(and How to Overcome Them)
Do you remember the first time you tried green tea? You probably didn’t care much for it. All you knew was it was good for you. Similarly, sitting in a silent meditation retreat can initially seem challenging, especially when we are so used to the relentless activity and constant external and internal noise. We tire out, then go off to sleep.
As a result, we don’t explore that sweet spot between when we are working and when we are asleep. The time we could simply sit still with ourselves in precious mindful silence to recoup our energy, bring back our focus and interest, and make us vibrant and happy!
We first need to determine the causes and symptoms to solve a problem. So, what challenges might you face when you go for a silent meditation?
When you begin a meditation practice, you may be greeted by restlessness in your mind and body. Questions—a lot of questions—may bombard your mind all at once. This is simply because we are not used to living in restful awareness. Our minds and bodies are constantly engaged in experiences involving the senses. We are used to always watching, listening, tasting—basically ‘doing something.’
So, when you are guided to sit and just be with your thoughts, body sensations, and more subtle levels of existence, you may initially feel fidgety, confused, and even sleepy. But don’t worry; these normal experiences shouldn’t discourage you from continuing the session. In fact, the more you become aware of these distractions, the quicker your mind and body begin to adjust to the silence and start enjoying it.
To get more out of your silent meditation, try this tip offered by Art of Living Founder and meditation master Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. “Just for a few minutes, be willing to sit like a stone—unmoved and perfectly still. Just digest all the discomfort and the urge to move and engage in the world.” This simple technique immediately brings the mind to this present moment and makes it unshakable.
Read the Power of Silent Retreats
Continuing with the Practice, Come What May
Once you overcome the initial discomfort and restlessness, the mind will begin to settle. This is where the second challenge may arise—you feel like quitting ‘while at the top’ of your experience. You may feel you have gotten what you needed from the meditation.
When such an urge comes up, observe and be with it totally without giving in to it. This is a remnant of the restlessness in your system acting up. When you continue with the practice—not bothered about whether you are feeling calm and settled or not—you will notice that thoughts and stillness come in waves. The frequency of these thoughts reduces with practice.
Settling into this state of being, calm or otherwise, for a few minutes every day is what silent meditation is about. This dharna or affirmation of being with the practice (no matter what this moment throws at you), deepens your practice, and obstacles will disappear over time.
Believe it or not, overdoing it can be a problem. Sometimes practitioners meditate far longer than their body and mind need to because it is so relaxing, but this can backfire. Deep meditation produces a lot of prana (life energy) that needs to be appropriately channelled into rigorous activity or service. Otherwise, the vector-less energy can lead to extreme behaviors bordering on overzealousness. If the instruction is to sit for 20 minutes, follow that through.
Contrary to the above, some people need to meditate more often. Whether you want more focus, glowing skin, less stress, more productivity, or better sleep, you need to make your meditation practice a priority to reap the full benefits. Practice until it becomes part of your muscle memory and becomes natural to you.
Some experts suggest that a practice continued for at least 40 days becomes a habit. So tie your intention to a specific, doable time period. Begin with 40 days, and then, as you start to feel and see changes within you—the peace, joy, relaxed state, and sense of ease—you’ll naturally want to continue with the practice. You won’t need external motivation.
Getting Used to Fewer Instructions
A silent meditation usually entails minimal to zero instructions. This can take some getting used to if you are a beginner. You may feel lost and rudderless when starting a new practice, especially one as deep and unexplored as mind and meditation. But this has incredible benefits when the mind begins to withdraw and go inward as it progresses.
You’ll then begin to rely more on inner guidance whenever necessary rather than external voices and tools which can seem jarring when you’ve become accustomed to total silence.
Read How to Prepare for a Silent Retreat
If you find it difficult to get used to silent meditation, continue to struggle with the lack of instructions, or the mind remains unsettled even after practicing it long enough, try guided meditations. These require less effort in terms of knowing what to do with the body, breath, mind, and intellect, and are the perfect introduction to the powerful practice of meditation.