1. Meditation has to be Peaceful (Which Often Doesn’t Happen)
This is one of the biggest obstacles to meditation:the belief that meditation is about cultivating very peaceful state of mind. Sometimes when we meditate, we find our mind is jumping all over the place and we think this means we aren’t meditating and give up. While it is true that many meditators find that the mind becomes peaceful during meditation that is not the goal of the practice.
Sogyal Rinpoche sometimes says that the whole point of meditation is to become spacious. He often made the analogy of being like a great host who accommodates a difficult guest. When throwing a dinner party, if one of our guests is in a bad mood and starts to act out, will threatening to kick them out of the party likely result in diffusing the situation? Instead, we might ask the guest if they need a special drink or an especially appetizing morsel from the kitchen. Perhaps we might even invite them to relax in a cozy chair while we bring them the finest libation and most succulent food we can offer. In other words a skillful host does not confront a difficult guest but finds a way to accommodate and create space. In meditation we are not trying to rid ourselves of turbulent thoughts and emotions but to just to bear witness, giving them space to come and to go.
Meditation is about learning to be completely present and aware in the face of whatever thoughts, emotions, sights, smells or sounds arise. We are not trying to cultivate a particular experience or to avoid another less desirable experience. We are just learning to remain completely present, in the moment no matter what comes to our senses. And when we can do that, we find peace even in midst of our most turbulent thoughts and emotions.
2. Meditation Takes too Much Time
It is certainly good to do lots of meditation practice. But that doesn’t mean that there is such a thing as too short a session. The only session that is too short is one that we never actually do. So rather than waiting until there is enough time, it is better to do as little as one minute of practice than to do none.
When I was a software executive in Silicon Valley I often found myself with a packed schedule, yet I realized there were many opportunities for short sessions of meditation. If a meeting ended early I would close the office door and spend a few minutes meditating. Or I would take the opportunity when moving between campus buildings to make it a walking meditation practice. I might even take a slightly longer route between offices.
The point being, that with a bit of ingenuity, we can discover lots of gaps in our day that lend themselves to meditation practice. But there is no such thing as too short a session.
3. Meditation is About Withdrawing From the World
Some people think that meditating is a way of withdrawing from life and its practical concerns. Maybe we think of meditation practice as a way to escape from the “daily grind”. Many people criticize the contemplative lifestyle as societally counter-productive. Instead of working to benefit humanity, meditators are only interested in self-absorbed states of mind.
But meditation is not a way to block anything out, but a way to become completely present and available in this very moment. When we are longer obsessed with thoughts about the past or concerns about the future, we can actually be much more capable and wise in responding to not just our own needs, but the needs of others. We may find the “daily grind” transforms into the “daily kind” where our kindness towards others overwhelms our neurotic self-obsession with our own stress. Rather than escaping from life’s challenges we can find ourselves much better equipped to deal with them; by living in the present moment we discover that we can more fully engage in the glory (the good and the bad) of life.