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Why Most People Fail at Meditation


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There's a reason that so many people fail when it comes to meditation, and it's not because their minds are too distracted.

It's not because they lack discipline.

And it's not because they have the wrong technique.

It's actually much simpler than any of that.

The reason that most people fail when it comes to establishing a regular and lasting meditation practice-a practice, by the way, that can literally transform their entire lives, is because of one simple reason.

And it's this: unrealistic expectation.

Somehow, we've got it in our minds that meditation is supposed to be blissful.

It's supposed to be relaxing.

It's supposed to be comfortable.

I'm supposed to sit, close my eyes, and drop in.

And so, when we start a meditation practice and the back hurts and the mind is spinning out with every conceivable thought and I'm filled with anxiety or frustration or impatience, it's very easy--with this unhealthy expectation that it should be blissful--to come to the conclusion that, well, I'm just not cut out for meditation.

But here's the really important thing that we all need to keep in mind is that the greatest benefit that meditation has to offer us is its ability to train the brain and the nervous system.

To recalibrate the habits of mind that are sabotaging our best lives, that are literally manufacturing feelings of anxiety or feelings of impatience or feelings of anger.

You know, we've been talking about the Gap of Misery. A quick reminder: The Gap of Misery is created when the mind departs from the moment and chooses for an alternative to the moment.

So, right now in Phoenix, Arizona, I look out the window, it's about 106 degrees outside. That's reality.

That's the unchangeable reality, at least for this moment.

And when the mind departs from that and believes that while it should be 75 degrees, the difference between 75 and 105 is the Gap of Misery.

The further away the mind gets from reality, the more miserable I feel, the more disappointed, frustrated, irritated I feel.

So that raises the question, how do we prevent the mind from being thrown out of the moment, from departing from the moment and choosing a fantasy that is not possible right now?

The answer is brain training or meditation.

In yoga, we have a word, dharana, which translates as concentration. But it's really the practice of getting your mind to sit and stay. Getting the monkey mind that's always running here and there and making a mess of things to sit calmly and presently, wherever you ask it. And meditation is the process through which we train that monkey every time the monkey departs into some alternative.

This should be that way, or that should be this way, or why this or why that. We take the monkey and we bring it back.

No, here.

Sit here.

That's it.

Good monkey.

And then of course the monkey runs off and then, no, no, no, no, no, no. Back here.

Sit.

Stay.

Good monkey.

And then the monkey stays a little bit longer.

But then because of its habit, it runs off and gets into something else.

No, no, no, no. And we bring it back over and over and over and over and over and over again.

We bring it back.

No, here.

Sit.

Stay.

Good monkey.


Now the problem is, is when we have this expectation, that meditation is supposed to be relaxing or blissful or concentrated, that every time the monkey mind runs away, we feel like a failure.


It's not working.

I'm not cut out for this.

And what we're missing is the fact that every time the monkey wanders, it's not a failure. It's a teaching moment. It's a training opportunity.

I mean, think about training a little puppy dog. If your puppy dog is sitting calmly in front of you. You can't train the dog to sit and stay when he's already sitting and staying. When he's curled up in the corner, you can't train him to stay calm. The only moment when you can train your puppy dog to sit and stay is when he's wandering and then,

Oh no, no, no.

Come back.

Sit.

Stay.

And the same is true of the never satisfied mind. The wandering mind, the mind that is beset by that phenomenon we call Vikshepa-the tendency to depart from the moment and to choose an alternative reality.

And so, as we sit and meditate, we sit and stay here, monkey mind. And then when it departs, we celebrate. There's the opportunity that we actually need in order to re-pattern the mind.

And when it comes up, no, no, no, no.

Bring it back.

Sit and stay.

Stay.

Good mind, good monkey.

And then when it wanders, celebrate the opportunity. I get to train again, and you bring it back.

Sit.

Stay.

Good monkey.

And over and over it goes. The key is to remain relaxed, attentive to the wandering and calm as we bring it back.

And little by little, we chip away at the patterning that has the mind always departing and choosing for alternatives to what is. Little by little, the monkey will sit a little bit longer before he wanders off and he'll come back a little bit easier. And over time you'll find yourself in spaces where there is calm and ease and maybe even bliss.

But recognize that in those moments, while it is nourishing and soothing and it is to be celebrated, that the moments when the mind is doing anything but obeying you is the real opportunity that your meditation practice offers you.

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Eric Wal
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