I had the will. I had time. I had space. Yet, I struggled to meditate daily. Why? Was it me?

I wanted what meditation could give me: health, good sleep, clarity of mind, calmness, focus, increased creativity, memory, energy, stop my inner conflict, rejuvenate (why not?!), enhanced intuition, spiritual awakening. And science backed it up, making it even more appealing to the sceptical mind. So why was I so stubborn to meditate consistently? Was it possible to make it an enjoyable practice?

Two friends told me they’ve also questioned themselves after meditating. They would fall back saying, “I can’t do it, I can’t meditate…” They just couldn’t get themselves to sit every day for half an hour, and that was enough to pull them away. Could being still for a few minutes be that hard? But, I realised a similar resistance also appeared in other practices in my life, not only in meditation (even knowing the fantastic benefits). So there must be a common phenomenon that triggers resistance. Discovering it would also give a clue to hack it.

The Key

Understanding our natural physical and emotional reactions towards meditation and the resistance to stay still, were the real game-changer for me when I started meditating. It helped me come up with seven steps to meditate every day. From struggling to sit for 5 minutes, I managed to meditate an hour every day. I also got a deeper self-understanding that helped me hack the natural resistance to other activities in my life.

I’ll share seven steps to meditate that worked for me when I went through my 18 months intensive meditation “retreat”. Well, I’ve put retreat in brackets because it’s how I reframed my burnout recovery experience that kept me bedridden for three months, isolated for six and homebound for about 18 months. Meditation was the only thing I could “do” during that challenging time. So, I decided to dive deep. It saved my life. I even got certified as a Meditation Leader to share what I learned in my experience.

Additionally, I’ll share a free guided mindfulness meditation by Dr Jan Moller, Mindfulness teacher for more than 30 years, to complement the steps program.

Why is it hard to meditate consistently?

The importance of understanding the nature of resistance to change 

When recovering from an extreme burnout, I couldn’t do anything but rest and meditate. So, I decided to start meditating intensely for eighteen months. During the first three months, even though I had the time and the intention, I curiously avoided the practices. Observing my reaction, I recognised that particular feeling of resistance in the past and recognised an underlying pattern. For instance, I felt resistance in moments as simple as going to the gym and as complex as not calling a doctor for an appointment. For many of us, our stomachs wrinkles before going to the gym followed by “I’m going, maybe not. I’m going, not today…” dual inner dialogue. My excuses for avoiding the plan would be fearfully convincing: “too tired; my immune system would drop; too many things to do for tomorrow; too late, no way I’ll exercise with an empty stomach!”

From the neuroscience-psychological point of view, our brains have a natural resistance mechanism towards any activity that represents change. Our mind may try to avoid, not only a habit change but also on changing ways of thinking and even changing identity. For instance, starting a new activity implies that we have to swap between our established comfortable routine and exchange it for a new one. This new task demands additional effort and energy to adapt, and the brain lives this remodelling as a situation of uncertainty and stress.

Another “primitive’s brain function is to protect us from pain and direct us to pleasure.” For instance, in gym and meditation practices, my resistance surfaced against observing myself. That meant hearing and looking straight in the face of my self-criticism, which produced emotional pain. Although brief, instant gratifications would be my unconscious convincing excuse to deflect the plan.

In meditation practices, we retrain ourselves to be in the present moment, in contact with our being, in awareness. We are in total alertness of the experience of our reality with all its range of colours: including positive and negative emotions, pain, fear, anxiety, dissatisfaction, happiness, excitement, contentment. Compared to our usual fixation on distraction, either by thoughts, memories or entertainment, experiencing the now is a significant change, and there is a chance to feel our existent discomfort, otherwise masked by distraction.

“Resistance… is the capacity of a solid to resist forces without damaging or braking… In social science, resistance presupposes a person’s rejection to the practices that enable them to think about themselves.”

