Common Problems and Solutions

We are collecting some of the most common meditation questions – and answers – on this page. If your question is not answered here, we recommend the reddit meditation forum, where you are always welcome to ask new questions about your practice.

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Scheduling

I have a very busy life. What if I have no time to meditate?

It is rare if somebody cannot find five minutes in a day to meditate. But if you are particularly pressed at any time, there are plenty of ways to maintain your meditation practice.

Remembering conversation meditation can improve your daily conversations. Using meditation beads, listening to a guided meditation, or practicing loving kindness meditations can make for an enjoyable commute. And don’t forget that meditation can be a family or friend activity, particularly attending classes or a yearly retreat.

What do I do if I regularly forget or am unmotivated?

Motivation comes and goes. The important thing is to meditate every day, and at a regular time. Having a regular practice will change meditation from a chore, to a habit. Having a physical cue – for instance, meditating after our morning coffee – can help new habits to stick.

One thing that helps remembering meditation is to mark the days you meditate on a calendar, and to try not to ‘break the chain’. It is said that if we continue any activity for somewhere between 18 and 66 days, it becomes a habit. After long enough you will find your mind pleasantly slip into “mediation mode” around its normal time, even if you are doing something else. The meditation cushion will become a treat, rather than a chore

Remember we are in this life for a very short time, which is a traditional motivation for meditation.

And joining a meditation group, going on yearly or bi-yearly retreats, and having a good meditation book, all work wonders for our enthusiasm.

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Issues Whilst Meditating

How do I deal with physical pain?

Small incidences of pain are normal when you begin meditating – it is not often that we pay attention to our bodies, without some kind of distraction. If you do not add to your discomfort by trying to fight it, it should pass of its own accord.

However, you should never force yourself to meditate in a certain position that is chronically painful, just because you have been told it is the ‘proper’ way to meditate. It is completely acceptable to meditate sitting in a comfortable chair – even lying down, if that is all you can manage.

How do I overcome boredom?

In some ways, it is a very unusual thing in the West to just sit with nothing in particular to do.

One thing many people struggle with is checking a clock or alarm repeatedly, and wondering how long is left of their session. Some people find meditating for the time it takes for one stick of incense to burn is a more “natural” way of marking time.

One cure we like for this is to count breaths to a very large number once, rather than counting repeatedly from 1-10. Starting from zero again and again can be very unmotivating. However, counting to 100 breaths (about 12 minutes), or 160 breaths (about 20 minutes) is a fun target that is much more in keeping with our computer game scoreboard childhoods.

Meditating with a group, or perhaps alone at a special location in the city, is one way to make meditating seem more “special”, and something to look forward to. Google for a nearby center or perhaps special garden nearby.

What do I do about sleepiness?

The first tip is an obvious one – make sure you have had enough sleep! Most of us carry some kind of “sleep debt”. It is for this reason many Vipassana retreats will suggest the first day is merely spent catching up on sleep.

If you have had enough sleep, but for some reason find meditation a guaranteed way to make you drowsy, there are many tricks you can use to stay alert.

Opening your eyes a little, rather than keeping them completely closed, will help keep you alert.

Sitting up straight, in an erect position, will keep sleepiness at bay.

• Make sure you are not too warm, and there is enough oxygen in the room (open a window).

• Experiment with different meditation times. You might find you have a more alert session in the morning, or at lunch time.

• Mix up your meditations with walking mediation, t’ai chi, yoga, mindfulness, conversation meditations, or some other more active form of practice.

Meditating with a group can also make you more alert than meditating alone.

Tiredness can be an avoidance strategy of the brain, and it can also indicate slight anxiety or depression. If youhave tried the above steps and this is the case, see a doctor to rule out any more fundamental causes.

Why Can't I stop my thoughts?

This is one of the biggest misconceptions about meditation in the West (the other might be that meditation is about relaxation – or “zoning out”).

The aim of meditation is not to stop our thoughts. If you try this, you will see that thoughts come back twice as strongly! Thoughts and emotions are very natural things.

In meditating, we allow our thoughts and feelings to rise, stay as long as they like, and naturally subside. All this happens without our participation or effort. No thought by itself lasts forever.

We can gain mastery over our thoughts merely by giving our mind a job to do (meditation). Suddenly we are in control, not our impulses! Further to that, watching thoughts and feelings and not reacting with or against them will give us further control over our lives.

As we watch our thoughts, the “gaps” between them may also seem to grow larger, and we will feel more peaceful as we stop fighting and being lost in our emotions. But this is merely returning to a more natural state. Truly thoughts never really end.

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Going Further

What Should I do if I feel 'stuck' and not progressing?

It is considered very unnatural to try to completely meditate alone. Traditionally, meditation was a monastic activity, to be undertaken with your fellow monks, and under the guidance of a master meditation.

For this reason one’s teacher, and the “sangha” (or community of fellow meditators) are said to be very precious indeed. Other people can not only encourage you, but point out discoveries or answers to questions you may have.

There are meditation classes in most major cities. If you do not have time for a weekly class, retreats (extended times away to meditate – usually 3-10 days) and visiting teachers are excellent opportunities to connect with others.

Don’t forget variation and experimentation. You might be a visualization master, but you are stuck in a habit of simple breath meditation!