Meditation: Being Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Whatever your goals are with meditation, there is one bridge you must cross: being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
It is the first bridge, and everyone must cross it. Then, no matter how far you get with meditation, from absolute beginner to master yogi, you will still have to cross that bridge each time you meditate. There will always be elements of this first bridge there.
This post takes the form of an email I received and my replies to the reader. These issues are extremely common.
I stumbled upon your writings in the most random of ways as tends to happen. I’ve really enjoyed reading your insights and it has pushed my perspective in a new direction.
I have been trying to commit to a daily meditation practice for a number of years and I really struggle with this. I’ve tried every sort of productivity and accountability technique and I simply find it difficult.
There is a lot of resistance, some which I can feel physically in my body, to the act of meditating. As soon as the thought enters my head to meditate I can feel myself begin to get uncomfortable. Sometimes it can take up to 3 hours from when I decide I want to meditate to my beginning the meditation. During this time period a whole repetitive cycle of thought and emotions takes. All of them are quite negative, upset as to why I am not meditating, a story about this sense of resistance that is always there etc. I can feel a sensation in the middle of my chest that I relate to this discomfort/resistance and I’ve spent a lot of time sitting with this sensation.
Do you have any advice on this? I am really tired of going through a mini battle every time I want to meditate and even more so I really want to see the benefits you describe from your meditations but I feel that the first step along the way is blocked.
What you’re describing is not uncommon.
I am going to give you a customized plan.
The first approach is to “become comfortable being uncomfortable”. You see, at the moment, you are making a separation that says: “Meditation should be a space free from these negative thoughts and feelings” — and everything else is “life”. However, a major part of meditation is actually simply being with such negative thoughts and feelings. So, rather than trying to make meditation about “feeling okay”, instead you need to spend some time having meditation being about “not feeling okay, and feeling okay, as and when each happens”. I wrote the following meditation specifically for this purpose:
- Sit and get as comfortable as possible – then make the decision to not fidget or adjust myself for the next 30 minutes, and set a timer.
- Watch the breath. A light kind of attention, not intense like concentration meditation. Thoughts should be able to come and go. The breath is just something to return to.
- Any thought or body sensation that occurs, let it arise as it wishes, observe it with peace, then return attention to the breath. You can make brief verbal-thought notes in your mind about the thought/sensation if you like, but don’t dwell. This kind of noting could be along the lines of, “Pain”. “Fear.” “Warm.”
There is a lot of resistance, some which I can feel physically in my body, to the act of meditating. As soon as the thought enters my head to meditate I can feel myself begin to get uncomfortable.
You’ve started the meditation by noticing the discomfort. 🙂 Now sit, and continue to just notice what else comes up. Eyes closed, eyes open, sitting cross-legged or lying back in a comfy chair, it doesn’t matter. Just NOTICE for 30 minutes. No goals besides NOTICING.
I can feel a sensation in the middle of my chest that I relate to this discomfort/resistance and I’ve spent a lot of time sitting with this sensation.
Yes, there is a “well of pain” accumulated from various sources. What I do is imagine this sensation as a well inside me which I can “drink from” by breathing — so, feel it while breathing, let it rise up and out your mouth like the breathing is taking some of the feeling out of that well.
I won’t lie to you — at times this really hurts. I mean, that’s kind of the point — it’s all in there, waiting to bubble up and be expelled. Other times, for me, it becomes a pleasurable sensation of relief. The point is to be okay with it whatever it is, and to keep up the practice. 🙂
Meditation in this respect is like draining a very large bathtub. Breathing while feeling is the plughole being opened, and the water draining out. However, at the start, the bathtub is so big that it looks like the water level is not going down. However, rest assured, it is. It is only when the water level reaches the more shallow part of the bathtub, where the sides curve inward, that the water appears to be going down quicker and there is the perception that the speed of progress has increased. In fact, you were always making progress, it just gets more noticeable when you are coming towards the end of draining that particular well.
Now, all you do is set a timer for 30 minutes each day and sit and notice what you are noticing. That is all. I’ve written other meditations, e.g. concentration meditation, about generating bliss states, but you are not at the point where you are ready to take that on yet — you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable, first.
As for scheduling meditation, for you I would recommend you put it right after brushing your teeth. You need to have it scheduled along with other daily habits so it becomes one also.
If, like my reader above, you are just starting out with meditation and are crossing this first bridge, do the above for 30 minutes a day for the next week then feel free to write in the comments section what you noticed. You are not trying to “make anything happen”, or achieve goals at this point — just do the meditation as I have said every day for the next week.
Writing down your experience in a journal after each session could be useful — even if you just write, “I fidgeted and thought a lot for 30 minutes”. You’re draining the bathtub, and it takes time. You might also have some pleasant moments and realizations along the way. 🙂