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The quick answer is “Don’t Quit”!
During my years of teaching meditation, I’ve heard a multitude of excuses for ending a meditation session early so let’s look at some of them and what to do when they occur.
One of the simplest reasons for feeling restless during meditation is because you’re sitting in an uncomfortable position. If you can sit for 20–30 minutes with your legs crossed in full lotus and without back support, then go ahead. This is the classic meditation posture you see pictures of the yogis adopting. However, for most of you, trying this would soon become painful and very distracting.
For the best results, sit with your back upright but make sure that you’re comfortable. Support yourself with a pillow and use a blanket if you’re cold. Take a moment at the beginning of your practice to check how your body feels, take a few deep breaths, and allow your body to relax. Even after doing this, if you feel some discomfort during the meditation, it’s okay to shift your position.
The only thing you need to be able to meditate is to be able to think a thought, which you can do no matter what is going on around you. However, a lot of external noise can cause you to become frustrated.
Whenever possible, find a quiet place to meditate where you’re unlikely to be disturbed. If you have pets or young children, give them something to do in another room. For a silent meditation (such as Primordial Sound Meditation), do not listen to music during the meditation, as this will keep bringing your attention out into activity. In general, meditate inside. While meditating outside can be enjoyable, it can also be filled with potential disturbances—birds chattering, invading insects, and strange or unusual sounds.
Falling asleep during meditation happens to everyone once in a while. It just means that you are a little tired and the body releases the fatigue through sleep. However, it can be frustrating if you find yourself falling asleep during every meditation.
If this happens, then it’s time to look at your lifestyle and ask yourself why you’re so tired. Are you getting enough sleep at night, are you under too much pressure, are you eating the wrong diet, or are you exercising regularly?
Expectations are one of the biggest causes of unhappiness in your life in general and can create frustration during your meditations.
The experiences you have in meditation are the correct ones for you at that time. Don’t look for any particular experience; simply accept whatever comes innocently. Meditation is to enrich your life, not to give you some flashy experience while you’re meditating. Don’t expect the experience you had previously to necessarily show up again and don’t look for someone else’s experience in your meditation.
A variety of factors influence your experience, from what you’ve eaten, how rested you are, what’s going on emotionally in your life, and even what time of day it is. Every time you sit down to meditate, begin with the same innocence you had when you first learned, not knowing what to expect.
When you meditate the mind settles down, which causes the body to settle, too. When you’ve just eaten a large meal, your body is actively digesting the food. If you meditate on a full stomach there will be a conflict between your mind wanting to become more rested and your body needing to stay more active, disturbing your meditation.
In general, therefore, meditate before eating a meal. However, if you are always hungry during your meditations, this will be disturbing. In this case, eat something light to stave off the hunger but not so much as to create a lot of digestive activity.
Release of stress is one of the most important benefits of meditation but is also the leading cause of frustration and restlessness during meditation. Stress is physical—you feel the tightness and tension in various parts of your body and the knots of stress in your muscles.
Meditation is a process of settling down. Rest is how the body heals itself, which it does by releasing what shouldn’t be there—stress, fatigue, and toxins. When you begin your practice, your mind becomes quieter and less active. This causes a corresponding settling down in your body, which allows some stresses to be released. This release causes an increase in your body’s activity and a corresponding increase in mental activity. Mental activity is thinking thoughts, so the mind grasps something to begin thinking about, usually what you were thinking about before you sat to meditate.
Thinking during meditation is the indication that stress is being released; this is a good thing and shouldn’t be a cause of frustration. Realizing that your attention has drifted to thoughts is the indication that this release of stress is complete so now is the time to return to your mantra, breath, or other object of your meditation.
Sometimes the release of stress can cause you to experience a physical sensation such as a change in body temperature, some tingling, or slight movements of the body. All these sensations are natural and not an excuse to quit the meditation.
In addition to physical stress, meditation also helps you release emotional stress. Usually this happens without your noticing but occasionally you might feel the welling up of an emotion. When you notice this happening, come back to the object of your meditation.
Finally, there is your old friend, your ego, and its role in causing frustration during your meditation.
The ego is a necessary and, when balanced, important layer of your life. However, when out of balance, the ego likes to control everything by creating boundaries. The goal of meditation is to step into the unbounded field of all possibilities, which can feel threatening to the ego. Your ego helped create who you are and so knows you very well. It knows all your habits and weaknesses and will use them to trick you into not meditating. Beware of the ego when you meditate—it can sound very tempting. When the doubts arise and all those reasons why you should stop the meditation show up, ask yourself, “Is this my Higher Self directing me or is it my ego?”
If you are practicing easily and effortlessly, every meditation will be a good meditation and give you exactly what you need at that time. The frustration you feel is an indication that something good is happening. Be patient. Once you recognize any of these distractions for what they are, you will notice them and continue meditating without feeling frustrated. Always remember, you don’t meditate for a flashy experience during the practice. You meditate to enrich your life out of meditation.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
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