5 Challenges in Meditation
We hear a lot about the benefits of a regular meditation practice, but life – and our own minds can get in the way. When we do make time for our meditation practice, we can be easily distracted by some of its more common pitfalls. Here are five common challenges we face in meditation:
Feeling the urge to be doing something else during a meditation session is probably the biggest meditation obstacle out there. Impatience causes us to end meditation sessions early, impedes our concentration and frequently makes us stop our practice altogether.
The key to counteracting impatience is to recognize the very existence of the feeling itself. If we feel the insatiable urge to do something else, it is important to acknowledge the feeling of impatience instead of giving into it. By acknowledging our impatience, we empower ourselves to effectively deal with it versus allowing it to rule us.
After acknowledging the feeling, we must remind ourselves that the benefits from a daily meditation practice will help us be more effective in everything we do afterward, including those activities that are causing our impatience. A calm, effective mind helps with decision making, anxiety and clear thinking.
Secondly, by identifying and isolating the feeling of impatience, we can then practice letting go of it, which gets to the essence of meditation—recognizing unproductive thoughts and letting go of them.
2. Lack of Time
So often we set intentions to meditate regularly, but our practice ends up getting tossed aside for “more important” things. We often feel like there are a million other things we need to do before we have time for our meditation practice.
The key here is prioritizing meditation by working on our perception of it. If we view meditation as a core part of our routine, like brushing our teeth or taking a shower, then missing meditation is no longer an option. We go through a routine to prepare our physical bodies for the day, so why not have one for our minds, as well?
3. Lack of Sleep
It is very, very difficult to meditate without enough sleep. If we begin meditating on little sleep, we often feel drowsy and end up dozing off. Not very productive! Also, a sleep deficit reduces our ability to concentrate and control our thoughts, which makes our meditation sessions far less effective. We are also less likely to meditate in the first place when fatigue undermines our resolve.
What’s the answer? Take a break and get some sleep! It’s okay to let go and allow ourselves the restoration we need to be successful.
4. Feeling “good enough”
Feeling good can be our biggest inspiration and our biggest obstacle. If we are not careful, feeling good can subtlety erode our resolve to continue with our meditation practice. The idea that because we feel good, we don’t need to meditate seems like it makes sense on the surface, but will ultimately undo our progress if we follow it. It can be as simple as waking up in the morning and deciding to lounge around and enjoy the morning instead of meditating because “we feel good, so it’s all good.” If we skip too many times we will regress in our practice and lose the positive mindset we cultivated.
Good is good, but great is even better. We can only reach great if we keep up our meditation. Focus on maintaining and improving the positive experience.
5. Stopping short
This is a very subtle pitfall in our meditation practice which can take a very long time to overcome if we do not realize it is happening. This occurs during a session when our mind finally settles into a place of calm and then we decide to immediately terminate the meditation because we think that we have achieved our goal. By terminating our session early, we are in fact missing out on the enormous benefits from continuing.
We can think of meditation in two steps. Step one is achieving the initial calm during a meditation and step two is sitting with that calm. By residing in a tranquil state we deepen our calm, improve our clarity and strengthen our feeling of relaxation for the post-meditation period.
How to Avoid These Meditation Pitfalls
Let Gaia guide you toward a stronger meditation practice. In the Here & Now Meditation Guide, you will create a solid foundation of new habits backed up by neuroscience.
Experiencing Consciousness Through Mindfulness
Have you ever had a moment where you felt a heightened sense of awareness in which you could tune into your environment and people around you; allowing you to perceive things you wouldn’t normally? Or have you ever experienced becoming aware in a dream in which you were then able to start making decisions within the dream world (lucid dreaming)? What about a moment of love and compassion where you could actually feel what another person or animal was going through almost as if you were them?
These kinds of experiences offer us a glimpse into a profound way of being and perceiving reality that we each carry within, and that we can learn to use to bring about a more conscious, connected, and spiritual way of living that is literally just waiting for us to shift into whenever we choose.
Coming into the present moment
You may have noticed that a heightened sense of awareness is always accompanied by our perception coming fully into the present moment. It can feel a bit like switching on a light in a darkened room or focusing the lens of a camera—all of a sudden it’s like the world around us comes into view and clarity.
