will help keep the mind from running too wild, which helps your formal practice session.
That's as much as I can say. Comments please and please ask questions.
Thank you, Gem. That is certainly helpful advice. I would like to add to something to what you said about sorting out your external life, values, etc. in the context of meditation.
While I'm not suggesting that one should always take this approach, meditation can also be used as a tool to do the mentioned "sorting out of your external life." Since meditation naturally builds our awareness, we become much more acutely aware of the aspects of our life and mind that are blocking or holding back our inner peace and love. This awareness of the issues is itself a first great step to letting go of them.
We can further use meditation as a tool to explore the roots and truth of the thoughts and emotions that surround our issues and suffering. As we reveal and explore the truth of these blocks, we can begin to let them go. With this letting go, the mind naturally becomes more peaceful in meditation and life outside of meditation. Eventually, life itself becomes a meditation.
Another "do-it-yourself" method is to use stream of consciousness writing or spiritual journaling. This can be quite meditative, but it is done outside of a formal / traditional meditation practice. For this process, when we are feeling painful emotions, we write down the thoughts that arise from those emotions, and again sincerely explore their roots and validity. This is another way to help us let them go.
One other thing that can be of value to explore as we evolve with meditation is what is actually aware of the breath, thoughts, and emotions. Becoming aware of awareness itself can help us see that we are not the thoughts that cause suffering. When we see that there is something much more fundamental and powerful innately within us (i.e. our awareness) which is persistent no matter what situations, thoughts and emotions arise, this can help us to let go of them.
From the perspective of sorting out your life, if this do-it-yourself approach does not resonate, then certainly seeking psychological or spiritual help from others who are qualified can help to achieve the same goal.
As you seemed to describe, starting with the breath is very fundamental, helpful, and ideal as a starting point. I have personally experienced the process over the years (i.e. over the span of a given meditation, and as phases over the span of life) as starting with the breath, then self exploration and letting go, and then a shift to abiding in awareness - not always linearly, of course.
I hope this adds to the conversation in a useful way, and glad to clarify or elaborate if needed.
Great post 4existence :smile:
Indeed "Free yourself up a bit and make meditation a part of organising your life... This way of looking at your life, externally and internally, is the essence of meditation."
thanks for these posts :)
Mindfulness, such as observing breath or being aware of thoughts and feelings, moment to moment induces single pointed attention, relaxes us, centres us but for the duration we are consciously undertaking that activity. If we substitute breath meditation with any other subject-object relationship, in my view it would be the same, although no doubt, breath is immediate and continuous.
Taking a step backwards, let’s play the devil’s advocate and question the need to meditate at all. What’s the motive and objective? Now, if we are stressed out and want to relax, to detox, fine … that’s a reasonable goal. However, going in deeper, there is a recognition that our innate awareness is unchanging, even though body ages and our understanding of the world around and within shifts over time. So what is this awareness or consciousness, as the screen upon which flow of life is experienced in linear time?
We may give it any name, how does it matter, God, soul, spirit. Essentially, if the objective of the search is to rekindle our innate divinity within, we simply acknowledge that it is evident that it is there but is yet veiled from our active cognition.
Observing breath or let’s simply say, mindfulness, wherein we choose to be aware rather than stuporous, we see that thought is an instrument. A useful instrument, it helps us get things done in the external world but cannot address issues which lack support of direct experience in lived reality. Furthermore, on reviewing thoughts, we find that they are mostly related to fears and desires rooted in attachments arising from mind-body vessel. A vessel we ensoul, no doubt, we don’t negate this. What is negation but another act of fanciful doership? However, we also realise that we are not only the mind-body. Ramana’s inquiry reinforces our ignorance: Who am I?
So, we simply delink our innate aliveness, awareness or consciousness … whatever we wish to label it as from thought forms. Thoughts arise, we look at them with nonchalance, curiosity, laughter even. They shouldn’t be there but yet they are! That sort of attitude.
