Lately I’ve been getting the question of “Why is meditation not working for me?” or “What can I do to make it work better for me?”
As I am a huge advocate of meditation, I feel that this is a very important one to address. I’ve written his article to address some of the biggest obstacles or misunderstandings that can happen in the beginning stages of meditation, and give some concrete advice in how to overcome them. This really is one of the absolute best things you can be doing for yourself, and you WILL get results. It is also very likely that the solution to what you are being blocked by is incredibly easy to implement.
First off, understand that you are not alone.
It is incredibly common for someone, who has just picked up the practice of meditation to feel that they are not getting results, aren’t making progress, and are never going to figure this out. One of the biggest reasons that this happens is because meditation is an extremely subjective experience that really can’t be described with words. Your experience, and your progress is always going to be unique to you.
When one first begins to meditate, they usually have a whole world of mystical, new-agey, and spiritual stories and preconceived notions to compare their own experience to. They hear about people making contact with deities, having visions, experiencing euphoria, seeing energy, hearing voices, moving to the astral plane, having revelations, achieving enlightenment, and on and on and on. Then when they sit down to meditate, it all feels pretty bland and uneventful, maybe even boring.
A common one I hear is: “Hey so I sat down to meditate, and was really focused. I counted my breaths (or whatever their practice is), and kept my mind clear, and… nothing happened.
Though it can definitely feel this way to someone, who has just began this practice, I can assure you that something DID happen. One of the most important learning curves on the path of meditation is understanding what meditation really is and what the desired result actually feels like. As a beginner, it is important to understand that you are striving for an experience you have not had before, that is very likely quite different from what you would expect it to be.
By definition, meditation really is quite uneventful. It’s supposed to be. You could almost say that meditation is geared in the exact opposite direction of where the mind is used to moving. Rather than looking out, you’re looking in. Rather than experiencing and processing content, you’re silencing, removing, or transcending content to see the context behind it. Rather than looking for a “result”, it’s more about releasing any attachment to a result, and seeing what “happens” once that attachment to the result has been released.
Maybe we could even make this paradoxical and say that it’s true, when you meditate, nothing happens. But when nothing is happening, something quite unusual and peculiar, and yet incredibly familiar, can be observed behind it all.
So with all this being said, let me offer some pointers that I think you will find very helpful, regardless of what your particular practice or goal is.
Focus on Context, Not Content
You’ve probably heard the idea of paying attention to the space or the silence between your thoughts, or the famous Buddha quote about watching your thoughts like they are clouds, moving across the sky. The Buddha definitely knew what he was talking about. If your thoughts are clouds, and the space behind them is the sky, it is important to understand that meditation is about focusing on the sky, not the clouds. It’s an issue of where your awareness is focused. If you are doing a breathing meditation technique for beginners, like the basic counting of your breaths, the so-called “action” is not in paying attention to your breath, or what number you’re on, it’s about noticing what is going on in the background, while you’re doing that. Counting your breaths, or repeating a mantra is a means of focusing your awareness enough that you can see what’s going on behind all that.
If I could simplify one of the ultimate goals of meditation, it would be to learn to identify with the context, instead of the content. Most people identify with their thoughts, with their emotions, and with the mental images that are playing in their head. The truth is that you are what is behind all that. Notice, while you count your breaths, say your mantra, or do your visualization that there is a part of your awareness that just simply and silently “watches”, without judgment, or desire, or mental input, or a need to do anything other than be aware. This is what you want to form a relationship with in your practice.
If One Practice Isn’t Working, Try Another One
Different people do better with different techniques. Some people need something more engaging, and some people succeed with something incredibly simple. There is a wide range of active and non-active types of meditation. When I first started meditating myself, my mind would not shut up. I was so caught up in thoughts and feelings (I had no idea about being the context instead of the content as I mentioned above) that I could not focus on counting breaths or saying mantras for the life of me. The first meditation I had real success with was one that involved a great deal of intentional visualization, an imagining of bodily sensations, and different steps and phases. Having enough of a “procedure” to do was enough to totally envelope my mind to the point that it would calm down. But the gist of it was that my mind needed to be completely enveloped in doing something engaging for it to be able to forget about all its random minutia.
On the other hand, now that I’ve been meditating for a large portion of my life, often times I don’t even need a practice at all. I can just sit and decide I’m meditating and my awareness knows what to do. If I do use a practice it’s usually very simple, like a mantra, or a very subtle type of mental procedure.
So it is very valuable, if you are not experiencing the results you want with the practice you have been using, to try something new and different. Try a few and see which ones you are drawn to. Pay attention to whether you do well with a simple, passive meditation, or a more complex, active meditation. Stay tuned and I will be sharing a few examples of both in future articles.
