In the beginning of meditation, mind is not stable. Generally, mind always looks for some external support. Often mind is under the influence of emotions. Meditation improves little by little as we progress forward on the path. The Buddha taught six different types of concentration meditation. There are several other types of meditation. In my earlier post, How to Meditate – 12 Simple Steps, I discussed more about the fundamentals of meditation. In this post I will discuss about obstacles on meditation and the ways to overcome them.
According to the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra there are nine types of obstacles in meditation. It says: “vyadhi styana samshaya pramada alasya avirati bhranti-darshana alabdha-bhumikatva anavasthitatva chitta vikshepa te antarayah” [Yoga Sutra, 1.30]. Which means there are nine types of obstacles on the path of deep meditation. They are illness, tendency of the mind to not work efficiently, doubt or indecision, lack of attention, laziness in mind and body, failure to regulate the desire for worldly objects, incorrect assumptions or thinking, failing to attain stages of the practice, and instability in maintaining a level of practice once attained.
According to the Buddhist literature ( Samyutta Nikaya, 46.37 and D.2) there are five hindrances or major obstacles to meditation. They are Ignorance (abhidya), ill will, hatred, or anger (pradosha), laziness and sluggishness (styana and middha), restlessness and worry (anuddhatya and kaukritya), Doubt (vichikitsa) — doubt, skepticism, indecisiveness, or vacillation.
Here, I will explain the nine obstacles and the ways to overcome that.
Obstacles of Meditation
1. Lack of Motivation
This could be due to lack of understating about the benefits of meditation. In modern era, meditation is not necessarily associated with spirituality or religion activities. Rather meditation is for more life oriented activities. Meditation is for improving health and happiness in life. It helps you to organize your thoughts, relax, and even improve your mental clarity.
2. Lack of Self-Discipline
Without self-discipline, meditation is not possible. Self-discipline gives freedom from guilt sense, depression and anxiety. Meditation should be part of your daily life. Self-discipline includes commitment to daily routine. Self-discipline is for creating new habits of action, thought and speech toward improving yourself and reaching goals. Prioritize and schedule your daily work. Go early to the bed and get up early in the morning (around 5:00 am) is the first thing of self-discipline. Keep some time for daily meditation according to your lifestyle. Meditation is not necessarily a crossed leg, closed eye sitting posture with fantasy in the mind. Maintaining a peaceful self-disciplined life itself is a meditation. In the book “Yoga and Vipassana – An Integrated Lifestyle“, Dr. Amit Ray nicely explained how yoga exercise and mindfulness meditation can be combined together.
3. Too-much Busy With Daily Activities
For meditation you need time and effort. If you are too busy with daily activities, you may not able to penetrate the inner world. In the name of worship, full day, you may remain busy with outer activities like rituals, learning the scriptures etc. However, our each step and each activity is meditation – when we perform that with love and care.
4. Feeling Sleepy and Tired
Meditation is for developing deep awareness about our inner beauty. It’s being fully present in the moment. In meditation, we need to put our energy into awareness. Poor sleep timing is the number one reason for feeling tiredness. Align your daily schedule according to your sleep-wake-cycle. Do regular yoga exercises. It improves the functions of the heart, the lungs and the muscles, as well as the circulatory system. Take proper diets and drink enough water to fulfill the daily needs. Take enough rest after a long day. This helps the body in daily recovering.
5. Wrong Understanding about Meditation
Often five senses causes distraction during meditation. Our five senses are the doorway to our emotions and thoughts and even to the past impressions. Meditation is tuning the senses for the betterment of the world. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh “Meditation is not to escape from society, but to come back to ourselves and see what is going on. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. With mindfulness, we know what to do and what not to do to help.”
6. Mental Destruction
During the time of meditation, innumerable thoughts of past and future, duties and responsibilities, likes and dislikes, anger, depressions may come. Dis-identify yourself from these thoughts. Just witness the thoughts. You may just witness the breath patterns to get out of the destruction of mind.
7. Feeling of Emptiness
During meditation some feels emptiness of all thoughts, total blank. This is not the Samadhi. Samadhi is a positive state of mind with complete awareness. First, let’s see how people experience emptiness. Some says “I had no idea I felt empty during meditation. I thought I was going to lose my mind. It felt like I was going to disintegrate into nothingness” or like “It is an awful feeling. Nothing matters, nothing counts. There is no reason for anything. It is like nihilistic and powerlessness.” This is due to wrong meditation practice. Meditation is for feeling the inter-connectedness with the whole.
8. Past Impressions
Meditation is for releasing the past impressions of life. In meditation, sometime past incidents, past memories creates problem. Mediation is a purifying process. We need to overcome these problems with tranquility and compassion practices.
9. Fantasy on Images
Sometimes people are lost in the fantasy of images. That is a common obstacle of meditation. Of course you can visualize and say “I can be a millionaire and I have the abilities to make that happen.” In meditation you can organize your thoughts and organize your action plans. That is fine. But if you are lost in the fantasy without any awareness, that is not meditation. Meditation leads to clear thinking and the ability to hear the inner voice from God.
There are many other obstacles which creates hurdles in meditation. Some may get extra-ordinary power as they practice meditation. They may read other’s mind, foresee future etc. Do not get attached to these powers. However, if you have strong determination you can easily overcome these obstacles. Spending time with Nature is another way of overcoming the obstacles of meditation. Bhagavad Gita advises, “Seek solitude, eat less, control the speech, body and mind, be detached and practice meditation.”