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Why is Meditation So Hard?

Posted Feb 19 2009 5:29pm
See? It's so easy even hamsters can do it.

Raise your hands if you have meditated this month. At all. I'm serious. I want to see hands, people. Now, how many of you have meditated every day? For all of you that lack the ability to manipulate the space-time continuum, I am not raising my hand. Sigh. I know. What is it about meditation that is so &%*$&#$ hard?!?

I think the problem is that it is too easy.

See, all of my previous Experiments have required real effort to do them. I had to go places, schedule classes, read books, get equipment, print workouts, e-mail (read: pester) various experts and talk things over ad nauseum with the Gym Buddies. Sometimes I even had to convert kilograms to pounds. You know a workout is serious business if it requires math. But with meditation it's so simple - just sitting quietly and consciously for 15 minutes a day - that I push it aside to make room for the more complicated things.

Determined to make meditation work, at first I tried to remedy this problem by making meditation more complicated. I decided to read books and research papers about it, ask questions of Zen masters and explore different types of meditation. All of which I faithfully did... instead of meditating.

Obviously this wasn't working. I decided to bring in the big guns. Sensei Don told me at the beginning of my Karate Experiment that meditation was a big part of Karate; that eventually you get so good at Karate you can meditate while killing people. Those may not have been his exact words but you get the idea. So at my last lesson I asked him about how to meditate Karate style. Of course I asked this at the end of a long, sweaty class when it was late and everyone was tired, not to mention sitting on their heels which meant that our legs were also falling asleep.

"Well, it's called Zazen meditation," he politely started. "And it's complicated, so I don't really have time to go into tonight."

Complicated? Requires explanation? Fancy name? I was thrilled! I raced home and fired up Google to check out this special form of meditation. Here is what I learned: "The aim of zazen is just sitting."

Um, what?

Well if you want to be techinical about it, "The aim of zazen is just sitting and opening the hand of thought." Okay then.

Zazen meditation has three levels. The beginning level is concentration. This is where most guided meditations start you. You focus on counting breaths or visualizing a peaceful scene or if you are heavily into musical theater, a pink mist flowing in and out of you. The next level up is introspection. You turn your focus inward in acknowledging - but not dwelling on - your feelings past, present and future. Want to know what the top level is? Just sitting. Being able to just sit without any other contrivance. Apparently this is very difficult to do. I believe them.

Anyone who knows me in real life knows one thing about me: I am very bad at sitting. Very very bad. For instance, I don't watch TV or movies. I haven't seen a television show or movie, other than the rare BBC or PBS documentary, in over two years. Most people assume that I avoid television because I am some kind of cultural ascetic. The truth is that I just can't sit still through them. (Unless it's Law and Order: SVU and then I'm glued to the screen. And then I'm glued to my husband all night while I have nightmares. He's actually banned me from watching that program, ever.)

All I can think about while sitting in a movie theater is all the other things I could be doing and how contrived the plot is and I wonder if I could knit in the dark, I mean they say that Helen Keller could knit so it must be possible and I would love a new soft sweater and WHEN IS THIS SHOW GOING TO BE OVER ALREADY I HAVE KNITTING TO DO! If people force me to watch a movie ('cause my friends are totally the type to sit on me and tape my eyelids open, aren't yours?), I make the best use of my time and fall asleep. I can't help it, I've always been this way! In college I had a serious reputation as a movie-induced narcoleptic.

It's not that I'm ADHD. I can focus like a laser on things that interest me but for some reason I focus better when I'm moving.

So. Meditation. I am convinced that it is an important, nay vital, skill for me to learn. About a week ago, when I realized that I was failing my own Experiment, I decided to just make it a priority. I would have to schedule it. At first it felt onerous. Why am I just sitting here? I could be... blogging about sitting here! But I did it anyhow.

And then yesterday happened. I won't go into all the details but it was a rotten awful day. Bad news from many fronts, obnoxious children (mine, of course) and frustration on every level. My normal coping technique when things go very badly is to go workout. But I had already used up all my gym hours in the morning and my husband wasn't home and the weather was too cold to go outside. I couldn't exercise. I felt the panic start rising - my stomach clenched, I felt nauseous and my heart raced.

I locked myself in my room (Mommy's in time out! Go eat cookies or something!), said a quick prayer and then meditated. At first it was a real struggle. I actually cried with the effort of calming myself down (anyone who has had a panic attack knows exactly what I'm talking about). My thoughts were such a cacaphony that I tasted blood before I realized I'd just chewed a hole in my lip. But then all my practice started to kick in. Since I'm only at the beginning level of meditation, I focused on breathing deeply in and out while picturing a serene lake nearby where I grew up. I just sat there and breathed.

My effort was rewarded with an overwhelming sense of calm and peace. A couple of times I opened my eyes but the feelings threatened to overwhelm me again and so I returned to my zen state until at last I could open my eyes and continue to feel safe. And that's really what it was - a deep, sure feeling of safety. My panic was gone, my calm restored and none of my children were beaten. I didn't even need to eat half a bag of chocolate chips like I normally do when I'm feeling that frazzled! Success on every front!

I'm officially a convert. Meditation is a powerful tool. Hopefully I can remember this and stick with it. It's not about being perfect at it or even knowing everything about it. It's just about doing it.

So how is your meditation practice going? Anyone else experience anything good? Anyone else catch a glimpse of themselves in the mirror and fall over laughing?? It's not to late to jump in on this month's Experiment!

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