There are various kinds of obstacles in the path of meditation practice. These obstacles can be at our physical level due to poor health, unhealthy eating habits, our natural resistance to discipline, other external factors during the initial stage of meditation, or past experience in meditation practice.
Even though most of the obstacles are related to our mind, for simplicity in understanding they have been put under different subheads in this article. The most common types of obstacle are listed below for your quick reference – based on this writer’s personal experience.
During meditation, the mind is either drowsy and sleepy, or hyperactive with distraction. We tend to sleep during the initial stage of the practice and when we awaken our body, it leads to distraction. We now try to calm our mind and it moves towards sleepiness again. This keeps on happening.
However, with regular practice a stage comes when our mind is devoid of distraction, and is full of wakefulness, so the mind gets steadied. This is the perfect state to go into deeper levels and meditate.
Our mind wants everything and the only thing it dislikes is discipline and meditation is the art of gaining more and more control over our mind and making it more disciplined. So, it is obvious that our mind will play games so as not to focus or attain discipline. This again creates obstacles in the practice of meditation.
On certain days our mind provides excuses for avoiding the meditation practice – and, if we give into this feeling, we easily go into a downward spiral where we give up the practice until we make up our mind again. When you don’t want to meditate, the best thing to do is opt for a shorter duration of meditation.
When practitioners have unrealistic expectations, it results in doubt. When faith gets weakened we try to give up the practice.
The motive to acquire power
Some practitioners have hopes of acquiring power and this motive results in attachment to power. This is a serious obstacle. Practitioners should not meditate with the end objective of acquiring power in mind.
Physical discomfort – you may experience localised pain, itching, cramping of muscles, arthritic stiffness, and a lack of sensation. Being physically comfortable is a very important part of meditation practice. Stretching and yoga postures help greatly to achieve this balance.
Sometimes meditation practitioners avoid physical exercises and do not realise that the physical body is the vehicle for the journey towards inner self, and it is truly needed for meditative practice. Sometimes practitioners also torment the body by not taking medicines at the time of illness, thanks to certain belief structures. This is not the right thing to do.
It is always good for meditation practitioners to do some physical exercise and keep the body healthy. One can also use pillows, pads, a chair or whatever you need to support your upright posture. Find a position that your body can maintain comfortably and still position the spine upright.
The kind of food we eat directly affects our mind apart from our body. If we eat food which is tamasic or rajasic, for example, that is food with a lot of chillies, bitter or stale ingredients, it leads to obstruction in the practice of meditation because of the acerbic nature of such a diet plan.
Overeating leads to heaviness and results in sleep during meditation.
People on the path of meditation need to understand one point very clearly – that drinking and meditation cannot go together. If you drink, you cannot do meditation.
During the initial stage, external obstacles to meditation include environmental factors like a noisy, chaotic or polluted environment. There could also be constant interruption by family, phone calls, or external noise. You may also lack a peaceful place to meditate.
The way it is…
Traumatic experience. Sometimes traumatic memories come up when you try to meditate. You may have experienced psychic attacks in the past that make you frightened to meditate. In some meditation techniques, like vipasana, this does happen, because it is a cleansing process. The best way is to observe the feeling with equanimity. I would strongly suggest you learn your initial meditative practice in the presence of an experienced practitioner or a meditation camp which is adequately supervised.
Spiritual pride. Sometimes a practitioner has little experience and fills your world with pride. They may try to separate themselves from others thinking themselves to be superior. This arrogance is a serious obstacle in the path of experiencing the truth. One should not allow spiritual pride to overtake one’s mind.
Finally, those who practice meditation regularly know that the practice of meditation always goes in cycles. Sometimes it is very good and smooth, sometimes it just does not happen. This is the time when the practitioner has to be calm and accept the fact with composure and keep practising the technique without getting frustrated.
Timeless and Eternal
“To meditate is to purge the mind of its self-centred activity. And, if you have come this far in meditation, you will find there is silence, a total emptiness. The mind is uncontaminated by society; it is no longer subject to any influence, to the pressure of any desire. It is completely alone, and being alone, untouched it is innocent. Therefore, there is a possibility for that which is timeless, eternal, to come into being. This whole process is meditation.”
– J Krishnamurti
“Without the help of meditation, you cannot attain knowledge of the self. Without its aid, you cannot grow into the divine state. Without it, you cannot liberate yourself from the tramples of the mind and attain immortality.”
– Swami Sivananda