Who ever said meditation was easy?
Have you ever wondered why you can’t quiet your mind? Are you frustrated that it churns out non-sense, stress, and anxiety faster than snowflakes in a blizzard? Do you get frustrated when you sit down to meditate and suddenly the volume in your head goes to 11?
You’re not alone. In the face of these experiences, most people give up. But that’s a big mistake.
You see, there’s a good reason why people retreat to caves for years on end to practice. Meditation is hard. There’s no easy way around it.
Sure, there are a million simple techniques to help you drop the drama in your head. Some of them are incredibly effective. We’ve even talked about some of them here on this site. They can genuinely help you calm your mind.
You can also have beginners luck and experience your mind going completely silent. That’s pure magic. Experiences like that are a gateway and they stoke your curiosity and interest.
In moments like that, all the chaos suddenly resolves and your problems disappear. There’s just a simple calm and inner quiet that fills your whole being.
And, there’s nothing like it.
But for most of us, those experiences aren’t the norm or they come and go. For many of us, it’s challenging to just start a meditation practice, much less stay the course and practice every day.
Meditation Takes Work, But It’s Worth It
Do you need to practice in a cave to meditate in earnest? No. Rather, you just need to be realistic. Meditation takes a lot of work, but the rewards that come with a committed practice are huge. I can say that again and again, but this is something you really need to discover for yourself.
And, truth be told, holding steady through the ups and downs of a consistent meditation practice can be a real ordeal. Sometimes, you just don’t know if you are making progress. The moments of peace can be few and far between.
To be honest, it’s easy to start wondering, “what’s the purpose of all this sitting? And, why is meditation so damn hard?” Let me tell you, I wondered that for longer than you might imagine.
But looking back, I can tell you it was totally worth it. (And it still is!) And many people with much more experience than me will testify to the same thing. On the other side of that ordeal, there are big results.
So why is it that meditation is so hard sometimes and what can you do about it?
You Need To Manage Your Expectations
Well, there are lots of reasons why it’s tough. And we’ll explore some of them below.
And just to be clear. I don’t want to dissuade you from starting a meditation practice. On the contrary.
But I have noticed that few are talking about how hard it can be. And to be successful in meditation, you have to be ready for the challenge. And you need to manage your expectations. That way, you won’t get disheartened when your practice doesn’t appear to be delivering the goods.
In fact, understanding why meditation is hard can help you to make progress. It’s not sexy, but identifying some of the challenging parts of the practice can help you navigate your inevitable frustrations on the path.
I should also say this. Meditation is hard for most people, but not everyone. If meditation is easy for you, that’s totally great. Don’t worry about it and keep doing what you’re doing. But for the rest of us, it’s worth taking a closer look.
6 Reasons Why Meditation Is So Damn Hard
So why is meditation so hard? Let’s break it down and look at three deeper reasons why you might find this practice is a hard start and an even tougher long game.
- You Have Resistance to Letting Go
- Resistance Takes Many Forms
- You Can’t Underestimate the Momentum of Your Mind
- You Can’t Control Your Unconscious Mind
- You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
- There’s Nothing In It For You
1. You Have Resistance to Letting Go
Meditation can test you in interesting ways. For example, it’s always a test when you get all fired up to meditate and then you sit down and all the energy and motivation drains out of you.
That doesn’t tend to happen in other arenas of life in quite the same way.
So why on earth does that happen in meditation? Where did all that inspiration go? You were soaring when you sat down and you were ready to let go. What happened?
Don’t worry, because you should expect that sometimes. For me, that was a normal event for a long time.
The truth is, we all have a deep resistance to meditation. Let’s be honest, when you start meditating, there isn’t a lot in you that wants to let everything go. Sure, you can get inspired, and you may sincerely believe that meditation is right for you.
If you are reading this post, I’m pretty sure you are right about that belief.