In time, we abide in a continuum of stillness, in silence. Thoughts are employed when needed and that too by resonance, as a reflex, if you will.
Now, all of this goes hand in hand with our burning yearning to search for the underlying truth of our existence. We search but without thought. Thought is limited, we don’t want to go with limited.
At an optimal time, when residual fears and desires rooted in mind-body attachment recede, the emptiness within may be equated to a cleansing or purification of this earth vessel we ensoul. This activates our innate magnetism, drawing in the divine energy, which then pervades form, resulting in an explosion of ineffable bliss pervading our form in permanence. We are in the void. Love in love with love for love alone is our quest until we be to become love itself.
Obviously, we need to prioritise this shift. We are exhausted chasing illusions. We need to see God face to face, nothing less will do. Or if we drop the concept of God, that’s ok too, we want the veil of ignorance to drop and to see the source from which our awareness, our aliveness springs and flows. Or if we prefer, breath watching is fine but then how are we being breathed? What is the source of it’s power?
What I’m getting at is that no practice is needed, rather an orientation shift is required. We wish to know but don’t know how to go about it. We surrender doership, we cease thought, we are poised in animated attention, moment to moment to moment. Metaphorically speaking, we vaporise.
Let’s call this the practice of no-practice. No doubt, lower mind or ego or whatever we wish to label it as, it will ask questions, will have doubts. Again thought associated with mind-body. What if we don’t see the light? What if Kundalini doesn’t get activated? If it does, then to what degree and what thereafter? Again narrow goals seeking a ‘higher attribute’ for this here transient form. In time, we realise that doubts are essentially fears arising from ignorance. Our ego pursues us into subtle layers of awareness, congratulating itself on every wisdom download, every lively experience, every divine attribute ingrained or felt.
Once we internalise attention and let go of all knowing, all so called enableabilities of mind-body, this act of surrender, it empties us, purifies us, cleanses us. Then, with the dirt removed, magnetic currents flow and are cognised by our eternal awareness. The veils thin. All is as it is and we are one with it, without inner conflict. There is no seeking but we are as we are since yearning has replaced desire; the yearning to feel complete, unbound, blissful, luminous.
Each ascent, if we wish to use that word, marks a new beginning. There is no doing, save choosing to be aware in an orientation of agendalessness. We are in the stream, we do not resist, the currents carry us.
Essentially, we are so accustomed to striving to attain our earthy goals that we find it difficult to adopt a relaxed, non-doer meditational orientation as opposed to ritualistic meditation. Why all this needless effort? The delusion that we are only mind-body builds a complex script around our assumed identity. It is a bubble of ignorance. Once we burst the bubble, then we find that there is no one here.
The purpose of sharing all of this is not to argue about this vs that but merely to offer that any act of doership related to meditation is limited. Practice is alright to start with, to quieten lower mind. However, when we let go, so to speak, abiding in a continuum of thought rested silence and stillness, we find that the vibrant void is boundaryless. It is present in each half breath pause, in the gap between two thought trains, in the gap between perceiving and recognising, between intent and action … it is everywhere. All that is, is vibration, a dance of polarities, differentiated in space-time over a cognisable bandwidth.
To be still in the void is ego death. We don’t want to die. So the mind games continue, under a new label.
I'd suggest not being concerned with Gods or anything else that is not actual in your lived experience as it is for you right now. Spiritual notions will tend to occupy the mind, as will yearnings for special spiritual experiences, but there is a single minded objective here - be aware of what your breathing feels like. Nothing else. Just that.
Of course the mind will get up to all sorts, wandering away, spinning stories, going into the past, projecting into the future, imagining conversations with people, obsessing about work, reacting, getting bored, becoming impatient and the rest of it, but none of this is a problem. Your task is to be aware of what your breathing feels like. Nothing else but that.
People are going to tell you what should be and what is required, but you have your own thing. Things are the way they are for you; not as they are for me or anyone else. Your time on the cushion is totally reserved for knowing in complete immediacy what it feels like to be breathing right now.
