Last week, we explored what keeps those who have never meditated from trying the practice. This week, we will get into all the reasons why those who do know how, even those who are really enthusiastic practitioners, often fall off the meditation wagon. Before becoming a teacher, I often would go long stretches without getting my butt in the chair, so I have a lot of personal experience when examining the psychological constructs that can keep you from sticking to a regular practice. It does seem illogical, that something that feels so rejuvenating, that has so many health benefits, and is as simple as sitting on a couch can be so challenging to make part of our daily lives, but hopefully understanding what is obstructing your commitment can help to ease you back into regular practice.
True Yogic teaching is in many ways antithetical to the Western World View. Since we were born, we have been taught that happiness lies on the other side of action, on the other side of achievement. And these achievements are the result of focusing the mind. I see this happening in real time with my daughter who is in second grade and her studies are all about honing more and more focus. When we learn to meditate, we are doing the opposite of focusing, we are becoming expansive. The aperture is widening to incorporate more and more of existence into our awareness and sense of Self. By doing this, we learn little by little that the happiness we have been fighting so hard for has been there all along within and the key to reaching it is effortlessness. Even if we understand this intellectually, we have all been brought up in a world that rewards effort and achievement above all else, so for many of us there is some part that feels like meditation isn’t doing anything. Which is true, we aren’t doing anything, but we are becoming everything.
Your Intellect is Still King
Let's face it, your intellect can hear about all the ways in which meditation is great, and can reason that it is something this body should be doing and that you should even learn and take a class, but it doesn't really get it. And it shouldn't, not only is meditating not the domain of the intellect, it even causes the intellect to lose its high status. The more we meditate, the more the intellect takes a back seat while the intuition takes its rightful place as pilot. When the intellect looks at everything on your to do list and sees sitting in a chair for 20 minutes with eyes closed as one of those things, it thinks, “well, this isn’t getting anything done,” and scratches it right off. Once you have meditated to the extent that the intellect is subordinate to your inner self, this doesn’t happen anymore.
When we reach higher states of consciousness, sometimes there’s a Moses style parting of the clouds and voices ring from both the heavens and inside our soul, but for the most part, there’s nothing. Meditation changes our consciousness state incrementally, in shifts so small we don’t notice they’re happening. This is by design as large shifts in consciousness can be rough as they are accompanied by a lot of un-stressing. The new states of consciousness normalize almost instantly so we think nothing has changed and fall off our practice. I always do little thought exercises to remember what things were like before. I’ll come across a situation, like being in a traffic jam when late for an appointment, and remember how fifteen years ago I was in a similar situation and lost my entire mind, but this time I didn’t overreact at all. Other people around you will often notice more of a difference in you than you see in yourself as well.
Your life has too much irrelevancy
Until we become advanced practitioners of meditation (and even to some degree after we have…ah hem, who me?) most of our thinking and actions are not terribly relevant. So much of our time is spent on looping thoughts, doing things simply out of obligation, spending time on people who are draining your attention, holding onto items that serve no purpose. This is why we are all so busy to the brim. This sense of constant busyness can make you feel like you don’t have time to meditate. If you were truly doing and hanging on to only what was relevant, whole worlds of time would open up. The more we meditate, the more irrelevant thoughts, actions and relationships naturally fall away and this increase of available time happens on its own.
Still a lot of stress left to get through
When we first start to meditate, we are just beginning to launder all that stress stored in our physiology. Stress release in meditation causes the mind to come up to the surface out of the dreamy, cozy, relaxing layers of the mind. Beginning meditators have a lot of these restless, at times even agitated meditations as that initial massive debt of stress is slowly unburdened. Once you’ve gotten through it, most meditations feel pretty good, so there is an instant reward that makes motivating to sit in the chair easier. But until then, sometimes you just have to intellectually know it’s helping. I got a taste of this when I was pregnant with my baby last year. During the first trimester, my body was going through so much stress, my meditations felt super shallow and thought-filled. I got to experience again what it was like to be a beginning meditator and it made me so much more understanding of my students’ experiences.
While guilt plays a role in some religious traditions, it has no place in your meditation practice. I often tell my students if they miss a meditation to let it go because if they feel guilty for missing it, they will end up associating their practice with that guilt and then develop an aversion to the practice. Your practice is here to support you, you are not here to support your practice. If this has happened to you, the way you stop feeling guilty is to just get in the chair. Even right now, close your eyes and meditate for a moment to remind yourself how easy it is to start again.
You're prioritizing your outer life over your inner life
This relates to some of the above but I call it out because it often comes down to this. You are still prioritizing the action sphere of your life over the inner experience of your life. Another way of putting this is to say you’re putting your attention on what you experience over how you experience. This is due the reasons already discussed: social conditioning, the belief that happiness is on the other side of achievement, the intellect doesn’t get it, etc. To break through this, sometimes it takes a mental shift. When I had the epiphany to become a teacher, I said to myself, "well, I guess I better make sure to do this thing consistently twice a day." Just by boosting it mentally in my priority list and making it non-negotiable, suddenly it was like the time opened up itself. Next time you hear yourself giving all the reasons why sticking to your practice is impossible, tell yourself, “Okay, it’s impossible, but what if it wasn’t? What would that look like?”
I try to impress on all my students that falling off of your practice is so common and nothing to be concerned about. Most of my work is not teaching people to meditate, but helping them keep meditating. Often, all it takes is a little nudge to get back on track. If you’re having difficulty meditating consistently, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
Delphine just learned to meditate last week. She's already fallen off and gotten back on her practice.