Updated: Sep 11, 2020
You likely already know about the countless benefits of meditation. That it reduces your stress, lowers your blood pressure, improves memory, digestion, and is really an all-around mood booster. And they’re all true - but that doesn’t mean that it’s worked for you...yet.
If you’ve already tried meditation for any number of reasons you probably also know that it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. Just because something looks easy (sitting there with your eyes closed) doesn’t mean it’s simple. It takes effort, dedication, and patience in order to truly experience the benefits touted by health practitioners and spiritual leaders around the world.
Over the last three years of teaching meditation to folks who think they can’t meditate and are new to meditation I’ve found a few reasons why people get hung up on meditation and end up throwing in the towel.
Here are the top 4 reasons why meditation hasn’t been effective in reducing your stress…until now.
You think you can’t do it.
You’re trying too hard.
You’re expecting a specific result.
You haven’t committed.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these common pitfalls and see if any of these sound familiar.
You think you can’t do it.
“Whether you think you can or you can’t — you’re right.” - Henry Ford
One of the most common concerns I hear from folks who are trying to start a meditation practice is that is that they can’t do it. Let me be clear - everyone can meditate with proper support, guidance, and dedication.
So, the answer I usually respond with comes in the form of another question. “What is it you’re trying to do in meditation?”
I ask this question because meditation can be confusing. If you’ve done some internet research on how to meditate you’ve probably already noticed a ton of differing information. Some of it helpful, some of it woo woo, and some of it completely contradictory.
You’ve got to have a clear understanding of how to practice first and it’s helpful to have support and guidance. Just as a golf coach can help you correct unhelpful habits of your swing, a meditation coach or teacher can help point out common mistakes that prevent you from progressing smoothly.
2. You’re trying too hard.
“Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it." -Ray Bradbury
In other words...stop trying so hard! When folks feel like their meditation practice isn’t working it might be that they’re working too hard to control their experience. In meditation we are practicing our ability to allow not to control.
A common misconception about meditation is that the goal is to clear your mind. Of course, when we’re having anxious and uncomfortable thoughts then we might feel like making them stop would put an end to our stress. But it’s exactly the opposite. If you’re struggling to stop anxious thoughts then you’re actually brining in MORE tension into your body and mind.
Only through allowing and acceptance can we start to truly relax and let go into our natural state of ease. So, when we guide our attention toward positive feelings, we do it gently. We could think of this as steering the rudder of a boat - easy does it.
Gently down the stream.
3. You’re expecting a specific result.
“What is stress? It’s the gap between our expectation and reality. More gap, more stress. So expect nothing and accept everything.” - Buddhist quote
The most common reason folks tell me they’re going to give up their meditation practice is because they don’t think it’s working. When digging a little deeper I usually come to learn that this is because they expect all their problems to end after meditation. As if meditation can cure us of stress. And I guess I’d feel defeated too if I thought meditation was supposed to make my stress go away.
But luckily, that’s not the point. It is true that meditation is a technique that we can use to lower our stress and anxiety levels in the moment, but the goal of meditation is not to rid ourselves of stress or make those anxious thoughts disappear. It’s a practice of becoming more resilient and better able to manage and respond to stress. As a side-effect you may notice that the stressful and anxious thoughts also start to lessen.
Sometimes a meditation practice might make us more aware of the uncomfortable thoughts that are already going through our mind. And that can feel overwhelming. Our instinct is to push back or bottle those thoughts and feelings up and throw them as far into the ocean as you can. When anxious thoughts arise in meditation we might think that it isn’t working, but it’s actually helpful to allow those negative feelings to rise up. This way they can move up and out so we aren’t left carrying them around unconsciously as stress in our body.
Another dimensions of this problem of expectations is when we compare one meditation to another. I’ve heard countless times, ‘I had a really good meditation’ or ‘that was a really bad one’. The only way you’re able to say it’s good or bad is if you’re expecting it to be a certain way and then it either does or doesn’t meet those expectations.
When something fails to meet our expectations it causes us stress because we have the habitual feeling like we failed! Whatever happens in your meditation practice is exactly what needs to happen, so long as you’re practicing allowing. Let go of the expectations and let go of the stress.
4. You haven’t committed.