But here’s the thing. We are all deeply invested in our minds and our thoughts. And it’s important to understand that our thoughts are mostly fueled by our fears and desires.
Real meditation requires you let all that go.
If meditation was as easy as closing your eyes and free falling into infinite space, you’d have started this a long time ago. And…there would be a lot more people meditating.
Sure, you may only practice ten minutes of meditation a day, but that’s all it takes to encounter this resistance. You see, each of us is fiercely committed to our own internal worlds. Whether you know it or not. And that’s not a bad thing. For most us, it’s all that we know. It’s all that we have and all that we are.
However, meditation eventually helps you to see that there is more to life beyond what you already think and know. It helps you let all that go and discover a limitless space within that is untouched by time, trauma, and the trials of the world. That space is forever at peace and always already free.
2. Resistance Takes Many Forms
Don’t be fooled. Resistance can take many forms. How many times have you thought about starting a meditation practice? And how many times did something else become more important and you didn’t even notice?
Author Steven Pressfield’s inspired book The War of Art discusses the idea of resistance, and the countless ways that we foil our own higher potentials.
According to Pressfield, it’s the same for an artist as it is for someone who is trying to start a meditation practice. You face real and embedded forces of resistance within you. And those inner forces, which Pressfield enumerates in detail, are the real challenge before you.
So what am I talking about exactly?
When faced with the opportunity to meditate or create our next artistic masterpiece, most of us would rather watch netflix, get on the phone, check our email, have sex, you name it.
Of course, these things aren’t inherently bad. But when you try to harness a higher impulse to start (or sustain) your meditation practice or your next artistic work, there is often an equal and opposing energy within you. This is what Pressfield calls resistance.
Other schools of meditation might call it ego or inertia. In the end, the result is the same. You don’t meditate.
That resistance can look like all the things I mentioned above and more. And the important thing is to notice the relationship between your desire to meditate and how easy it is to let other things become more important right away. More often than not, that’s your resistance talking. And it’s pretty crafty.
And why does this happen? Because meditation requires a particular muscle you aren’t used to flexing. It takes consistent work over time to be fruitful. When you do it, you have to bring your whole self to it. There is no half-measure with meditation. When you sit down and start, it’s all or nothing.
3. You Can’t Underestimate the Momentum of Your Mind
Did you know that your mind has it’s own momentum? And did you know that practicing meditation is going in the opposite direction of that momentum?
Here’s one way to think about it. Imagine a little stream high up in the mountains. That’s your thought stream when you are born. As that little stream rolls downhill, it picks up momentum and gathers force. Other little streams enter into it. It gets bigger.
That’s like the momentum of your mind as you grow older. The stream of thought running through your head grows and gathers force too.
By the time you’re an adult, you have the mighty Mississippi running through your noggin.
So let’s break it down a bit. What are these “streams of thought” anyways? Here is a high altitude overview, which is far from comprehensive. But it helps to illustrate my point.
- First, there is the personal momentum of all your own thoughts. Those are the thought patterns shaped by your own personal experience.
- Then, there is the momentum of your cultural mind, which is hundreds (if not thousands) of years old, and informed by all the thoughts and values of your people, your tribe, and everything that has happened to them over the ages.
- Finally, there is your historical mind, which has the momentum of all human thought and experience embedded within it.
That’s a huge river and some deep patterns!
So the thing with meditation is this. You let go of ALL of that. You leave it behind. But it’s not easy because your mind has all this momentum and you have been riding the central current of that river your whole life. It’s all that you know.
And now are trying to step outside that current. You aren’t trying to fight it, and you’re not trying to build a dam. You’re just trying to get out on the river bank and let the river roll on by while you rest on the shore.
But here’s the problem. You think you are the river. That’s natural. And if you are like nearly everyone else, you have believed that your whole life.
Meditation helps you discover that you are not that rushing river of thought. You are something much more. Something that can’t be defined by thought alone.
Read Part 2 in this series here.