OVERCOMING OBSTACLES TO SITTING MEDITATION
Published in
NECTAR, A Journal of Universal Religious and Philosophical Teachings
Issue #27, 2012
 
Michael S. Isaacs

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Introduction

Many attempt sitting meditation but few stay on the path.

This article will apply to all forms of sitting meditation focusing on a particular object, whether the goal is relaxation, stress-reduction, or spiritual growth. The content reflects the personal experience I have had over many years as a psychotherapist, practitioner and teacher of body-mind modalities, and spiritual seeker.

The ideas and strategies in this article hopefully will be of value to those considering meditation, beginners, and students practicing meditation for many years.

Why is the dropout rate so high in meditation?

First, it is not easy to introduce, get started and stay with any new path. Any change for good is difficult. We fear change, do not want to let go of bad habits. So while most know the importance of proper diet and exercise, how difficult it is to take the steps required to accomplish these ends! Busy schedules, conflicting priorities, and psychological blocks can get in the way and can become excuses to do what needs to be done. If changing habits were easy, would we need so many New Year’s resolutions? For those interested in how to stay motivated to effect desired change, I refer you to my article “How to Develop a Daily Relaxation Practice” on my website, michaelisaacs.net

Second, meditation is basically alien to the Western mind. Our society is oriented towards materialism and competition. Much good comes from this involvement. Nevertheless, these strivings are focused on the external rather than the internal world. In contrast, in Oriental cultures it is more natural to go within for happiness. In these societies, meditation has been around for thousands of years.

Third, in the meditation process itself, the most challenging obstacle is discouragement over not being able to sufficiently control the wandering mind. As a former yoga and meditation teacher, I heard over and over again these themes from meditation drop-outs: “I just can’t control my mind”; “I can’t do this –the mind distractions drive me crazy”, “I’m not succeeding so why bother”; “focusing on my mantra is impossible”; and “I wanted more peace, but in meditation my thoughts, feelings, and racing mind have become worse”. No one likes to fail, to feel not good enough, not worthy, and not successful.

Controlling the mind is no easy task. This was known thousands of years ago by the sages in India. Here are some pertinent passages from the Bhagavad Gita, the ancient Hindu wisdom writing. When the word “mind” is used, the sages meant mind and emotions, thoughts and feelings.

Doubtless …the mind is restless and hard to control; but by practice and detachment…it can be restrained

For the mind is restless, turbulent, powerful, and obstinate… to control it is as hard as to control the wind




In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s Vivekenanda, one of the first illumined souls from India to visit the United States wrote:

How hard it is to control the mind. Well has it been compared to a maddened monkey!

 

In this article I will at times use the letters DTF for a distracting thought and feeling. And when I write about mind it includes both mind and feelings.

The first part of this article will be how to deal with the obstacles of mind distractions. The second part will explain how they are not just nuisances but actually make valuable contributions to the meditation experience.

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