Some people say they have tried meditation, but it didn’t work. Or they are certain meditation could help them, but their minds just won’t cooperate. It’s the kind of practice that sounds so simple in principle, but don’t be fooled. This is one of the hardest journeys you’ll undertake. The stumbling blocks can be roughly divided into a few main categories:

Poor Training. There are many effective ways of performing meditation and they are easy to learn. The internet can provide articles, instructions, podcasts, videos, books, you name it. The problem is that beginning practitioners of meditation often only grasp a vague understanding of the practice while attempting it. They sit down and try to “clear all thoughts” or “watch their breath” because that’s all that they think it is. This is almost a lack of curiosity — like you’ve taken your first few swings with a golf club and decided to give up rather than ask someone if you’re supposed to be bending your knees (you are).  The easiest way, like in golf, is to find a mentor — maybe the friend you know who meditates and seems to have had some success. Or attend a local class, which are surprisingly plentiful and often cheap or free. Those of us who meditate love to talk about it and are dying to offer advice.

Mismanaged Expectations. This is going to take time. You will feel frustration. Results may not be immediate. Some days, not just at the beginning, thoughts will distract your mind and emotions will overwhelm your senses. The meditator needs to understand that progress is slow and steady. The most counter-intuitive part of meditation is that failure is the point. Think of weightlifting, where the goal is to lift heavy objects until the muscles fail (can’t lift it anymore). No bodybuilder drives home from the gym thinking, “My muscles failed today on that last rep — weightlifting is too hard!”   There is no need for guilt or shame at any point, only awareness and love. If you can maintain your attentiveness for twenty seconds, try for thirty next time. We are getting to know ourselves just as we are. Some days will go better than others and there will be setbacks. You can do it.

Cowardice. There is a certain amount of courage required to sit quietly with yourself. As a normal human being, there are traits of yours that you hate and secrets that you don’t like to admit. There are thoughts and feelings that scare the shit out of you. The reflex is to run. When you first attempt to quiet your mind, you may feel discomfort of one sort or another. Is this not what we are here to examine? The temptation to avoid meditation is strong and manifests in plenty of sinister disguises. Many people will find clever ways to avoid authenticity until the end of their lives, usually to their great regret. Make no mistake, this is a battle for our selves. The real heart of meditation is this — the resolve to sit in that chair today and accept gracefully whatever comes up.

Lack of Time or Interest. See cowardice.