Why Meditation and Mindfulness Not Always Work
Sometimes we need to discharge first before we can come into stillness
Good Monday everyone! Here are as promised some thoughts on why ‘pausing’ aka stillness can be so hard. Wishing you a great week with plenty of opportunities to be still and feel!
Meditation is amazing. I am the first one to testify for it since my 10 day Vipassana retreat 17 years ago. It was life-changing, and I truly believe that if humanity as a whole adopted it into its daily life, the world would be a better place.
But in order to reap the countless benefits, we need to learn how to come into stillness first and that’s not always easy.
So why is it so hard to do what should be the easiest of things: simply sit still?
Below I will outline what is in the way and why if we try too fast to come to peace, we will only sow frustration and never really get to understand the depth of meditation.
Enemy Number One: Restlessness
is what makes it hard to simply sit still and be.
It’s what makes you grab your phone and scroll down endlessly.
It’s what makes you reach for the bags of chips when you are not really hungry.
It’s what makes you a workaholic or an overcaring mother.
It’s what keeps you away from a deep feeling of satisfaction, endlessly trying to fill the emptiness inside.
Especially now in this age of mass distraction, restlessness is, I would say, the number one enemy to the potential of our consciousness.
But why do we have so much restlessness in the first place?
Think of the ground of your being as a lake. When it is still and calm it reflects back clearly our natural state. We feel at peace.
Our conditioned mind, however, in its endless reactivity (I like/ I don’t like) is like the drops of water being thrown into the stillness of it, creating endless ripples. Those ripples make us shake inside. They feel unpleasant.
What follows is that we keep reacting on top of the reaction, making bigger and wider ripples. Now the reflection of the lake is not clear anymore. We are looking through the distorted lens of our inner state. As the saying goes:
We don’t see reality as it is, we see reality as we are.
This disorganized energy looks a bit like the image below.
So what happens when we try to sit still? We feel the above and we don’t like it.
In fact, without practice, it often feels unbearable. Unfortunately, that is the energy that most humans swim in, day in and day out. We call it stress, anxiety, confusion, overwhelm. We think it’s normal, but in fact, it’s only on account of our ignorance, not understanding the way of things, that we get like this. No wonder we are in such a mess.
Out of the aversion to this inner experience of incoherence and tension, we become restless. We simply don’t want to feel it and try to distract ourselves as much as possible.
Restlessness is simply our attempt to avoid the unpleasantness of our inner state.
A coherent, centered state of being instead, looks like this:
The above picture is what meditation can do for us: it can help us re-organize our energy back into a coherent state. That’s the foundation of feeling all that we want to feel as humans: peace, compassion, love, harmony, connection, clarity, etc. It is the beginning of seeing reality as it is and coming into more maturity as a being.
We all have experienced this inner peace and clarity. That’s why we know it’s possible. But rather than it being a sporadic thing, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have this feeling more constantly in our lives?
So what to do?
Learn to meditate, of course. (Duh, thanks Kasia, that’s really helpful, I know).
It’s easy to say that, but if the inner shaking, however, is a lot, if you are really struggling inside, it’s going to be too much to be with. Especially if you haven’t cultivated the part of your mind that is equanimous, that is simply able to be with what is.
So to make it a little bit easier on yourself, get up and do some shaking first. Seriously. MOVE THE ENERGY.
Check out this exercise by Burgs, to release some of the tension inside and open up the nerves.
Do some huffing and puffing, stretching, sighs of relief, bodywork, dance, emotional expression, roaring, jumping up and down, playing, etc. Whatever works for you. Get your blood pumping, make yourself feel alive again!
You don’t run a marathon after sitting down all day, you stretch and warm up first, right?
Moving the body before sitting down to learn how to be with our inner restlessness and tension, is like doing exactly that. Opening up the nerves to feel enough energy to do the not always pleasant but very rewarding task that meditation is, is key to the success of our experience.
Otherwise, we run the risk of only shooting ourselves in the foot.
Also, I know so many meditators who are completely rigid, using sitting still as a ‘spiritual bypass’ to not feel what layers that want to be expressed. Getting themselves all trancy and high on meditation while all the while being completely disconnected from their body. It’s not what meditation is about.
True meditation requires skill. It’s worth cultivating it but we have to start with the basics, bringing some aliveness back in the body first.
To sum it up
One of the inner hindrances that make meditation so hard is our restlessness. It arises as an attempt to distract us from feeling deep inside. It’s a downward spiral.
The more restless we become, the more unpleasant our inner state, the more restless we become…a neverending cycle feeding upon itself.
Start noticing it playing out in your life and once you do, ask yourself what is the real feeling inside that you are running away from? Then if it’s too much to be with straight away, move the energy first. Try to sit with it now.
Once you have moved some energy, yes, then you are ready to learn how to meditate. Ideally, step by step with a master. It will save you so much unnecessary frustration and cul-de-sacs. Trust me on that one. If you learn properly from the beginning, it will make it so much easier later.
(Check out theartofmeditation.org. Burgs is really one of the best teachers on meditation out there. He takes you through the process step by step, explaining the exact mechanism of your mind, encouraging you to keep going, even when it feels pointless. And we all need that).
Kasia Patzelt works as an Embodiment Coach and writer living between Ibiza and Holland. She helps individuals to move out of trauma into a more wholesome, joyful life through one-on-one sessions and retreats.