Why some people really like meditation while for some it is not fun at all?

Many people who try to meditate, at least at the beginning don't find it pleasant at all. Despite their initial resolve, sooner or later they give it up. On the contrary, some find it more enjoyable than anything else. Some people love its spiritual background and philosophy but feel restless, constricted or even feel they are wasting their time when trying to meditate. Is it necessary to have natural predisposition, or can anyone learn to do it?

As many experienced meditators point out that meditation, or bhavana (mind development) is a skill which one has to learn similarly as playing an instrument. In addition, there appear to be additional aspects which contemporary people have take into account in order to master the skill. Some of them are outlined below although the list is definitely not exhausted. All of the points are equally important, and it is the cumulative effect of mastering them all that makes a difference.

1. Peaceful surrounding. When the mind is free from internal disturbances, practice of samadhi is perfectly possible regardless external circumstances. This however requires a perfect mastery over own mind, and for a beginning meditator, some surroundings can be helpful for the mind to remain calm and some may stimulate senses in a negative way. Between all other external factors, noise, and particularly loud talk can be very disturbing, in contrasts sounds of nature like wind or flow of water, or waves may calm the mind. Although usually not recommended gentle music may also be used as a background for meditation. Clean, harmonious looking places can bring the feeling of peace and serenity. In addition smell of herbs, like lavender and tea tree or some incenses, can additionally relax the mind and bring better focus on the object of meditation. Right temperature, humidity or slight air movement can also give comfort and bring attention to these body sensations. As much sometimes as we totally cannot control all factors of the external world, choosing or creating a peaceful place, may be the first step on the way of mental training, or bhavana.

2. Meditation body pose. The aspect may appear very mundane and most teachers stress that meditation in any pose is possible. Although state of the mind is the most important, some poses give a feeling of ease and stability and some not. Forcing oneself into any pose which is not comfortable, or worse damages health is also counterproductive. The main aspects of the pose which should be taken into account are:

  • Vertical alignment (comfortable lumbar area of the spine, relatively open chest, comfortable neck, tip of the head pointing up)
  • Symmetry (even when one leg is rested above another, like in the lotus pose, pelvis and spine should remain balanced)
  • Stability (preferably with both knees on the floor, also to avoid any tension which could harm one of the knees)
  • Relaxed muscles (properly balanced meditation pose requires minimal effort to maintain upright position)

Some poses such as vajrasana, or sitting on a bench may be easily available to everyone, however cross-legged positions will demand both a fair degree of hip flexibility. Flexibility and general alignement of the position can be improved by, for exaple, yoga training.

Another aspect of comfortable position is using a firm (or even hard to give good support to sitting bones) cushion with thickness adjusted to the flexibility. When cushion is too high the pose will not be comfortable because the body weight will only by carried by sitting bones. With cushion too low and position not adjusted to the degree of flexibility there may be too much strain put on both knees (leading eventually to injuries) and tension in the lumbar region of the spine, which eventually may cause not only discomfort but also painful lower back, and sciatica. One of good alternatives for people who have difficulties with sitting is walking meditation.

3. Relaxed state of mind. The speed of living in the contemporary world appears to be ever increasing with our minds bombarded with impressions and informations. Slowing down and detaching the mind from these impressions and memories in now more difficult than ever, however, it is the key fact to be able to focus on the object of meditation and maintain this focus for longer. When the mind and body are not relaxed, meditator facing his own breath tends to be accelerate it, leading to stressful mental states which in turn can accelerate breathing. Short yoga or walking meditation are good preludes which allow to calm down, relax and build up a necessary level of mindfulness as a fuel to further successfully practice.

Many people when left alone with their mind, experience intense thoughts and emotions. What was easily silenced , or ignored in fast paced everyday life, comes to surface with their whole intensity. Relaxed mode and blissful states disappear, and the scene is turned into a battlefield. As much as mindful approach to unpleasant feelings definitely helps to accept and overcome these states for good, this requires a lot of skill and sensitivity. Labelling is a technique introduced by Burmese meditation master Mahasi Sayadaw, and was also widely promoted by the Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. Both teachers advised to mentally label unpleasant emotions and gradually overcome them by using the power of mindfulness.

Mahasi Sayadaw simply recommended mentally stating: "unpleasant feeling, unpleasant feeling, unpleasant feeling" accompanied by inhalation or exhalation as a secondary object of contemplation. In fact this helps to distance oneself from the emotion and approach it with greater wisdom. As all phenomena ultimately rise and fall, if not suppressed or denied, also the object of meditation gradually fades away and passes giving the practitioner more detachment to own emotions and wisdom. A similar approach can be applied to stubborn thoughts, for example: "thinking, thinking, thinking" and watching moment to moment impermanence of every mental activity, including own consciousness.

To conclude, meditation requires a lot skill and experience. Initial difficulties, both physical and mental, can be overcome with a little bit of effort and patience. Training own mind is a skill which always pays off, whenever life brings something unexpected. Overcoming these moments leads to greater resilience and wellbeing regardless external and internal circumstances.

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