might this be why you are not meditating regularly?
I have taught hundreds of people mindfulness over the past few years both in group programmes as well as private tuition. What I see over and again is that the biggest single challenge is not to how best train it, but to how to best sustain it. Some people take to the daily practice straight away and the positive changes come quickly as they build and keep momentum. However for too many others their initial enthusiasm and determination ends in frustration and disappointment as they find themselves no longer practicing regularly and so give it up with explanations like, ‘I´m just not cut out for this’, or ‘now is not the right time for me to be learning this’.
The truth is that there is a process that we all go through, and there is one vital element that those who do not manage to sustain their practice miss.
Here is an overview of how the process goes for many people, what their thought process is, how they build a case for really being committed to practicing and, finally where, so often the big roadblock shows up that derails the best of intentions.
Everyone loves the neuroscience. The evidence is simply so overwhelming now on the mental, physical and emotional benefits of mindfulness that even the sceptics, in fact even more so with the sceptics, the penny drops and the logic is taken on board.
Here´s how the internal dialogue often goes:
‘ I get it. Mindfulness is the science of the mind. It’s how my mind works and how it can serve me or hinder me. I really want to master my mind, improve my ability to focus and be more aware, so I´m going to do this. It makes perfect sense to me.’
So understanding the benefits and wanting what mindfulness can bring is never the problem.
Then there is the actual practice of mindful meditation, which is in reality quite simple to understand. Learning the importance of good posture, the preparation, focusing on the breath, dealing with distractions, everyone gets the simplicity of it.
The students then realises:
‘I fully understand what I´m supposed to be doing. It´s not about clearing my mind of thoughts, but about simply observing. Using distractions to actually develop my ability to focus. Yep, I got it.’
How to actually practice each day, is clearly very simple. While it is a huge challenge for many in the first instance to learn to be still, to observe our thoughts in silence, to not give in to our hardwired compulsion to get up and just do something, it is not an issue of understanding what needs to be done. So the problem is rarely here.
All it takes is as little as 10 minutes a day. We are all so used to living on the ´speed train´ that even 10 minutes a day can initially seem challenging to find. But when it is considered that there are 144 x 10 minute time slots every 24 hours, then its not really that hard to give just one of those slots over to yourself, and find the space early in the morning to start your day off with a 10 minute practice.
So the thought process goes something like :
‘Ok, yes, this is important, so I can find and give myself 10 minutes every day, I just need to develop the habit. But I have developed other positive habits before, so I can do this too.'
So, while time is often cited as the challenge, for those who are really committed to and want the results that a daily practice brings, it is rarely the true reason for not keeping momentum - although is the one most often cited when it ´s not happening - ‘ I just don’t have the time!’
But even with a strong understanding of the benefits, linked to a deep desire to have those elements in one's life, a solid grounding in how to do the daily meditation practice to get the best results, and the ability to find the time and space in the day, still many students fail to maintain the momentum of practicing daily. Why?
It is my experience that it is because they have not reflected deeply enough on why it is important for them personally to engage in a daily practice. Why should a daily practice be a core part of not just of what I do, but of who I am? What are the specific areas in my own personal life that I want to improve or understand better? How will my being more mindful help those I care about the most?
Without a strong why, we need to push ourselves to do things, We strive, force ourselves, and we depend on willpower. But willpower is a fickle friend at times, and we too often find that we can argue ourselves out of doing things we know we should because in that moment there are other pressures or pleasures that call us louder.
I certainly know this was the case with me. When I believed I was practicing for generic, rational reasons, many times I sat for my practice as a daily task I simply needed to complete.
It was not until I reflected on what I really wanted and needed from mindfulness that I made the breakthrough. From something I had to do each day to something I really wanted to do each day. The difference is enormous. Not just in terms of our application to the practice daily, but also to how a strong why creates a much richer experience.
So if you are struggling with building or maintaining a daily practice, take some quiet time out to ask yourself simply why you want to practice. When you uncover the answer, the one that speaks deeply to you and you alone, it will bring you gently and naturally to developing your inner wellbeing without striving, without pressure and without questioning anymore.
And that is when your practice will take you places you will want to visit everyday.