Understand That it WILL Take Time
The truth is that meditation does take time, quite a bit of it. Like I said, it is not that you are moving towards a goal, or an end result, it is more that something is already going on in your mind, while you are practicing, and your progression will be the gradual realization of the process itself. It’s about becoming aware of what is already happening. I know that sounds obscure, but it is as close as I can really get to it using words. The truth is in the experience alone. I promise you that every time you practice, even if it’s a frustrating experience, or you get bored, or you don’t notice anything at all, you are making progress. The key is doing it every day, consistently, rather than “trying hard”, while you are doing it. I often times tell people that even if they had no practice but to sit comfortably in a chair and close their eyes every day they would be making progress. It’s about noticing what happens, rather than trying to make something happen.
Be Aware of Your Resistance
As you are new to the practice of meditation, understand that you are overcoming a great deal of resistance. We live in a world of over-stimulation, and obsession with external events, and meaningless content. Have you ever gotten caught up watching too much TV, or wasting time watching YouTube videos that aren’t really even that interesting or important to you? What about reading articles and looking at pictures online about subjects that don’t really apply to you, just because you don’t have anything more pressing to do?
I’m sure you know that feeling, when you come out of it and say to yourself “Wow I just wasted my time doing absolutely nothing.” This ability to get absorbed in content is a trait of the mind that is in direct opposition to what you are doing when you meditate. If you are the person that likes to constantly check your phone for text messages, or likes to keep yourself busy with random chores and tasks to “keep from going crazy”, meditation is going to feel incredibly unnatural to you until you’ve practiced enough to get used to it. It’s probably going to even feel uncomfortable. All of these things that people do to distract themselves are actually a way of avoiding exactly what you are going to become aware of when you meditate. And what exactly are you going to become aware of?
You’re going to meet yourself like you never have before in meditation, and it’s very likely that this is the last things you’ve ever wanted to do. It’s not always easy, but it is certainly the very best thing you could ever do for yourself. This is where your life begins.
So if you notice that just sitting still with your eyes closed is intensely boring and uncomfortable for you, know that this is normal, that there is a huge amount of resistance that you are overcoming, and that you are reversing something that has been holding you back significantly. You’re drinking the panacea for the poison, and waking up from the dream.
Oh and also, it does get a lot easier. You’ll see.
Take the Shortcut
So now that I’ve spent this article talking about being patient, and not forcing the process, I’m going to let you in on a little secret (or maybe you could say it’s a big secret). There is a shortcut, and it works incredibly well.
This shortcut is called brainwave entrainment technology. Brainwave entrainment technology uses what is most commonly known as the frequency following response to guide your brain into specific brainwave states. What this means is that all you have to do to enter very deep states, the type that otherwise take years of dedicated practice, is put on a pair of headphones and listen to an audio with your eyes closed.
To give you a better idea of the benefits of using brainwave entrainment, I’ll tell you briefly about the different brainwaves. Our active, fully awake, quick-thinking brainwave is beta. Usually most people are in a beta state during most of the day. Once you begin to relax, your brain begins to produce alpha waves. Though your brain can easily produce alpha waves, it takes focused meditation (or the act of falling asleep) to actually make it to a predominant alpha brainwave state. Usually, during the first few years of practicing meditation, a predominant alpha state will be as deep as one will go, and this state will be somewhat inconsistent, bouncing a little up and down with mixtures of alpha and beta.
Long-term disciplined and experienced meditatiors will be able to reach the state below alpha, known as theta. It usually takes several years to be able to hold a theta state naturally. Usually the average person only experiences a predominant theta state, while they are asleep, or just about to fall asleep, or if they are very deeply relaxed and drifting off.
The state below that is delta. It is very rare, even for long-term experienced meditators to hold this state, without falling asleep. When you are deeply asleep, you are usually in delta.
So the miracle of brainwave entrainment is that, without any meditation experience at all, you can simply put on headphones, sit quietly with eyes closed, and effortlessly make it to a deep, predominant alpha or theta state immediately. (It will take practice, even with brainwave entrainment, to hold a delta state without falling asleep. But keep in mind this is a few month’s worth of practice, rather than up to 10 years or more.) By accessing these deeper brainwave states, you reap the large majority of very deep experienced meditation without having to practice or cultivate any discipline at all!
Of course, there is a benefit that comes from practicing the focus and discipline of meditation, but considering that you can experience drastic shifts in your consciousness and awareness, get the brain producing all those feel-good neurochemicals, and re-wire the brain in a positive way in such a short amount of time, this type of technology is definitely worth looking into if you are serious about meditation and self-growth. I have a large collection of articles and research on brainwave entrainment. If this is something you find interesting, the best place to start would be here.
More than anything else, I want to offer you encouragement to continue on this path, regardless of the resistance you are coming up against. This really is one of the absolute best things you can do for yourself. Scientific study on the subject is showing more and more that meditation provides a multitude of positive benefits to anyone, spiritual or not. And this is completely aside from the benefits that come from expanding your consciousness, and finding out more about who you are.
I promise you that even when it feels otherwise, you are making progress, and likely faster than you may notice. Stay the course! Take these pointers into consideration, and stay tuned. This is a subject that I will be continuing to explore over the next few months.
As always, feel free to contact me if I can be of assistance to you.