Why do we resist meditation?

November 19, 2009

Do you ever find yourself resisting meditation? Perhaps you’ve resolved to meditate regularly either because you think it’s good for you, or you’ve enjoyed meditating and what it does for you. And yet, for some reason, you find yourself resisting meditation. Georgina asked about this in a comment:

“I really love meditation and your podcasts have greatly assisted me and changed my life. But even though I love meditation and I know it is good for me, I find myself resisting doing it almost daily… why is that? Do you have any insight on why we resist meditation? Why I find it so hard to sit for just 10 minutes a day sometimes? Is it the mind not wanting you to go away from it?”

Before I comment, I’d like to invite you to share your experience with this. Do you find you resist meditation? How do you experience that resistance? Do you have any idea why you resist?

I know many people struggle with this. As I wrote to Georgina, the best thing is to investigate for yourself why you resist. It can help you get in touch with what the resistance is all about and lead to valuable insights. Often when we become conscious of the feelings and beliefs that underlie our behavior, we can find ways to make changes.

I suspect that the reason for the resistance may be different for different people, but a couple of possibilities come to mind. It may simply be the momentum in our busy lives that keeps us moving at fast speed, as well as our culture which is telling us to do, do, do.

Our culture doesn’t recognize a very fundamental principle, and that is that being rested and relaxed is the most important key to being creative and productive. Getting things done is equated with putting in time. With this deeply ingrained idea, we often don’t give ourselves permission to take time out for meditation. And then when we do take the time, the mind and and body are in such high gear that we feel restless. You may sit to meditate and find yourself feeling like you have to get up and go. Meditating requires that we be prepared for that and continue to experience the restlessness and let it unwind.

The resistance can also be emotional. All of our busyness keeps us from feeling things we don’t want to feel. Meditation gets us in touch with our inner experience, including our emotions. If there is something going on in our lives that troubles us or we are not comfortable with certain emotions, we may tend to avoid meditation. And yet, to be truly relaxed and present, which are both goals of meditation, we have to be able to experience our emotions.

What is your experience with this? Do you resist meditating sometimes, and do you know why?

On the “Effortless Effort” of Meditation

September 17, 2009

Usually the term “effortless effort” is associated with Taoist philosophy and its concept of “Wu Wei”. It has to do with how we act, or experience action, in daily life. I like the Wikipedia description of Wu Wei as “natural action” giving the example of a tree growing. It is doing growing, and yet it is not doing it.

I like to use “effortless effort” when talking about how to meditate. It’s indicates that the art of meditation is not one of following instructions. It’s the art of allowing the mind to experience a natural state.

I often tell people not to take what I say in my meditations too literally. Sometimes I am asked what I mean by something like “not minding thoughts”. It’s impossible to answer those questions. The words I use aren’t meant to be instructions to follow precisely. The words are more like confirmations of the correct experience. Quite naturally the mind will start relaxing into a state of “not minding thoughts”, and if there is some resistance to that happening, words can give you permission to let go. My words are more like “reminders” to gently prompt the mind to let go of effort. But that letting go is an effortless effort!

How can effort be effortless? It’s a paradox. The paradox happens because in guiding someone in meditation, we pretty much have to use words. You can’t demonstrate meditation like you can dance, because it’s an internal process. Although music alone can sometimes induce a meditative state, more often than not some verbal guidance is necessary. And yet, using words and phrases to guide that process is full of pitfalls. The meditative state is actually something that the mind falls into, not something you can make happen through following instructions. The instructions can only set up a situation where the mind can slip into that state.

Meditation is a state of effortlessness and sometimes a phrase here and there can help us to let go of effort. For example, I might say “let thoughts go”. The idea isn’t to actively let them go, like when you open your hand to drop a ball, but rather hearing the phrase “let thoughts go” may help the mind let go. That’s because the mind is naturally drawn into a meditative state when given the opportunity, and there may be some resistance to that happening. The words can help dissolve the resistance. Letting go is not an active doing. No words or concepts can tell you exactly how to do it.

Anxiety — “What you resist persists”

June 22, 2009

I’m working on a special series of meditations, “exercises” really, for anxiety. I’m editing one right now using deep breathing. In it, the first thing I suggest is bringing attention to the anxiety. This is quite the opposite of the usual tendency to want to run away from it. Anxiety builds in a kind of vicious cycle. Anxiety is an expression of fear, and part of what creates it is the fear of the anxiety itself. We resist the anxiety, try to run away from it, and that resistance does indeed cause it to persist.