No matter what else happens internally or externally, it is irrelevant to your task. You are perfectly clear about what to do.
Thank you Gem and Unseeking Seeker.
Gem, you mentioned:
This is something I nearly left out of my post for the reason of scope, but I included it because I think there is relevance toward "sorting out life", which as you described, is a big part of why meditation can be difficult.
Related to some of what Unseeking Seeker described, I think a lot of people eventually get caught up in meditation (especially in the early stages) as a rigid practice, which can stunt personal growth toward self-realization.
People are initially drawn to meditation for a wide range of reasons, but as we continue with it, awareness naturally begins to move to the forefront of experience, opening the lid on the jar of emotions and thoughts that we weren't otherwise aware of. This can be very challenging to handle whether or not you know what's happening with the process. However, if you have some understanding of what's going on, you may be able to more skillfully navigate it. This is why a practice of becoming aware of awareness itself can be a meditative tool. You can see that these thoughts and emotions do not have to define you or drive you, and this can be very valuable toward letting them go so they no longer overwhelm or control you.
I agree, breath as a focus of meditation is not just for beginners. I mentioned it is a great starting point, but it certainly can also be of value at any stage. However, if used rigidly, there could be suppressive effects. While it is part of the one "perfectly clear" task, the act of returning to the breath after mind distraction could be misunderstood for ignoring and pushing away thoughts and emotions that need to be expressed. Additionally, it may also be possible to become so attached to the breath and practices around it, that we may not realize that it is something that also will inevitably need to be let go.
You also mentioned that emotional exploration through journaling can become obsessive. I agree, but what I was trying to communicate is that spiritual journaling should be used not to ruminate, but to assist with finding truth. Asking yourself what is the truth behind this emotion, what is its root, what is the truth in that root - this can do wonders for letting it go. However, like a rigid practice of focus on the breath, it could also backfire if there is not a fuller understanding of how to integrate it with your journey, and that it must also be let go.
The reason I included the breath, emotional exploration, and awareness of awareness in my post was to communicate that these all come into play and can be valuable tools. If nothing else, the mention of each may plant a seed, consciously or subconsciously, as something that can be kept in mind as one starts their journey with meditation and inner exploration.
It seems the purpose of your thread was to give those interested a simple way to start and help them understand what to expect in relation to their own life conditioning. My post was simply to add a couple other tools that may come in handy along the way as the life conditioning part becomes more apparent. Different things work for different people, so perhaps it will be of value to some depending on where it meets them. There may be value for people to know a bigger picture of what they are starting so simply.
This has been a good discussion…..mainly about techniques that are beneficial and instructive. I will digress some from this tenor and respond to what I highlighted. Perhaps everything, including techniques, flows from 2 basic questions: Why meditate ? …..and….What is meditation ? FYI I come from a Christian perspective. My answer for the ‘why’ was the perception that something was missing in my life. Initially perhaps I was drawn to the shiny objects….peace, visions, dramatic and surreal experiences, etc. This changed over time. Now I can better answer the ‘what’.
Now my simple answer for the ‘what’ is to say that meditation is a spiritual operation. The Spirit is the doctor. The doctor must be able to work unimpeded. For this to be possible self-sedation is necessary. For me this means total surrender…..thoughts, emotions, feelings, experiences, etc. I approach the operation not as one seeking to be repaired to any former state but, rather, as one seeking to become a new man. It is the anticipation and hope for a spiritual birth.
This ‘operation’ can be deemed successful to the extent that I can begin to receive the blessings of the Beatitudes. This can only be a gradual process that manifests over time. The ‘old man’ was a result of many things: culture, experiences, thoughts, desires, emotions, abilities…whatever….:). The new will be a composite of these same influences….but they will be new…..ergo the new man. With new eyes and new senses a new world becomes visible. Personally for me intuition(Spirit) has become a regular companion. This is my experience….others can be much different….:)
In regards to the OP’s question: Trust the doctor…..:)
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