Why Is Meditation So Hard?
This is such a common question that we get! Clients often tell us that meditation feels difficult, so we had one of our resident therapists, Hall Birdsong, who loves talking about living a peaceful life, share his tips for how to implement this beautiful yet often elusive practice into your daily life in a way that feels helpful and positive.
But first, what IS meditation?
Meditation is an ancient practice with many forms, dating as far back as 1500 BCE. This beautiful practice has been present in many cultures throughout the world and has provided many people with a method to connect with the world within them and the world beyond them.
Currently, most people understand meditation as a practice that helps them cultivate certain states, such as wisdom and compassion, and decrease negative experiences like stress and depression. Most meditation practices you hear about in modern times actually derives primarily from what is known as the Tehravada Buddhist tradition of mindfulness, which involves learning how to be aware of the present moment and cultivating a deeper understanding of your mind and emotions. Despite its long-standing presence throughout history, only recently has meditation converged with neuroscience, with the first physiological studies of meditation in the 1950s and the first clinical studies in the 1970s. Since then, scientific research has made enormous strides in demonstrating the remarkable psychological and physical health benefits associated with meditating regularly. Some of these science-based benefits are:
reduced age-related memory loss
increased kindness and compassion
Why is Meditation so Hard?
So you might be thinking....if this practice is so beneficial…why do so many of us struggle with doing it? I’ve found this is a common question, and I think it stems from people using meditation almost like a “prescription”, or a means to an end, which fundamentally distorts the power of the practice and the deeper and more subtle ways it can change your relationship with life.
If meditation is only practiced with the intention of gaining peace or getting rid of anxiety, it will likely begin to feel mechanical and arduous over time, like another chore you don’t want to do. This is why maintaining a regular practice is often quite difficult. In fact, when you first sit down and face your own thoughts with no distractions, you may be shocked to find just how loud your mind is and how illusive the peace is that you’re seeking. You may feel you’ve been sold an empty promise, another self-help fix that works for others but never you. This is the point where most of us go to war with our minds and try to quiet our thoughts, before quitting the practice entirely out of frustration.
But as one wise teacher said, “If you go to war with your mind, you’ll be at war forever.” Trying to quiet your mind isn’t, technically speaking, meditation, but rather a form of concentration. And even if you’re successful at quieting the mind during formal practice, as soon as you stand up and resume your day, the mind will spring back to life. Force isn’t the answer.
Hall's Tips: How to Meditate with Ease
Instead, I recommend that from the very beginning, you should pay attention to the quality of gentleness, rather than force. Rather than focusing on your breath, notice your breath. Notice the way your body is just breathing, without any effort on your part. Notice that your heart is beating. You don’t have to do anything to earn it or deserve it. It just beats. Notice that your eyes are seeing. Your ears are hearing. You do not need to create, maintain, or manufacture these phenomena. They are already occurring. Simply notice them. Whether you notice them for a moment, five minutes, or thirty minutes, you’re doing it. You’re meditating.
These are unimaginably complicated processes happening in your body, yet they all feel quite natural and easy. When you begin to feel your way into this, you will start to understand what it feels like to flow with your experience, rather than against it. This is what the great zen masters meant by the phrase “effortless effort.” This is a great starting point for establishing a more accessible and rewarding practice.
Remember, at its core, meditation is non-violence. This is a concept we see in the philosophy of yoga as well, known as ahimsa. (to learn more about yoga philosophy, check out this blog post). In a way, most of us are very violent towards ourselves and toward life, always trying to control everything and allowing our inner critic to dominate our thoughts and actions. The practice of meditation is about letting go of control, which really just means letting be. It is about allowing your experience to be just as it is in the present moment, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant, and to watch how letting be, paradoxically, cultivates the space necessary for your mind to slow down, without any effort on your part.
Keep in mind, this practice doesn’t have to be done while sitting. By “tuning in'' throughout the day and becoming aware of your breath and your senses, without any direction, goal, or method, meditation can become your natural state of being.
I recognize that even while this sounds simple in theory, it can be really hard, especially if you are struggling with your current emotional state. This brings us to the paradox of change.
The Paradox of Change
How people change is a core element of therapy. There are many different therapy approaches and theories, but the one thing scientific research has shown again and again, is that 94% of therapeutic outcomes comes down to the relationship you have with your therapist. If this is a good relationship, you will feel un
conditional positive regard, acceptance, and empathy. In other words, you feel accepted just as you are.
I find that meditation and therapy are quite complementary and work well together as both encourage awareness and acceptance of one’s current state. When people allow themselves to be fully in touch with who they currently are and what is happening in their mental and emotional world, change and growth then have the space to emerge. And that is s the paradox of change! The longer you foster a meditative attitude towards your inner experience and the circumstances of your life, the more you discover that this is not a passive state at all, but a dynamic and creative one. Meditation is, counterintuitively, a method that nurtures fluidity, freedom, and possibility.
Be Your Best Self & Thrive Counseling uses a holistic, non-judgmental approach to help you build an alliance with your mind, body and spirit that work together for your benefit. We love teaching individuals how they can use meditative practices to find more peace, happiness and joy in their lives.