Anxiety, like any other feeling state, comes and goes. Feelings come and go like the weather, but when we get involved in them either through resisting them or ruminating about them, they tend to be prolonged. Let go of the resistance, and the feelings can “pass through”.

This is only one small piece of the approach I am using for anxiety, but it is an important one. I’ll write more when I’ve finished my Anxiety Solutions project.

June 2010 Update — It’s almost exactly a year since I wrote this post and we’ve just finished our anxiety program. What was going to be a series of meditations evolved into a program with meditations, suggested daily exercises and journaling. You can read about it here.

Discovering Love — Advanced Guided Meditation

March 25, 2008

I’m calling our latest podcast episode “advanced” because to experience the love that the meditation points to requires that your mind be settled enough to notice some subtle experiences. The meditation prompts you to become aware of tendencies to resist what is happening in your thoughts and emotions, and even further to the feeling that underlies those tendencies — a sense of things being not quite right. It’s a sense of not being alright as you are. It’s a sense of life not being alright. It’s at the core of the suffering which is part of the human condition.

Of course, we all like some feelings and experiences more than others. That’s natural. But suffering results when we feel that things should be different, that we should be different — that we should feel differently than we do. When we are able to let go of the resistance to how we feel and stop trying to make ourselves be or feel something else, then what is left is love.

I’m not talking about love in the way we usually think of it. When we say love, we are usually referring to a sentiment or feeling. The feeling of love can be mixed with affection, respect, gratitude, infatuation, passion, all sorts of things. What we usually identify as love is something we feel in response to someone or some thing. The love I am talking about is not an emotion, and it is not dependent on anything. It is the very essence of our existence and reveals itself when we let go of resistance and attempts to manipulate our experience. It is the natural state of our own awareness, of our “beingness”, which is always there in the background but is largely ignored. My hope is that with this meditation, you will be able to recognize and enjoy it.

You may need to use this meditation a number of times before this love is clearly experienced. If you are new to meditation, it might help to try the podcast episode one (Relaxation Break) or the Breath Awareness Meditation until you are able to settle down enough for this meditation.

I’d love to hear your experiences with this meditation. The feedback we’ve received here and at the meditationoasis.com website has been really helpful. And, as always, we welcome your questions.

Meditation as the “Natural State”

February 28, 2007

I was listening to a CD of Adyashanti and he talked about meditation as our “natural state”. He defined it as a state in which we are not involved in manipulating our experience in any way. I love that description. My sense is that suffering and lack of ease with living comes from resistance to what is happening, whether it is resistance to events or to our own internal process. That resistance leads to constant attempts to try to change what’s happening — trying to change the way are or the way we feel or even what is taking place. In meditation, we run away from some experiences and try to create or hold onto other experiences. It is such a relief when we can let that all go and be in the “natural state”!

From another angle, though, absolutely everything is our natural state. Whatever happens is happening naturally, spontaneously, even the resistance to what is happening. We really can’t be out of our natural state. That’s the trouble with trying to talk about what meditation is! There may be a word or phrase that for a moment captures something and causes an inner “aha”, but it slips away when we start to pursue it with our minds.

When I lead a guided meditation, I don’t really have an idea in mind about what meditation is or what people should or shouldn’t experience. I do encourage freedom and much of what I say has to do with letting go of resistance to the natural flow of experience. But the experience that someone has when listening to my meditations has nothing to do with me and everything to do with them. If someone becomes very relaxed with my meditations or goes very deep, it is because that was ready to happen for them.

For me it’s all a mystery. How did it come about that I lead guided meditations and now have CDs and podcasts and people listen and meditate with me? It’s all about the Life that holds us all in its embrace and brings us together in the most interesting of ways! When I lead a guided meditation, it is as much for me as for those who listen. Even though I “teach” meditation, I’ve come to know that I don’t teach anyone anything. We’re all in a process of learning together.

Again and again as I write this blog, I realize how impossible it is to talk about meditation and say what it is. It’s at once a state of being and a process. It’s a word that means many different things to different people. For me, it has many meanings and meanings that change over time. Defining it as the “natural state” feels good today and certainly started off an interesting stream of thoughts for me. What does the “natural state” mean to you?

Copyright © 2006-2014 Mary and Richard Maddux. Meditation Oasis is a registered trademark.