Meditation is hard. Or so I’ve been told.
But that’s not my experience. Most of the time I find it quite easy.
I’m not trying to brag here.
But I would like to point out that meditation doesn’t have to be difficult.
I’ve heard teachers with decades of experience suggest that meditation is hard. And I’ve heard lots of beginners report that meditation is a challenge or a struggle. Some people even say that it’s impossible!
I’ve also heard people say that meditation is no more difficult than eating an ice-cream, or watching TV. Some even say that it’s effortless. What’s going on, for people to experience this simple practice in such different ways?
Are some people just natural meditators, and others destined to flail about like porcupines on an inflatable raft?
I don’t think so. While it’s true that some people may have a disposition more suited to meditation I also believe meditation can be an easy and enjoyable experience for everyone. Whether it will be depends on a number of things:
- You have to find an approach that suits you.
- You have to find a way not to be unduly bothered by your thoughts and emotions.
- You must not think of meditation as some ideal state of mind.
- You have to meditate with the ‘right’ attitudes.
I’ve written numerous articles that cover points one to three above. This article is concerned with point four: the right attitudes.
By right attitudes I mean helpful attitudes — and the most important of these is acceptance.
Acceptance doesn’t mean you have to like or approve of something. It doesn’t mean embracing everything with a wash of Pollyanna-like optimism. It simply means that you assent to the reality of the moment. If you’re experiencing a headache, or a cascade of stressful thoughts, you attend to that experience without attempting to change it. You do your best not to protest, or fight or complain.
Acceptance, however, can be a bitter pill to swallow, or just too much of a stretch in truly painful situations. In such cases resignation or tolerance might be more realistic. Or you could simply acquiesce.
Acquiesce is derived from the Latin, to find rest in. As such, it provides a clue to how an attitude of acceptance can provide a sense of relief, even when faced with difficulty and pain.
Resisting, fighting and battling require a lot of energy. It’s hard work to continually push against something. It wears you down. So even though something might be painful, the effort to keep it out of mind may actually increase your stress. You have the pain, plus the pain of pushing the pain away.
Conversely, when you cease resisting, you can find a sense of comfort and calm. You can sit in the eye of the storm, watching things swirl around but not being buffeted around so much by them.
How to meditate with acceptance
When you find yourself struggling in meditation, it can be helpful to note to what degree you are resisting the experience.
First, pay attention to those times when you:
- wish that things were different
- try to make something go away
- try to ignore or block out something you’re experiencing
- try to change your experience
- pretend that something is not painful when it really is
Then, practice acceptance by:
- not trying to change things
- not wishing things were different
- understanding that almost anything you experience is workable
- knowing that you can tolerate discomfort
- understanding that things change of their own accord
- letting things (thoughts, emotions, sensations) come and go (or hang around) on their own schedule
- taking a long-term view
- being patient
- being kind to yourself
- being willing to experience each moment as it is
- knowing that you will have good and bad meditations
Note: an attitude of acceptance is useful in situations where things can’t be changed. If, on the other hand, you’re just sitting in an uncomfortable posture, or shivering with the cold, do something to address that discomfort.