As a Reiki practitioner, most of the clients I see are tuned in to ideas like “mindfulness” and are connected, in some way, to their spirituality.
The majority have tried or been exposed to meditation practices, whether through a yoga class, articles they’ve read, or maybe a meditation app or video.
I’m a huge fan of meditation. It’s something I’ve used a lot in my life.
Over the years, as I’ve observed my own practice and listened to stories and experiences of others, I’ve noticed some patterns. I’ve had many moments when I sought to use meditation to help me find an answer or improve my mental state, only to find that it didn’t work. I also can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had people tell me that they’re unable to meditate, even though they’re attracted to the idea and would like to have a regular practice.
Below are three common reasons that we struggle to create an established practice or to get out of it what we’re putting in.
Reason #1: We don’t trust ourselves.
There are as many different types of meditation as there are people. We’re commonly taught to use something like our breath or a candle flame as an object of focus in order to observe as our thoughts come and go. Many meditations involve visualizations using an object or a scenario.
In my experience, most of the various ways to meditate assume that you’re already capable of trusting yourself in a way that can be difficult for some.
This is ironic, since people often try meditation because they feel anxious and stressed-out. But if, as is often the case, an underlying cause of your stress is a lack of faith and trust in yourself, then you’ll likely bring that same feeling of insecurity to your meditation practice. When this happens, it’s difficult to trust what you see, hear, and experience during the practice—just as it is in other areas of your life.
At best, it makes meditation feel futile. At worst, it can cause the meditator to feel even more insecure in themselves.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t meditate or that it’s not possible for us to develop a practice from which we can benefit. But if we frequently feel doubtful about ourselves and our choices or needs, we might want to consider finding some other means of learning to trust and listen to ourselves so that our meditations can become more meaningful.
(If you’re looking for ideas on how to do that, consider energy healing, which can help you learn to trust yourself more by releasing old energetic patterns and increasing the flow of positive Chi energy.)
Reason #2: You’ve bought into the myth that meditation requires quieting your mind.
This is probably the number one thing I hear from people when meditation comes up in conversation: “I can’t meditate. I just can’t clear my mind of thoughts.”
Somehow, a myth has been perpetuated that the proper way to meditate is to sit down, make one’s mind blank, and maintain that state for a period of time.
I have good news for those unable to clear their minds: unless they’ve been meditating regularly for a long time, virtually no one can do this. To expect yourself to do this is like saying that you want to become a runner and thinking you can step outside—after having never worked out—and run a nine-minute mile without walking or getting tired.
Meditation trains your mind like exercise trains your body. A quieter mind is usually a by-product of meditation (just as more strength and cardio fitness are by-products of working out), but to make a perfectly blank mind the immediate goal is a great way to get frustrated and give up.
Most of us need to take the intermediate steps of getting to know our thoughts and our minds first. Witness what our thoughts are telling us. Get to know how our own minds work. Practice deciding whether what we need to do is let go of those thoughts or listen to them. Which brings us to reason #3.
Reason #3: You need something else.
Spiritual practice is good, but it’s not the answer to everything.
I, for instance, spent years meditating and doing yoga every day in the hopes that they would lead to decreased feelings of anxiety and pain in certain parts of my body. It turns out that, in my case, I needed different interventions to address the underlying causes of my issues. (We’ve heard of people who were indeed able to heal or improve physical or mental conditions, even serious ones, through the use of yoga and meditation. I’m not saying this isn’t possible. But everyone’s different, every situation is different, and if something that worked for someone else isn’t working for you, it might be the wrong remedy.)
Another common circumstance in which meditation is not the best answer is when we’re erroneously assuming that “letting go” of our thoughts and feelings is what we need to do in order to live better.
This may or may not be the case.
Say you want to use meditation to decrease your stress. If the reason you’re stressed is that you’re overthinking and dwelling on negative thoughts and experiences that would best be forgotten, then practicing meditation may very well, in time, help you to train your mind to do this—and in so doing, reduce your stress levels.
However, if the reason you’re feeling stressed is that you’re in a situation—say, a job or relationship—that you know isn’t right for you, and you’re trying to use meditation to “let go” of those thoughts and feelings, then it’s not going to help.
In that case, you don’t need to let go of your thoughts; you need to listen to them! Either do what your mind is telling you to do, or find the help you need to gain the resolve, confidence, or resources to make the change you need to make.
This is why I often say that to suggest that the goal of meditation is to “let go” or “clear your mind” is an oversimplification at best.
Letting go may be what you need. But I would offer that a better goal would be discernment. Learn to observe when it’s time to let go of your thoughts and feelings, and when it’s time to listen to them. In my humble opinion, people often experience difficulty in their life because they need to be listening to their own thoughts and feelings more, not less (particularly if reason #1 is any kind of factor).
Meditation is a great tool and practice for many reasons. If you’ve tried it, and found it didn’t add value to your practical or spiritual goals, consider that one of these three reasons may be why.
Trusting yourself, giving yourself time to practice and get your mind in “shape,” and/or trying some other means of improving your mind state could be the answers.
Author: Mary Schlaphoff
Image: John Nakamura Remy/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy & Social Editor: Nicole Cameron