By coming into the awareness of the moment in whatever we’re doing, we perceive from our consciousness rather than the subconscious; which manifests as dreams and daydreams in which we lose perception of what’s happening around us and are drawn into the self-created images of our own thoughts and emotions. And because consciousness is the eternal, spiritual part of us, not only can we see physical stuff more clearly, but we can also perceive things that are non-physical too.
“…end the sleep which weighs heavily upon you. Depart from the forgetfulness which fills you with darkness… O soul, persistent one, be sober and shake off your drunkenness… Light the light within you.”
The Teachings of Silvanus from the ancient Gnostic Nag Hammadi Library, translated by Malcolm L. Peel and Jan Zandee
Taking control of the wheel
Although consciousness tends to get neglected—usually remaining submerged in a continuous stream of thoughts and daydreams, and forgotten amidst the concerns of everyday life—like a muscle, when we exercise it, it gets stronger and we can feel clearer, more “present,” and “truer” to who we are.
Coming into the present moment can feel like something we have to put down whatever we’re doing to experience, but being more conscious doesn’t mean we stop acting, thinking or feeling. Instead, like a driver taking control of the wheel, it means we are able to be more conscious of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and therefore more discerning with those we choose to have.
Expanded Consciousness is the point we ultimately develop spiritually from, as it’s the eternal part of us—deeper than our intellect, knowledge of facts, or personal talents, it’s the part of us that journeys through eternity and that’s why in many spiritual traditions it is the focus of their disciplines and exercises.
“Intellectual knowledge exists in and of the brain. Because the brain is part of the body, which must one day expire, this collection of facts, however large and impressive, will expire as well. Insight, however, is a function of the spirit. Because your spirit follows you through cycle after cycle of life, death, and rebirth, you have the opportunity of cultivating insight in an ongoing fashion. Refined over time, insight becomes pure, constant, and unwavering. This is the beginning of immortality.”
Lao-Tzu in the Hua Hu Ching, translated by Brian Walker
Consciousness is something we can experience anywhere anytime. Here’s a little exercise that anyone can try, no matter what they are doing.
For example, if you’re reading as you are now, you can begin by just becoming aware of reading these words. Start then to become aware of your own breathing, and of your body sitting in the chair. Next, become aware of the various sounds you can hear around you. Look around and perceive the light and colours of the things you can see, any people, animals and interactions, the objects and sense of space. Just consciously perceive what’s around you without labeling. See if you can spend a few moments doing this.
Notice how thoughts start to appear. They could be about this article, or about what someone said. Just become aware of them. Observe the state you feel—perhaps a slight tension in your stomach, or a feeling of agitation. Notice how these feelings can cause you to move in a certain way, like jiggling your legs or clenching your muscles. Don’t become distracted by them, just perceive them.
Consciousness is that which is doing the perceiving—and can be directed both inwardly and outwardly. Notice that you can perceive without thinking—that you can perceive just by seeing.
Consciousness – beyond body and mind
Simply by trying this one exercise we can experience consciousness and observe how there is something within us that is beyond thoughts and feelings, and even beyond the mind. Going further, consciousness can even be experienced as being beyond the body in near-death and out-of-body experiences.
If you try this exercise a few more times, you will begin notice that there’s a permanent observer—one that is essentially always there, and always the same, whilst the different thoughts and feelings change from one moment to the next. If you recall a memory of when you were a child for example, you’ll feel that what was fundamentally having that experience then, is what is experiencing this moment now.
The potential to develop consciousness
Many different peoples throughout time discovered the inherent potential each of us has to develop our consciousness. They termed the outcome of this development enlightenment, awakening, self-realization, etc. Using their developed consciousness, they built sacred sites, created masterpieces of art and music, and explored the mysteries of life and the universe, all of which remain a timeless testament to human spiritual potential. We too have this potential, which is why spiritual truths remain timeless and just as relevant now as they were thousands of years ago.
Consciousness is what connects us all to the spiritual source, to each other, to all forms of life, to other planes of existence, and throughout time into eternity. Therefore by experiencing and developing it we can perceive, connect with, and partake in the greater spiritual reality and majesty of all that is—something truly wonderful to be alive for and to experience.