Is meditation easy? Is mindfulness practice easy? Is staying committed to your practice easy? In theory, the answer to these questions is yes and no. It is a straightforward practice; it does not require that much of our time; and it is beneficial for us. We may consult books, meditation guides, or mindfulness teachers to help us work out the initial kinks of our practice, but in reality, the work is on us. In practice, the answer to these questions is no. No, it is not easy. Because we are busy people. Our minds are anxious and stressed. Our bodies are stiff and tired. Our mental health is somewhat fragile. We are not used to being truly mindful. And even if we get through all of that, there may (will) come a time in our practice when we hit a wall. Actually, it seems like a wall, but it’s more like an obstacle course. And instead of challenging our bodies, it challenges our minds. I have reached that obstacle course.
Remember that this post is written purely from my personal experience, and that I am currently in the throes of my meditation slump. I am sharing my insights, with the hope that they can shed some light on this journey for myself and for others.
The bad news
This “meditation wall” or “meditation slump” is likely to happen to all of us. It can happen after a month of practice, or a year of practice, or three years of practice. I have hit this obstacle recently, about 6 months into my practice. There isn’t anything you can do to avoid hitting this wall. It is a natural part of the practice. It is a mental challenge. I have felt everything from discouraged to depressed. I have questioned my practice. I have even wanted to give up my practice. Seems pretty bad, huh?
The good news
But as I have already mentioned, this slump is a natural part of my practice. It means that my practice has evolved. It means that I have evolved. You are not alone in experiencing this slump and neither am I. Despite how tough it gets, this knowledge comforts me. The other good news is that this slump is not eternal. This too shall pass, much like everything else in life that comes and goes. However, how long it takes to get through it, I cannot say.
Getting through it
I am still fighting my way through my own obstacle course, and I don’t have any magical solutions for how to overcome it. However, it might help to remember that the obstacle course is first and foremost a part of your journey. It is there for a reason. Instead of fighting through it, perhaps we should simply walk along it, observing in an accepting and non-judgemental way what is in front of us. Being mindful even when we’ve hit that wall can help us become aware of the thoughts and feelings that have created our current situation. In the meanwhile, I hope the following tips may help you (and me) on our journey forward.
- Try something new. Whenever you hit a wall or a slump in any aspect of your life, trying something different might just be the answer. Bored of your routine? Shake it up. Bored of the gym? Try a different sport or exercise class. Hit a wall with your meditation practice? Try a different type of meditation. Try a different posture. Try chanting. Try mindful movement. Whatever you try, approach it with the same open and flexible mind that your practice has helped you develop up until this point.
- Talk to a teacher. Don’t underestimate the importance of a qualified meditation instructor, who is well-trained to handle the potential negative side-effects of mindfulness meditation, and can help you understand and maybe even overcome the slumps in your practice. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced practitioner, learning from other meditators, particularly those who may be more experienced than you, is likely to benefit the development of your practice.
- Do your research. I have previously written about the problems of removing mindfulness from its original context, which can take away from its practice, and make it more challenging for us to see the bigger picture of mindfulness meditation. I find that reading about mindfulness, meditation, and even Buddhism helps me become more aware of the practice as a whole, accept the challenges that are likely to occur along the way, understand why such slumps may occur, and, most importantly, gain inspiration for continuing my practice.
- Join a meditation group or go on a meditation retreat. Get inspired by both teachers and students. Get inspired by the practice of others. Change the location of your practice. Change the focus of your practice. Draw energy from the collective energy of the group. There are many benefits of meditating in a group, and going on a mindfulness meditation retreat can not only help you overcome your obstacles, but even intensify and deepen your practice.
- Take a break. Sometimes all we can do is give ourselves a break. I wouldn’t recommend giving up your practice, but maybe you need a day or two “off”. And that’s ok! When you do come back to it, give yourself a break from trying to feel the way you usually feel in your practice. Instead, incorporate your “new” thoughts and feelings into your practice. Become aware of these thoughts, observe them, and accept them. Meditate on them. Resisting them will just increase their attachment, while observing them may help you gain deeper insight into your mindfulness and meditation practice.
A japanese proverb teaches us to fall down seven times, and stand up eight. I say stand up seven times, and sit down to meditate eight. Keep coming back to it, and every time you stand up again, you will have taken one step further on your journey.