Dealing with Resistance
Whether we are new to meditation or have been practicing for years, we all come face to face with resistance. Sometimes, because it is a new experience, it is more difficult to "train" ourselves to sit down and meditate and resistance, often obvious, can be hard to overcome. However, those of us who are well practiced, are not immune. Society seems to actively work against taking time out to sit quietly and work with the mind and our emotions, in these cases, the resistance can be more subtle.
Having an understanding of what kinds of resistance to practice there are can help us overcome them. Often these resistances have become such a part of our identity that we don't realize they have become habit energy. Fortunately, a lot habit energy is often quickly unraveled just by recognition. There are some forms of resistance that may have taken deeper root and we will find the need to recognize them repeatedly before they weaken enough for us to not be overtaken by them.
So what are these resistances to practice?
There are five:
At some time or another, we are touched by each of these forms or resistance. They take place before and during our sitting practice. When they rise up before sitting we find it difficult to make time to sit and meditate. When they rise up during meditation, we find it difficult to stay focused and present. When we are able to recognize the particular resistance that is manifesting, the best way to address it, is simply label it. For example, if I find I am experiencing a lot of Restlessness and I am feeling pressured to check things off a daily "to do" list. I may think I don't have time to sit and meditate. Or if I do manage to sit down, my meditation time is spent running through my "check-list". The thing NOT to do is fight it. To resist a resistance is to give it more power. These resistances love energy. The more energy we give them, the more resistance they can give us. Instead, what we do is just take note. In the case of the example, in recognizing that I am caught up in Restlessness and Staying Busy, I simply notice that is what is happening. I might say, "Ah, Restlessness." or "Ah, this is Staying Busy." Be sure to keep the label impersonal. It is not about you. It is just something that is happening. Don't judge yourself or berate yourself. It is habit energy. The more we just notice it happening, and the less we resist, the weaker the resistance.
You may want to keep a journal to simply jot down situations when particular kinds of resistance occur. Again, it should not be a journal to judge or berate one self, but simply to record instances of resistance so that you can recognize them when they arise. Over time, you will find, rather mysteriously, that the resistance occurs less and less. Sometimes they simply disappear!
In all of this, the key is compassion. Be kind to yourself. Being a task-master is just another kind of resistance. Soft, gentle noticing is all that needs to be done. Let the rest just happen.
Settling in to Sitting Practice
We live busy lives, usually jumping from one task to another, from appointment to appointment, usually with little space for thought between. What results is continually depleted energy reserves, a mind over burdened for lack of time for reflection or awareness of the task at hand. Bringing this energy to daily sitting practice will result in most of the sitting devoted to settling into sitting and shedding the busy energy we have accumulated, which is counter productive to the practice. Taking just a few moments prior to meditation practice to settle in will permit our practice to be more relaxed, and allow us to be more present.
Before sitting to practice, take a few moments to check in with yourself. Sit on your cushion or chair and close your eyes. Ask yourself silently, "What am I feeling in my body right this moment?' Are you feeling tired? anxious? Are there aches and pains? Places of numbness? Lightness? Is your stomach rumbling? Identify the feeling that you're experiencing, but do not judge or evaluate it. Don't become involved in why you're feeling what you're feeling. Right now it doesn't matter. Just identify it. Take a deep breath, then slowly release it, letting go of any attachment to those feelings or sensations.
Then ask yourself, "What emotions am I experiencing right this moment?" Are you feeling happy? angry? sad? Again, don't judge, just identify. No need to get involved in the why of or the story of the emotions. Just notice them. Take a deep breath, then slowly release it, letting go of any attachment to them.
Then ask yourself, "What are the quality of my thoughts right this moment?" Are they racing? busy planning things? slow, rather drowsy? calm and peaceful? Don't judge them or get involved with following them. Just notice the quality of them. Take a deep breath, then slowly release it, letting go of any attachment to them.
Taking a moment to acknowledge the feelings, emotions and quality of thoughts before actually sitting down to meditate can be a big help in transitioning from being busy and active to a more contemplative mindset. It also allows more of the time meditating on actual meditation, rather than using the quiet time to shed the energy that we have accumulated prior to sitting. Settling in to sitting practice also serves as an easy way to help us learn how to identify feelings, emotions and thoughts without being caught up by them, which is then reinforced by our meditation practice.
photo credit: Marie Meditates via photopin (license)
A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Meditation and Study Group members