Common Barriers to Meditation Practice
Dan Harris, an ABC news anchor, has just published a book on Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. In his book Harris notes several common barriers to regular meditation practice, and what to do about them. Since I have been meditating since the early 1980’s I have added additional suggestions. Here are the barriers and suggested solutions.
- Will I have Problems Finding Time and Space? – This concerns exist for all meditators until such time as regular practice becomes a highly reinforced, positive habit. Although it is best to have a regular time/place to sit (or do yoga, tai chi, qi gong, etc.), find time anywhere you can. Begin with just a few minutes -even five minutes. Slowly extend time over time. In your typical daily activities, practice bringing mindfulness and attention/concentration into the behaviors. Never try to clear your mind; instead simply allow thoughts to pass like clouds in the sky. Once you attach to thoughts and emotions, your meditation is probably over. Consider getting up a few minutes earlier in the morning for available practice time. Eventually find a “best” time and place for you too practice everyday. Stick with this routine as much as possible. The rewards will be many.
- What Will People Think of ME if I meditate? – Who cares? Unless you are addicted to your “smart” phone, crave higher number of make-believe “friends,” and are linked like a robot to the “cloud,” you probably do not require a great deal of social/social media approval. Today in America meditation and yoga are common practices. Take the example of Congressperson Tim Ryan, who wrote Mindful Nation, and is a former football player. He practices Christian Centering Prayer as a norm, and uses MBSR to cope with the stress of being in American politics. Most people think in neutral of favorable ways about meditation practice. Commit to spending more time on your cushion and less time on your “hand-held-dopamine-delivery- device” (not my original terms). Practice more NOW!
- What if Painful Experiences Come Into Awareness? – Count of it! In the silence and inner stillness of meditation, a void may occur. In this feeling/thinking void it is possible that unfinished business will come up. Stay focused on the present moment, and DO NOT engage fully with the remnants of your own past suffering (loss, death, trauma, depression, anxiety, fear, addictions, etc.). If you engage as an early meditators, you may never be fully engaged in meditation practice; you may not yet be ready to fully engage in such horrors and painful experiences. It is OK to wait. If you do not now have effective emotional self-regulations skills to cope with painful suffering in your meditation, you may need the help of a professional mental health providers (not solely a medications-provider). It is inevitable that painful realities will enter the quietude of your meditation. This is a blessing, in that with more emotional regulation and experiences tranquility you will now most likely be able to overcome the emotional-traps of your past. As a Doctoral level Clinical Health Psychologist for the past 33 years, I have provided psychotherapy to hundreds of my own clients as well as clinical supervision, training, and consultation to hundred of other therapists. Here is my hearty-felt advice: Find a licensed mental health professional to work with – but this professional must have training and experience in mental health counseling, additional counseling, and mindfulness-based clinical interventions. Ideally, the helper you select should also have their own meditation/yoga practice. This is the winning combination! If your pain is too severe, STOP meditating until you obtain the above-recommended support.
- Will Meditation Slow Me Down of Make me Too Soft? – Yes and No! Regular meditation practice clearly reduces our stress reactivity, and it allows us to slow responses just enough to notice MORE and improve them. Since it is used to train people in dangerous fields of work (police, first responders, soldiers, etc.), it improves their functioning. It may save your life! Some people learn “combat breathing” techniques, while others simply notice better attention, concentration, and response set. Regular practice of meditation is NOT about just relaxing. It includes improved self-defense, greater compassion, much better cognitive awareness skills, and better equanimity in the chaos.
- What if I Already have a Form of Meditation? – No problem! Some people mediate in their normal activities: walking, hiking, writing, exercising, doing martial arts, etc. All pleasurable routinized behaviors have a dose of mindfulness in them. Becoming a regular meditator will simply add benefit to already existing contemplative skills. This is your chance to improve both your psychological and physical health. Do it! And, do it with qualified professional help as needed. Begin soon!
For more information refer to Quintiliani, A. R. (2014). Mindful Happiness…Shelburne, VT: Red Barn Books (now out of print). See also Harris, D. (2017). Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics…Noted in 5 Reasons You (and Everyone Else) Are Having a Hard Time Meditating. Retrieved 1-27-18.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont and the Home of The Monkton Sangha
Author of Mindful Happiness