I’ve been meditating on and off for over 5 years. Developing a meditation practice has brought positive changes in my life but it doesn’t come without its challenges.
Probably one of the most common misconceptions about the practice is the idea that you have to be able to “empty your mind”. Even the most advanced meditation techniques lead to meditative states that have qualities of reflective awareness and intentionality. Forcefully trying to limit your thinking is actually harmful, even for the most experienced meditator. You can’t trap your monkey mind.
Our stone-aged survival instincts aren’t made for stillness. It’s the natural condition of the mind to wander and to look for things to prevent, to do, or to improve. Buddhism points to five main reasons (hindrances) that prevent our minds from staying present and lead us to unwholesome action.
The First Hindrance: Sensual Desire
Hunger, sexual desires, the simple urge to stretch your legs: your bodily desires are constantly diverting your attention. But desire can take on many forms as it seeks new channels and different combinations to realize itself. I always desire what I don’t have: more friends, food, lovers. Through meditation, I’ve been able to see desires as what they simply are – thoughts that I’m not forced to act upon.
When you eventually learn to accept them with compassion without letting them ruin your concentration, you’ll find that meditation actually loosens their hold on you. And if that doesn’t work, gratitude meditation allows you not to get caught up in the desire by focusing on all the things you’re grateful for.
The Second Hindrance: Hate and Anger
Anger can be directed at someone else, at yourself, or even at that annoying noise that is keeping you from focusing on your breath. Again, it may sound trivial, but see it for what it is. If someone is bothering you, allow yourself to calm down. Let go of your own defensiveness. By doing so, you’ll be better at communicating what is making you angry without reverting to simply blasting other people.
The Third Hindrance: Boredom
Boredom occurs when you think that there is no purpose in what you’re doing. To prevent boredom from cropping up, start by setting an intention for your meditation. What is your “why” for wanting to meditate? This is a great way to generate new energy and overcome torpor.
The Fourth Hindrance: Agitation, Restlessness
I can feel the restlessness in my toes whenever I sit down to meditate. Sitting down isn’t a meaningful activity, is it? I’ve learned to just observe the tingling and don’t act on it. It’s my way of meeting the hindrance with compassion.
The Fifth Hindrance: Doubt
We’ve all dealt with the feeling telling us that it’s total nonsense doing this whole meditation practice in the first place. I have two suggestions here:
- Persist. Keep meditating regularly, because mindfulness can only be learned with practice.
- Let go of expectations. Sit with curiosity and be open to possibility.
One final suggestion: put on some meditation music. It definitely helps me overcome all the hindrances that I have to face.