Why Starting Meditation Is Hard (But Once You’re In It, It’s Wonderful and Easy). By Marcus Antebi
Once you get it down, meditation feels like every euphoric substance on earth but with no negative side effects. But the first and most difficult stage is getting around to doing it.
Why is this so? Laziness? Lack of know-how? Disbelief? Resistance to growth or change? Fear? Boredom? Restlessness? It may be one or all of these things.
Laziness: Overcome laziness by practicing for one minute every day, on the floor, on your back, with your eyes closed. Focus on your breath and focus on your surroundings. Focus on the weight of your body sinking into the floor. Observe the thought traffic in your head. And practice showing up for this. Do not miss a day. Make the routine into a pattern. Don’t lose this practice, and build it up to longer durations.
Lack of know-how: The first exercise is all the training that you need to start. Meditation is a mental practice of learning how to still the mind down to focus on one manageable and useful thought. It takes time, just as it takes time for weightlifters to build strength in their arms to curl their maximum and greatest weights.
Disbelief: For years I simply couldn’t grasp the concept of meditation. Partly because my mind was closed and partly because meditation would have likely interfered with my insatiable obsessions to be busy doing things. Doing, doing, getting, taking, buying, selling, moving here and there. I had no time to find a teacher. I had no faith or knowledge that meditation worked and could be of benefit to me at all. I surrounded myself with meditation concepts but I couldn’t bring myself to do them.
Meditation is logic at work. The concept of it is so simple: Still the mind and end all the noise and static caused by the layers and layers of thoughts for that short time. When I meditate, I can tune in to deeper levels of my innate knowledge. I can tune into something greater than my innate knowledge. Something timeless and without boundaries. I now can grasp ‘it’ and it no longer scares me. I’m no longer bored by it. I am not restless. Whatever power and beauty that is within the depths of our consciousness is free for the taking to anyone who reaches in for it.
Resistance to growth or change: There’s a side of me that wants everything to remain the same. I want everything in my mind to look like a library of books that’s untouched and perfectly organized. Taking a book away is too inconvenient. It means too much work. And I don’t want to create disorder.
But this resistance is easy to overcome. All I have to do is the exercise of telling myself to get out of the way. I remind myself that everything is always in a constant state of change. The only thing that can stay the same is my mind and my thinking, but even that has to change eventually. I likely resist change because I’m afraid of something. Sometimes I can’t see what it is that I'm afraid of. So if I just find the safety of my routines, the same pattern comes in and gives my mind the illusion that this is the way things will always be. I don’t indulge or try to outsmart this side of me.
Fear: I am afraid of my own healing. Because the life that I have created for myself resists the feeling of any acknowledgment that I carry pain, or that I have created barriers and defenses along the way from my childhood to my early adult life. When I go deep inside, I might encounter the energy waves of my emotions. They may wedge their way out of the fortress I built around them.
The more I expand my consciousness, the more my barriers of denial of the various negative feelings that I carry with me become obvious. This causes me discomfort. And then doing meditation becomes a really arduous task. I don’t want to get near it. But I remind myself that it is my healing that I am showing up for. I am learning to surrender to the process more and more.
My body is the first point of resistance. Sometimes my mind is powerless over the actions that my body wants to take. My body just needs a coach to get me into the position of meditation and show up. I always feel better when I do. I feel better when I am taking action to know that I am working towards improvement. I actually feel worse when I miss the routines that I know that I need to do to make my mind and character stronger and my outlook better.
When I show up for meditation I am showing up for healing and advancing to the next level. There may be a process of grieving and mourning to go through that is felt or triggered by mental stillness. After all, aren’t all of our addictions mostly about avoiding mental stillness and the difficulty of our feelings? Aren’t our obsessions the distractions we create to avoid the discomfort of not loving ourselves or not feeling connected? Bring yourself back into the body the way it was when you were a child, before the dislocation of your mind from your body occurred.
Boredom and Restlessness: These are likely the same thing. Boredom is one of the top worst feelings. It’s amazing to watch children desperately trying to avoid boredom. When children encounter boredom they act out. If they can’t get relief they throw tantrums. They cry.
Boredom is a painful experience for grownups as well. I think we were created this way naturally to prevent us from thinking early on in life, “Why do anything in life? It’s too dangerous. It would be easier for me to just lay in my cave all day and let life pass me by.”
There was a time when whoever thought like this would be eaten by a bear or a dinosaur or be overtaken by some natural disaster. But today we are very sheltered and protected from the forces of nature. So much so that you can actually set up a big portion of your life to not have to go out and explore and be curious.
Boredom is actually a wonderful defense mechanism against the tendency of our entire species to do nothing but hide. We are meant to explore and engage and take interest—this is one of our needs. We need to be challenged, we need to learn, and we need to be involved in activities and have fun.
In the beginning meditation doesn’t seem to have any of those qualities. It’s just to stop the usual activities and go sit somewhere in some yoga-like position, and be uncomfortable in your hips and perhaps your lower back. You can’t get through any of the distractions in your mind. And then, suddenly, boredom kicks in. I remember that during some of my difficult meditation practices I was so bored that my only concentration and focus was my asking myself, “When will this thing be over?”
I had to break up the meditation practices into much smaller time periods for me to be interested. I also had to see some of the benefits. Just by engaging in deep breathing exercises, I noticed that I felt more relaxed for the rest of the day or the evening. I noticed that if I didn’t practice the breathing exercises on a given day that my tendency was to feel more physically anxious. Once we begin to reap the benefits of meditation, then we love it and actually become greedy for it. One can say that meditation provides the ultimate high. Stillness is better than any other feeling. And eventually, stillness relieves boredom.
If the feeling of boredom seems too difficult to overcome, then work on your meditation practice while you’re moving. Do it while you’re driving, do it while you’re walking, do it while you’re typing. Just make a conscious decision in whatever you’re doing to say to yourself, “This is my meditation practice and I will concentrate on exactly what I’m doing at this time. I will work to not let my mind drift to something else. I will concentrate on my breathing. This is a moving meditation, and that’s perfectly fine.”
I do think that the ultimate goal should be to get into a perpetual state of meditation. When one masters this practice, when meditation becomes a way of life, the word “meditation” fades away. We can actually enter into a deep meditative state in all moments; our break would be sleep time. That’s a different state of consciousness than being awake, present, aware, and open to the true nature of this reality.