The Top 5 Reasons You’re Not Meditating (And What You Can Do About It)None By Matt Alesevich
If I asked you to think of a meditation expert in his or her natural environment, you’re unlikely to think of an everyday American walking the streets of New York City.
Contrary to popular belief, however, many authorities on meditation, a simple practice scientifically proven to increase one’s happiness, are not robe-draped recluses but ordinary citizens who took an interest to meditation in adulthood. (Not unlike, say, yourself.)
Two of these everyday Americans turned modern-day authorities are meditation teacher and bestselling author of Real Happiness, Sharon Salzberg and psychotherapist and author, Richard Shrobe, a Zen master at New York’s Chogye International Zen Center.
Happify recently caught up with Sharon and Richard in New York to discuss the five most common beginning meditator complaints and tips on overcoming them. Here’s what they had to say.
Complaint #1: I have no time.
Sharon: Everyone's to-do list is overwhelming. One of my teachers talked about the goal of practice being “short moments, many times.” When the phone rings, take a few breaths. Take a minute before a major meeting. The way we remember to do this is [through] the more formal, dedicated period of 10 to 20 minutes a day. [Meditation] doesn’t stop you from getting stuff done. It helps you be more present and more interested in what you’re doing.
Richard: If there’s some significant interest in [meditating], even as an experiment, you can make ten minutes of time somewhere in some fashion. If you consistently make a small amount of reasonable time and get into a habit, you will begin to notice that you can find a little more time. Don’t make some schedule you cannot keep. It’s much more important to practice regularly for 10 minutes four of seven days a week for three months than to practice for an hour for two days and say that you can’t do this anymore.
Complaint #2: I can’t stop thinking.
Sharon: People think: “I’ve failed because I couldn’t stop thinking. I couldn’t make all thoughts go away.” The goal is not to stop thinking! The goal is to be able to change our relationship to ourselves. We’re developing space from thoughts and seeing them clearly and quickly. See thoughts like clouds in the sky. Some look fluffy and nice and some look ominous, but they’re all just moving along in the sky.
Richard: We are all habituated to all kinds of expectations. The spirit of meditation practice, similar to learning an art form, is to let go of presuppositions and have an attitude that this is a creative experiment. Let’s not have an assumption that “my mind should be free of thoughts” or blank or “I should see a blue light”. If you are very attached to negative thinking or self-critical thinking, begin to notice that you can watch that stuff come and go and not just immediately get on that train of thought.
Complaint #3: My body gets sore.
Sharon: Don’t conquer the pain, but distinguish physical sensation from mental disturbances. Thinking “I’m the only one who has ever suffered in this way” only makes it worse. Distinction between what is happening physically and mentally is important in life. Spend some time seeing if you can relinquish the habitual reaction. Ask yourself: “Am I adding any self-blame or isolation or fear to the pain?”
Richard: One time there was a guy who came to our Zen center for a 90-day winter retreat. He had all kinds of body problems and said the only way he could meditate was lying down. He brought a mattress, and he practiced for 90 days on his back. When there’s a will, there’s a way. No matter what your posture is, it’s important to recognize that one of the first things you’re going to feel is quiet discomfort—not extreme discomfort—but subtle things. You’ll begin to notice little twinges and slight discomforts of various kinds until you can sit and breathe through those things.
Complaint #4: I don’t feel different afterwards.
Sharon: Some people get discouraged because they couldn’t get into bliss doing 10 minutes a day. I didn’t have a great spiritual experience or love myself completely while I was sitting there [at first]. Look at your life and not the period of practice. Progress is gradual yet tremendous. I got happier. I was kinder to myself. I was better when I met a stranger. I was interested [in people] instead of judging people.
Richard: You wouldn’t have the expectation of picking up a guitar three or four times or even for three weeks and being able to play like Jimi Hendrix. If one is learning to play the guitar, what can one expect? Little by little some kind of slow, evolving kind of thing. The same is true with meditation practice. If someone practices regularly and consistently they will begin to notice, in subtle ways, something beginning to happen: thinking slows down to some degree or they don’t get on the train of negative thinking quite so quickly.
Complaint #5: I’m not religious.
Sharon: The Buddha didn’t teach Buddhism, the Buddha taught a way of life. You don’t have to believe anything. You don’t have to become a Buddhist. This is about your capacity to be a happier person. It’s about having more wisdom and compassion.
Richard: To sit down for 10 minutes every day and follow your breath or to sit down and ask yourself “What is my true self?” or “Who am I?” - those things are not particularly religious. Cultivating stability of attention and clear awareness can fit with every religion or no religion.
Thinking about starting your own meditation practice? Watch Happify’s Meditation for Beginners or try Sharon’s four-week meditation track series on Happify.
Matt Alesevich is a New York City-based travel, relationship and human interest writer. His work can be found at www.mattalesevich.com and he can be followed on Twitter.
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