Loyola University Maryland

Counseling Center

Common Issues and Difficulties with Meditation

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Getting Lost in Thought

At first, you may be surprised at how active and uncontrolled your mind is. Don’t worry - you are discovering the truth about the state of most minds! Accept and patiently “sit with” whatever comes up. There is no need to get rid of thoughts; this is not the purpose of meditation. Rather, we are learning to recognize when thinking is happening so we are not lost in a trance—believing thoughts to be reality, becoming identified with thoughts. Because we are so often in a thinking trance, it is helpful to quiet down some. Your mind will gradually calm down. To support that quieting, at the beginning of a sitting it can be helpful to relax and practice Remindfulness—gently bringing your attention back again and again to your home base in the senses. It takes practice to distinguish the trance of thinking - fantasy, planning, commentary, dreamy states - from the presence that directly receives the changing experience of this moment. Establishing an embodied awareness and letting your anchor be in the foreground is a good way to become familiar with the alive, vibrant mystery of Here-ness, of presence.

Body-Mind Challenges

• Grasping: wanting more (or something different) from what’s present right now.
• Aversion: fear, anger, any form of pushing away.
• Restlessness: jumpy energy, agitation.
• Sloth and torpor: sleepy, sinking states of mind and body.
• Doubt: a mind-trap that says, “it’s no use, this will never work, maybe there’s an easier way”.

These are universal body-mind energies experienced by all humans. It is important to recognize that they are not a “problem.” The energies become “hindrances” because our conditioned habit is to ignore, resist, judge or otherwise try to control them. And yet when met with mindfulness and care, these same energies become a gateway to increased aliveness and spiritual awakening. During sitting practice, if you encounter one of these challenging energies, it may be useful to name it silently to yourself, e.g., “grasping, grasping” or “fear, fear.” If it is strong, rather than pulling away, let your intention be to bring your full attention to what is arising. Feel what is happening as sensations in your body, neither getting lost in the experience nor pushing it away. Investigate what is arising and meet the experience with compassionate attention. When it dissipates, return to the primary anchor of your meditation, or rest in Natural Presence.

Sometimes the energy is too strong, and it is not wise or compassionate to try to stay present with it. This is particularly true if you have been traumatized and are experiencing deep fear or anger. If it feels like “too much,” shift the attention to something that brings a sense of balance, safety and/or love. You might open your eyes, remind yourself of where you are, listen to sounds, relax again through your body. You might bring to mind someone who loves and understands you, and sense their care surrounding you. You might reflect on the Buddha, Jesus, Great Spirit, your grandmother, your dog or a favorite tree. You might offer phrases of loving kindness to places of vulnerability. Meditate on any expression of loving presence that helps you feel less separate or afraid. If you encounter these kinds of difficult emotional energies regularly you might ask a teacher or therapist familiar with meditation to accompany you as you learn to navigate what feels most intense.

Physical Discomfort or Restlessness

In addition to mental busyness and emotional challenges, it is inevitable that we all experience a certain amount of unpleasant physical sensations. If you are not used to the posture, there may be some discomfort in simply sitting still. In addition, as your attention deepens, you might become aware of tensions in the body that were ignored because of being preoccupied by thought. Or, you might be injured or sick, and become more directly aware of the natural unpleasant sensations accompanying that condition.

Meditating with physical discomfort is the same as the process of presence with emotional difficulty. Let your intention be to meet the unpleasantness with a gentle attention, noticing how it is experienced in the body and how it changes. Allow the unpleasantness to float in awareness, to be surrounded by soft presence. To establish that openness you might include in your attention sounds, and/or other parts of the body that are free from pain. Breathe with the experience, offering a spacious and kind attention. Be aware of not only the physical sensations, but how you are relating to them. Is there resistance? Fear? If so, let these energies be included with a forgiving and mindful attention.

If the physical unpleasantness is intense and wearing you out, direct your attention for a while to something else. It is fine to mindfully shift your posture, or to use a skillful means like phrases of loving kindness or listening to sounds as a way to discover some space and resilience. You don’t need to “tough it out.” That is just another ego posture that solidifies the sense of separate self. In a similar vein, you don’t have to “give up.” Instead, discover what allows you to find a sense of balance and spaciousness, and when you are able, again allow the immediate sensations to be received with presence.

For more info if you are having difficulty with meditation, check out this link at the Meditation Oasis  http://www.meditationoasis.com/how-to-meditate/difficulty-meditating/