8 Common Obstacles to Meditation
By Lorin Roche
In any adventure there are obstacles of all kinds. Each one needs to be confronted. Here are the eight I observe most frequently in teaching meditation.
1. Sitting in the Wrong Posture
The cross-legged pose has nothing to do with meditation. It’s just the way people in Asia sit. It is possible that it’s a good posture for you sometimes, depending on the length of your leg bones, the structure of your knees and ankles, the stretchability of your tendons and ligaments, and a bunch of other things. Sit upright, with back support, with your feet on the ground, as your “first position,” your main go-to posture.
People get too hung up on approaching meditation as a technique rather than a way of just being with one’s self. Let your foundation attitude in meditation be, “This is just a good way to give myself time to be with myself, feel my body, feel my heart, let my thoughts roam, catch up with myself.” Then add whatever technique you like to that, as long as the technique enhances your ability to be with yourself.
3. Hating on Thoughts
The meditation traditions are packed with toxic attitudes toward desire and thoughts in general. This is because until recently, 99.9% of the meditation teachers were monks. The definition of a monk is often, “one who has taken vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience.” Their interior practices have to help them live according to the rules. Your attitude toward thoughts can be designed from the nature of your everyday life. If you have a to-do list, love your list. Give your brain permission to sort it, shuffle it, review it, visualize it, make movies, rehearse the moves. These processes are valuable and beneficial aspects of meditation, and anyone who tells you different is simply ignorant. They mean you no harm, they are just unskilled and are repeating mindlessly the attitudes that have been handed down from the monastic traditions.
In meditation, welcome the flow of thoughts, particularly those thoughts that have tension, anxiety, fear, anger, or other emotional charges associated with them. What is going on is that your body-mind system is making use of whatever degree of relaxation you have going on, to fine-tune your tension levels for optimal performance.
4. Focusing on Fixity
The word “focus” is used often in relation to meditation and is inappropriate. Focus is what we do at work. For people who have jobs and responsibilities, focus is the last thing we need meditation to be.
What is the opposite of focus? Expansion, perhaps. Opening up the aperture. Engagement would be another word that is useful. Connection also. So instead of saying, “I am focusing on my breathing,” you could say, “I am enjoying my breathing, attending to the flow and rhythm.”
Don’t change your religion. If you have a religion, stay in it. If you don’t have a religion, don’t change. If you really want your meditation practice to be a little “religion-flavored,” then fine, but go easy on the sauce. If you are an adamant, devout atheist, stay that way. If you are a total rebel against all religious ideas, good for you. If you like to go to church every day, keep going. Many people who are atheists are utter devotees of life and are treasures to us all, and many people who call themselves religious are simply using the rhetoric as a way to manipulate and dominate others and gain power and wealth. Meditation is direct experience through our senses and is more like looking at art and listening to music; it’s not on the level of belief or theory, it is direct experience.
6. Too Long or Too Little
Life is rhythm, and your meditation needs to fit into your rhythm. There are some “generic” principles. For example, about 20 minutes is a good length of meditation for many people, because there is a human energy cycle of that approximate length, called an ultradian rhythm. We each need to explore and find what works. Sometimes 20 minutes is not quite enough time to catch up with yourself, and if you had stayed there just 5 minutes longer you would enter a deeper zone and benefit way more. Enough to blow your mind, so you realize, “This is really worthwhile.” Some people need to start off with 30-second meditations, or 1 minute, then build up very gradually to that 20 minutes.
7. Sudden Transitions
For anything longer than a 5-minute meditation, give yourself a transition phase to let your senses, nerves, muscles, and reflexes, re-orient toward the world of physical action. Figure one minute for every 5 minutes of meditation, so a 20-minute meditation would require at least a 4-minute transition. During transition time, you just hang loose and do nothing. It is a bit like letting yourself wake up slowly from sleep—you can enjoy the gradualness.
8. Conformity to Ideals
Meditationland is full of ideals, sort of like the fashion industry. But instead of having the perfect clothes, you are supposed to be perfectly rich and perfectly skinny, you are supposed to be perfectly humble, compliant, inwardly pure, and devoted. Even if you want to eventually wind up that way, embrace your wildness, passion, and rebellion. In the course of living, you will refine and integrate your wild energies.
Meditation is not acting out; in the safe space of meditation, you can explore who you are in all your different areas, and as you attend to an energy within, it is transformed and integrated. This will never happen if you block the energy, deny it, or judge an inward flow as you would an outer action.
It generally feels quite taboo to actually be yourself in meditation and is a little scary; this is an indication you are on the right path.
About the Author
Lorin Roche was lucky enough to begin practicing asana, pranayama, and meditation in 1968. He has been practicing, researching, and teaching meditation for more than 50 years–and he still feels like a beginner every day.
Lorin is a pioneer in developing personalized meditation practices, designing the techniques around an individual’s inner nature. He is the founder of two related meditation systems: The Radiance Sutras®, which utilizes the richness of the Sanskrit language and is oriented toward the yoga community, and Instinctive Meditation™, an approach that uses commonsense language and is designed to match one’s individual nature.
Lorin has a PhD from the University of California, Irvine, where he has done extensive research on meditation and meditative experiences. His books on meditation are treasured by meditation practitioners across the globe and have been widely recognized as “must read.” He leads international meditation retreats and workshops and trains meditation teachers in a 2-year meditation teacher training. Lorin lives in Marina del Rey, California, with his yogini shaktini wife, Camille Maurine. He also teaches and consults worldwide with individuals (private coaching), businesses, and universities to create custom meditation programs that suit their needs and cultures.