Beginning meditation is like starting long distance running. At the very beginning even keeping going for five minutes seems to be an impossible task. During the many periods of walking breaks between the failing attempts to run you wonder whether this is ever going to be nice. A determination to get through the rough start will give you the energy to prevail. Soon people can run longer and longer until they acquire a basic fitness that they can develop further: A marathon is within reach!
For beginners, the first more extended periods of meditation can be just as daunting as starting to run after a sedentary life. The great temptation is to shorten meditation or give it up altogether. Rather than 30 minutes, people sit for 10 or 5. Do not succumb to that temptation. The determination to get through 30 minutes or even whole hours will be greatly rewarded after only a few times of committed practice.
What are the hurdles beginners have to jump?
The first few sessions can feel endless. The mind is not used to being with itself without constant distractions and outside stimulation. It will make you feel uncomfortable for leaving it in this new and unknown space. The 30 minutes may feel like an ocean of time. Is it ever going to end? Your discipline and commitment to the contemplative exercise and your anchor will make this strange phase pass very quickly. You will get used to being in silence for a longer period of time. Having reached a point where you are comfortable with being alone with yourself is already immensely valuable. The more you meditate, the quicker the initial boredom is overcome.
With your distractions, it is as with a bee in a phone booth. You cannot have a quiet phone conversation while fighting off a bee that gets ever more agitated. If the door of the phone booth is open the bee can fly out and do what bees do: collect pollen, fly around and go back to their hive. Your thoughts want to do what they do, and we can watch them gently without fighting them. Trying not to think is a futile effort that might leave us exhausted. Being free of thoughts is a great contemplative grace, and a very advanced state of mystic ascent. Not quite for beginners, right? In the beginning, it might feel like there is no other option but fighting. However, a dedicated practice will gradually make you aware that your thoughts can pass while you meditate calmly. Gentleness rather than an obsession with control will set in.
3. Physical Discomfort
Teaching the right way of sitting is as important as it is simple. In spite of the simplicity of just sitting, discomfort during meditation gets mostly blamed on the wrong seat, stool or cushion. However, in reality this is only rarely the true reason. Silence can cause resistance not only internally but also externally. The mind is not used to being left alone, and our efforts to control things leave us tense. That has its effect on the body. In fact, checking in with the body is a straightforward way of telling you what state of mind you are in: Is it tense, restless, painful, numb, tired? It is futile if you want to change that state somehow. Everything that is there is allowed to be. As your mind gets calmer and your meditation gets more passive your body will settle as well. If we have the discipline to sit through physical discomfort, we will grow ever more sensitive to the messages of our body. The more you sit, the more your body will settle into silence.
Discipline helps you to jump the first hurdles on the path of silence. It is worth investing the time and effort.