Our Bloggers

Sandra Pawula

7 Common Emotional Obstacles in Meditation and How to Dissolve Them

When you set out to learn meditation, your emotional patterns will delightfully come along.  In fact, they will probably be your first and fiercest obstacles to overcome.  While you may consistently falter due to their incessant influence, you may not even notice given how unconscious and instantaneous these responses have become.

Are any of these seven common tendencies dampening your meditation?

Perfectionism.  An intense drive to clarify every element of the instruction and apply the methods faultlessly.  Comes with a long list of questions on how to do it right, a furrowed brow, and muscle tension.  Don't confuse the methods with meditation itself.  Meditation transforms the ambiance of the mind.  An over focus on technique constrains it.

Busyness. Although you know all the benefits of meditation and say you really want to learn, you can never find the time.   The solution: meditate right now.  Wherever you are, stop for a moment, relax your mind, and simply be mindful and aware of the present moment.  Start with short bursts, even just a minute long.  Gradually expand one minute at a time.

Fear. You feel trepidation as to what you might discover about yourself and the world if you really engage in meditation.  The heebie-jeebies arise just about every time you sit on the cushion.  Fear of change has a stranglehold on you.  Gently lean into the fear.  You'll find greater happiness on the other side of fear.

Impatience. You say you’ve been meditating every day for two weeks now, at least five or ten minutes, but your mind keeps humming like a busy bee.  What’s wrong?  Why are there still so many thoughts?  The thoughts were always there; you're just noticing them for the first time. Turning around our lifelong habit of distraction takes time.  Don’t lose heart.  With more time and practice, thoughts will begin to naturally fall away.

Self-Judgement. You feel guilty if you miss a meditation session and give yourself a hard time.  Judgment never helps.  Whenever you miss a meditation session or even weeks at a time, just start again without all the negative self-talk.

Arrogance or Naivete - You mistake transitory experiences like bliss, clarity, the absence of thoughts or sensation-based experiences for the true nature of mind.  You speak casually about bliss, emptiness, and experiences as though you’re a realized practitioner after a few weeks or months.  Attachment to experience can become an obstacle in meditation.  Don't cling to whatever rises in your mind.  Let experiences come and go.

Self-Doubt - You compare yourself to other meditators.  Everyone else seems to be progressing in leaps and bounds.  “What’s the matter with me?” you ask.  Everyone needs to go at their own pace.  It may take you longer to settle into meditation, but your practice may be more solid in the long run.

How to Melt Away Destructive Emotional Patterns

Transforming negative thoughts and emotions - the causes of suffering for ourselves and others - is the whole point of meditation.  It’s said there are five core disturbing emotions:

  • Ignorance (of our true nature)
  • Attachment
  • Aversion
  • Pride
  • Jealousy

These can be elaborated into twenty subsidiary destructive emotions and even more.  But, don’t be discouraged.  Disturbing emotions are not permanent. You can train your mind to melt them away.

Use these steps when emotional patterns start to trip you up in meditation.

  • Recognize. Recognize the pattern exists and observe how it causes you suffering.  Without recognition, you will be unable to create change.  Make an intention to notice negative emotions on the spot.
  • Relax. We all bring idiosyncratic patterns into meditation.  You are not the only one.
  • Rejoice. When negative tendencies arise, we have the opportunity to see and transform them.  Instead of meeting them with aversion, inject delight.
  • Humor. When we stop taking our patterns so seriously, we can have a good laugh instead.   “Oh, this is just my worried side trying to get me once again. I don’t have to listen.”  Humor creates a sense of spaciousness, which begins to defuse the strength of the ingrained pattern.
  • Mindfulness and Awareness. In meditation, simply be aware of whatever thoughts or emotions arise in the mind and allow them to pass by like clouds floating in the sky.  If you find yourself distracted and entangled in afterthoughts, just bring your mind back to the present moment.  This is the essence of basic meditation and a method that you will have to employ thousands of times.  But, each time you bring your mind home, you strengthen the positive habit and weaken your negative patterns at the same time.
  • Loving Kindness. Be gentle with yourself.  Don’t blame, judge, or express harshness when long-held patterns arise.  Instead, send loving kindness to these dark corners of your mind.  The more we apply an antidote like loving kindness, compassion, insight or patience, the more powerful it will become.  In time, your negative emotional backtalk won't stand a chance.

Our standard emotional responses are often deeply entrenched, having been formed in our earliest years as a means of self-protection or self-care.  They won’t change overnight, but recognition coupled with the process of meditation or the use of antidotes will transform them into a spacious, open, and joyful mind.

Do any of these emotional patterns ring a bell for you?  How have you overcome them?  

Image: Sigurdas