Struggling with meditation is something that we all have to go through. Rather than a character flaw, learning how to work with our resistance is an essential part of maturing as a dharma practitioner. The real problem is not that we struggle—that’s almost inevitable—but the suffering that we experience when the resistance arises.
As Buddhists, we often cherish an aspirational view of ourselves. We imagine ourselves sitting on a meditation cushion every day, focusing our minds and developing wisdom and compassion, without any hesitation or distraction. It’s a wonderfully seductive image that is very easy to get attached to.
However, this impossible standard leaves us vulnerable to an ego crash when we encounter normal stumbling blocks. We forget to meditate one day, or oversleep, or feel too irritated to sit through the whole practice, or are depressed and decide to watch a movie. Instead of remembering that we are human, we feel fraudulent, lazy, and embarrassed. This in turn blocks our curiosity and creativity—both of which might actually allow us to solve the problem and feel better.
The first step is to let go of unrealistic expectations and have an authentic relationship with meditation. In any relationship, there are ups and downs. Sometimes we love meditation, sometimes we’re frustrated and wonder why we’re even bothering. There are periods when we’re able to practice daily and it feels wonderful, while at other times, because of the inevitable stressors of life, we may go days, weeks, or months when we struggle to find our way back. We need to allow this to be part of the process.
The next step is to cultivate resilience—the capacity to bounce back by exploring the resistance. Are you tired? You may need sleep more than meditation at the moment. Do you have less time because of work, family, or other obligations? Maybe you need to recalibrate the amount of time you are meditating for a while. Instead of aiming for twenty minutes or an hour, could you just do five minutes and let that be enough? Are you having doubts? Maybe you need to speak to dharma friends or a teacher for some support. Don’t hesitate to readjust your practice to where you’re at—it’s much more humane than forcing yourself or beating yourself up.
Last, we need to lessen our attachment to the cushion and remember meditation’s true purpose: to transform our minds. We can do that anywhere. We can engage in lovingkindness meditation while walking down the street, cultivating the wish for everyone to be happy and safe. We can apply mindfulness during activities of everyday life—cooking, cleaning, brushing our teeth.
These kindhearted readjustments allow us to develop compassion for ourselves as well as others who are experiencing the same thing—and perhaps to even pay it forward by helping others who are struggling. Which, after all, is the whole point of practice anyway.