Doubt, of all the resistances to practice, can be the most difficult to overcome, because it often comes from inside, where perspective is often skewed. When doubt is allowed to grow and get stronger, it can cause you to completely walk away from practicing altogether.
How does doubt take root?
One of the fertile grounds for doubt is being too goal-oriented. When the focus is too much on the goal, there is a tendency to rush toward achieving something. As a result, the process of growth and learning is under-valued. In this situation, doubt can take root, because your expectations exceed the real experience that is taking place moment to moment. The path to the goal has been forgotten.
When doubt has taken hold, it prevents you from truly practicing and strengthening meditation skills by causing you to question your practice too early. Such questions, fueled by doubt, might be: Can I really do this? Am I doing it right? How well am I doing? These questions interfere with the ability to see your own progress, as it shifts awareness away from the moment, and toward a future goal and a self comparison in relation toward that future goal. This in turn can begin to shake your self-confidence, causing you to doubt your own abilities. You may begin to ask yourself if you can really do meditation. Or you may wonder if you are doing it right or question how well you are doing.
These questions, when fueled by doubt, build walls, blocking you from present moment awareness and clarity, because they are asked too early.
How do you deal with doubt when it arises?
If you can pinch off the first sprouting of doubt before it really takes root, you will have prevented a very challenging resistance to meditation practice from interfering with your ability to meditate or possibly stopping you from practicing all together.
In meditation practice we are aiming to cultivate a mind that is both calm and alert. Often meditation practitioners put too much emphasis on relaxation and on establishing a sense of calm. However, calm without alertness will lead to daydreaming and zoning out. It might feel relaxing, but this is not meditation. Zoning out is not being present, and it doesn't allow for awareness and true insight. On the other hand, being too alert without calm, shifts us into restlessness. Our bodies get tense, the mind races and it becomes difficult to concentrate and stay present.
There are two conditions of too much calm, which are also considered a form of resistance to a practice of meditation. They are Inertia and Stupor.
Inertia (also known as Sloth, Lethargy, Langour or Listlessness) is a physical experience of heaviness or fatigue, while Stupor (also known as Torpor, Dullness or Drowsiness) is the experience of the heaviness of the mind, where focus and concentration is difficult to maintain. Both of these conditions can feel pleasant or unpleasant.
When it is pleasant, the body might feel comfortable and the mind soft and dreamy. When Inertia or Stupor is pleasant, it can be seductive, causing us to avoid practicing meditation. We drift off into daydreaming, not even noticing we are no longer meditating, or we might convince ourselves to avoid meditation altogether. When meditation practice allows unpleasant experiences to arise, Inertia or Stupor may be what we use to avoid the unpleasant thoughts, emotions or sensations.
Inertia or Stupor is a method we use to prevent us from being mindful and fully engaged in our meditation practice. When our resistance is strong, we can feel as though our body or mind is stuck in glue or tar. Every effort no matter if it is trying to stay focused or trying to maintain our posture, becomes more and more difficult. Our energy might be constrained or held back. This can be a common issue for those who struggle with motivation or who label themselves as lazy. If one has cultivated this lack of motivation or is labeled in this way, the habit energy of Inertia or Stupor can be accumulated.
How do you know if Inertia or Stupor is a resistance to practice or if you are really just tired?
How do we address Sloth or Torpor so it doesn't interfere with our meditation practice?
On Sunday, July 19th 2015, members of the Lotus Heart Zen sangha, in Oneida, NY traveled to visit the Grafton Peace Pagoda in Petersburgh, NY. Starting out, it was a partly sunny, warm and very humid morning. We traveled in two cars, comfortably air-conditioned (thankfully!) on an easy two and a half hour drive to the Grafton Peace Pagoda, which was nestled in rolling green hills.
It was a spectacular sight to see the brilliant white pagoda against the backdrop of green trees and clouded blue sky. We wandered about the Peace Pagoda for a short time, then lined up and began chanting "Namo Shakyamuni Buddha, Namo Amitabha Buddha, Namo Cundi Bodhisattva" while walking slowly around the two levels of the pagoda.
Then we headed over to the temple, passing the beautiful waterlily and cattail pond on our way. At the temple, we met the resident nun Jun Yasuda. She lead us in a ceremony to honor our
Photo Credit: Mitchell Joyce
A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Meditation and Study Group members