Dealing with resistance to meditation
You know how it is. There’s something you really, really need to do — go out for a run, or get to work on a homework assignment, or start writing the next post in your blog, or get down to your meditation practice — but before you do it you’ll just have a cup of coffee, or check one more article online, or… my goodness, is that a cobweb over there? I really must do some tidying!
We’ve all been there. The mind sets up resistances and finds excuses to avoid doing what you think you should be doing. And this applies to meditation as well. You suddenly find all these other things that seem intensely compelling, and before you know it there’s no time left for your practice.
You may even be aware — intensely aware — of the fact you’re engaged in avoidance maneuvers, and you torture yourself as you indulge in a constant stream of distractions in order to stay off the cushion. You feel the power of the thought, “I should be meditating — I need to meditate,” at the same time as you experience an even more powerful feeling that you just don’t want to. Not yet. Not now. It’s very painful.
Even when your meditation practice is a source of great pleasure, you can find yourself avoiding it. Even when you know that your life it immeasurably richer, happier, and more fulfilled when you meditate regularly, you can find yourself avoiding the cushion. Even when you’ve promised yourself you’ll meditate every day, you find yourself avoiding that darned cushion!
There must be reasons of course, and we can end up torturing ourselves by engaging in psychoanalysis. Sure, there may be some part of ourselves that doesn’t want to change. Sure, it may be that we’re avoiding some kind of painful experience. Sure, we may be reacting to the fact that we’re using too many “shoulds” in our life and subtly or not so subtly coercing ourselves to meditate. We can spend hours coming up with such theories, and often we feel a bit happier once we’ve come up with a story that might explain why we’re not meditating, but the thing is, we’re still not meditating. We’re just involved in a slightly more refined way of avoiding meditation.
So here’s what you can do instead of torturing yourself.
When you find that you’re deferring your meditation practice — you just don’t feel like it, or you’d really like to be meditating but for some reason keep putting it off — become aware of the resistance itself. What feelings are present? Anxiety? Restlessness? Where are those feelings located? Perhaps in the pit of the stomach? Maybe some tension in the back of the neck? Become aware of those emotions and physical sensations, and make them into an object of awareness. In meditation there’s almost always some object that we use as the focal point for our experience. That could be the physical sensations of the breath, or it could be a visualized image, of the sound of a mantra, but it could just as easily be the feelings, emotions, and physical sensations associated with not wanting to meditate.
It’s important that, as you become aware of those sensations, you approach them without judgment. These are simply objects of awareness, just as the breath is an object of awareness in the mindfulness of breathing practice or your emotion connections are objects of awareness in the development of lovingkindness meditation. It’s unhelpful to become aware of the feelings, emotions, and physical sensations associated with not wanting to meditate with the intension of banishing them or “fixing” them. Just notice them. We should approach them with kindness, empathy, and a desire simply to be with them.
And you know what? You’re now meditating. Even if you’re standing in the kitchen, coffeepot poised to pour yourself a distracting cup of joe, you’re meditating. Even if you’re sitting at the computer, having just let go of the desire to read “one more article” (yeah, right!) online, you’re meditating.
At this point you may simply want to continue in place, paying attention to the feelings of resistance. Or you may want to sit somewhere quietly — maybe on your meditation cushion — and also notice your breath. Perhaps you could even, as you notice the sensations of resistance, wish yourself well: “May I be well; may I be happy; may I be free from suffering.”
You’re now meditating. And the feelings of resistance may have passed, and you just keep going with your regular practice. Or they may persist and you’re meditating with those sensations and emotions as your object of meditation. It doesn’t matter. You’re now meditating. The resistance is no longer an obstacle to your meditation practice, but a means.