DAY 19: GETTING OVER THE MEDITATION HUMP
How to stay motivated, no matter what.
Around this point of a meditation journey, you’re very close to having created firm foundations for your new habit. But it can be easy to feel discouraged – particularly if you’re not yet making the progress you had expected. (Remember Day 14 on the power and danger of expectations?) Often the excitement of the first couple of weeks wears off and this is the phase where you might need to show consistent effort and persistence. It can feel as though we have reached a ‘plateau’ – a ‘hump’ – that you somehow need to get past – it’s where abhyasa comes in (remember day 12?).
The plateau is all in your mind.
Your body will be noticing the difference that regular meditation practice is making. Your emotions will be starting to settle. Even your mind will be learning that it’s worth going along with this ride. But we are so used to telling ourselves stories that discourage us when we’re making changes, that our mind may continue with its usual job.
We’re used to criticising ourselves and judging our progress. In fact, many of us have tried that for most of our lives. But it doesn’t work, does it? So how about trying something different?
Instead of following the usual procedure of beating yourself up and continually comparing the progress you’re making against some hypothetical standard, how about dumping the drama?
How about turning the spotlight on to acknowledge the changes that have been taking place; the progress you are making? How about looking for the positives on this journey, rather than allowing your old story to leave you feeling disheartened?
Remember: mindfulness is all about moving back into the present moment, and being able to tell the difference between what is ‘real’ and what is our mind’s ‘projection’.
How about applying mindfulness to your experience of your meditation journey?
Yesterday’s practice is done. Tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. The only ‘real’ time you have to experience your meditation is right here, right now.
So how about trusting the process and simply accepting whatever comes today, rather than trying to force things? This is the magic key to really enjoying your meditation – and making more profound progress.
It’s funny – the less hard you try, the easier it becomes!
Are you making it too difficult?
Meditation doesn’t have to be difficult. What can seem hard is cultivating the habit of consistent effort – keeping going, even on days when you don’t feel like it. True meditation is about being alive to the present moment, in full awareness, and it takes practice. Many of us try too hard to meditate; we take it too seriously. But once you have got the basic techniques under your belt, your practice works best by becoming as effortless as possible. You just need dedication.
Relaxed concentration is the key when you’re meditating.
As long as you have relaxed at the beginning, the next stage is acceptance. If your thoughts come up, accept them. Don’t engage with them; don’t tell the story; don’t chat with them; don’t send them away – just let them naturally fade.
And when you are focusing and concentrating, the more often you gently and lovingly bring your mind back to the task you’ve chosen, the more naturally it will tend to rest there. Gentle concentration, relaxed concentration is the key to meditation. That’s one of the reasons we relax first. Not only does it make the body more comfortable but it also relaxes your mind. A relaxed mind is much easier to guide than a stressed one.
Are you trying too hard? I’ve written a bonus article on this for you, in case you’d like some extra help:
Do you need to work on your concentration?
Concentration is one of the things I used to find hard when I first started learning to meditate. And I have seen it is a common problem for my meditation students, during their early stages of learning how to meditate. It is so easy to give up, because your mind wanders. But gentle concentration and focus makes a huge difference.
Multi-tasking is the enemy of concentration, yet it’s a skill that we value highly, in our society…
Concentrating on just one thing at a time is looked down upon, yet it helps you get more done – and hence finished – with less stress.
There’s a key to improving your concentration when you’re learning to meditate. And it’s really simple:
You don’t have to wait until you’re meditating to practise concentration.
In fact, the more you practise it when you’re not meditating, the easier meditation will be and the more progress you will make. You will enjoy your meditations more and they will have a wider-reaching impact on your life.
Honing your concentration skills ‘little and often’ (even just a couple of minutes, several times a day), will produce noticeable results in a short space of time. And the bonus is that concentration practice is also mindfulness practice. So the act of practising concentration, to help with your meditation, becomes a form of meditation itself.
Here are some simple concentration exercises you could build into your day, without taking up extra time:
- Do the ‘taste your tea’ exercise from Day 16.
- Actually taste your food when you eat – gently resting your concentration on the flavours.
- The next time you pick up a pen, spend a few moments concentrating on what it feels like in your fingers.
- The next time you cook something, close your eyes for a few moments (at a safe point!) and really notice the smells in the room.
- Close your eyes for 60 seconds and allow yourself to become fully aware of the sounds around you.
- Find a clock or watch with a ticking second hand and rest your attention on it gently, counting the number of seconds before your mind wanders.
- Stop at various points during your day and do 5-10 mindful breaths, really allowing your focus to gently rest on the physical experience of breathing.
- Do the raisin mindfulness concentration exercise. This is a great (and classic) mindfulness technique. It involves the simple act of eating a raisin and, once you have done it, chances are you’ll never look at raisins the same way again! There’s a bonus video to talk you through the process:
Awareness, concentration and the ability to focus are skills you can choose to cultivate. It’s not difficult and it can change your life.
If your mind wanders, bring it back to the task – without criticism; without judgement; without drama. The more often you can practice relaxed concentration in day-to-day life, the easier meditation is and the more you’ll find you really enjoy the results that you see. Practising mindfulness techniques, outside of your meditation time, is a wonderful way to improve your focus and concentration. Imagine the impact that could have on all of your life!
How have you been getting on with your week 3 meditation? Please do pop by the online forum if you have any questions or insights to share. Have you had to get over the meditation hump? How have you been finding it?
Day 19 Affirmation
I enjoy finding opportunities to practise concentration throughout my day.
P.S. Tomorrow we’ll be dealing with handling things that interrupt our meditation – no matter how busy you are.
P.P.S. The key links you need for week three are:
Week 3 Meditation: