It seems so easy to maintain a regular mindfulness meditation practice, but in reality, that may not be true for many practitioners. The mind comes up with obstacles, making it difficult to establish mindfulness meditation as a habit.
In the beginning, most people go through various challenges - but don’t give up. Focus on the present and face the obstacles to become familiar with them and understand them fully. Allow these hindrances to teach you what you must learn.
We sometimes find it difficult to be still physically and mentally. We are so used to movement and having plenty of thoughts. When we are sitting in meditation, we sometimes count the minutes until it ends! We lose our focus and we are unable to be mindful.
Worry not, restlessness is natural, common, and is a normal part of beginning practice. Take it as an opportunity to practice presence. Notice the restlessness and then return your attention to the present moment. You can also look more deeply into restlessness and see it for what it is—it may be rooted in anxiety or fear. The more you understand it, the more you are able to sit with it in stillness.
Is this going to work for me? Do I have what it takes to do this? Is it really effective? Why am I even doing this? Thoughts like this crowd the mind at the start of any mindfulness meditation journey. The mind is filled with questions and doubts, and there is sometimes very little faith in the heart.
Mindfulness teachers say that some doubt can be healthy, but if there is too much of it, then it could cripple you and prevent you from experiencing the rewards of mindfulness practice. Instead of giving in to doubts, learn to cherish the questions, as the poet Rilke said.
Give yourself the time to sit your way towards the answers. When doubts appear, see them as regular thoughts and trust that, in time, you will find some form of resolution. Questions are good, they remind you to be humble. But do not let the questions immobilize you. Rather, allow the questions to lead you to faith.
Sloth has to do with laziness, and torpor is all about tiredness or fatigue. Some mindfulness teachers suggest that sloth and torpor may be a result of stress and, generally, a busy life. When you are tired from work, sitting down to practice mindfulness meditation may be the last thing on your mind.
There are ways to address these challenges. One of them is to be kind to yourself and to arrange a simple reward after being able to practice. You may also practice with friends or with other members of the community. If sitting makes you sleepy, you can try walking or standing meditation. Make it your goal to achieve balance in life, such that when there is busyness, there is also stillness.
4. Sensual desire
If you are doing your mindfulness practice and you start to want or not want things based on your senses, then you are experiencing this hurdle called sensual desire. Your soft bed may be calling to you, or the thought of having coffee after practice, or perhaps just the feeling of being free from this leg pain from sitting too long.
Having these desires is not bad per se. We are human beings and we have sense organs so these are perfectly natural. However, the goal is to not be controlled by sensual desires. The way to do this is to recognize desire, then release it so you can go back to the present moment.
If there is something else that you want other than doing the mindfulness meditation practice, and you cannot get this thing that you want, aversion could step in. Sometimes when you see mindfulness practice as a tedious task and the desire for something else is very strong, it may be a real challenge to remove the aversion.
First of all, the desire for another thing is a thought. Don’t feed the thought and the aversion goes away. You can watch it but do not complain about it. Remember that even enlightened masters have to deal with hindrances like this. But they have learned to recognize and accept the challenge for what it is and so they are able to guard their inner space.
Mindfulness takes commitment, and it is a continuous process. But it’s not all hard work because as you gain more time in honest practice, it becomes easier and you start reaping great rewards. Try to practice mindfulness at every moment so that when the difficult moments come, it will be easier for you to remain mindful. Remember, whenever you get sidetracked by any of the challenges mentioned above, do not beat yourself up over it—simply forgive yourself and begin again. You will definitely do better next time.