Behaviours that reveal resistance

These are some behaviours that mask our resistance to meditate. We can be attentive when we fall to any of them and reevaluate the underlying motive:

1. Laziness, or procrastination.

2. Forgetfulness

3. Dullness or sleepy

4. Easily distracted

5. Non-application: when you know you’ve got distracted but do not come back to the practice.

Different meanings of resistance

The psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung, says in his book “Memories, Dreams, Reflexions”, that resistance, especially if “it’s stubborn, it may be a warning sign, that might merit attention…”There are times when it’s essential to follow our internal brakes. Our avoidance to meditate might mean we are not in the “zone” to confront what meditation might show us about ourselves. We might not have someone near us to translate the experience and help us digest what blurts out, and we might misunderstand and tint the sensation inappropriately. Meditation can be seen as a practice to regain energy, increase focus and overall health. But it’s also a device for self-enquiry, mental clarity and spiritual awakening and enlightenment.

Etymologically speaking, meditation is the name given to the experience of being present in our total awareness.On the other hand, the resistance, shown when we fall asleep in practice, might mean that we just need to sleep instead of meditating. But, if we notice our lethargic mood and still want to keep the momentum of the practice, we could consider different types of meditation: guided meditation, standing meditation, art meditation, or reduce the practise time.

A trick to align mind-body

I tell myself this mantra every time I get into internal conflict and resistance. It re-alines my mind-body to be on the same frequency. I used this mantra to help me in my healing, to go to the gym and also with my meditation practice:

“Make it easy for the body”

Monika Moller

Make it easy for the body to _____. And fill in the blanc space.

If we make it easy for us to create a change, our body and mind will move along towards the same direction, and we’ll feel a release of the natural tension that appears when starting something new. Then, when we have gained momentum, the positive results we observe will encourage us to continue our daily meditations.

In case you’re curious about how the mantra worked in the gym case, I asked myself “how can I make it easy for me to go to the gym?” Helpful options came up: I chose the gym closest to home or work; started with 30 minutes and increased to 45 min maximum; enrolled on a fun class the first week to keep my mind on the task and not on what I struggled; had almond and raisins snacks in case of hunger attack.

7 Steps to meditate daily

These seven steps to meditate helped me negotiate with my astute mind (monkey mind), and get past the procrastination and inconsistency:

1. Start with a 5-minute meditation a day with a type of meditation that you find interesting.

2. Set a time where it would be easy for you to stay alert. Most recommend, in the morning, setting 5 minutes before you usually wake up. Alternatively, at midday or before going to bed.

3. If you feel restless, before you begin the practice stretch, shake your hands and bounce lightly as the Olympians do before a race and breath deeply at least two times. The movement and breathing will help lower adrenaline hormones and help your body to sit still for the practice.

4. Set a daily alarm clock on your phone as a reminder.

5. Test the plan for one month, make adjustments if necessary. Increase time for the second month.

6. Reward yourself for your effort.

7. Forgive yourself for what you didn’t do yesterday and continue.

Meditation an enjoyable practice

How can I make it an enjoyable practice? By knowing the meditation conundrum and mindset.

The meditation conundrum: when expecting results, we move further from them.

Meditation Mindset: Curiosity. Seeing meditation as a game in a respectful way and practising it as if you’re in love. When you’re in love, it’s easier to live any experience, ups and downs, with compassion, courage and understanding.

The good news is that science has proved meditation’s benefits are accumulative. Even if we don’t notice it, our awareness, our focus and detachment from thoughts improve each time we meditate. We may physically and mentally see a difference after a period of consistent practice, similarly to the results from going to the gym are visible after three months. We trust the effects are taking place bit by bit and gradually you’ll radiate a different vibration. Knowing this helps us drop any expectations and demands. The way for meditation to transform us is letting it take its natural course.

Meditation Practice of the day

A beginners level audio that will guide through eight minute meditation, focusing on the awareness of body and breath, from Dr Jan Moller.

1. To play or download meditation click Dr Jan Moller meditation

Note: To save the audio on your device, open link and right-click on the grey area of the player audio, then select save on the drop-down menu.

2. Click here for more guided meditations, mindfulness courses and healing music from Dr Jan Moller, available on Insight Timer app.

Dr Jan Moller Meditation Music
See you in the cave!