The quick answer is “don’t”!
During my years of teaching meditation, I’ve have heard a multitude of excuses for ending a meditation session early so let’s look at some of them and what to do when they occur.
Make Yourself Comfortable
One of the simplest reasons for feeling restless during meditation is because you’re sitting in an uncomfortable position. If you can sit for 20-30 minutes with legs crossed in full lotus and without back support, then go ahead. This is the classic meditation posture we see pictures of the yogis adopting. However, for most of us, trying this would soon become painful and very distracting.
For the best results, we recommend sitting with the back upright but make sure that you’re comfortable. Support yourself with a pillow, use a blanket if you’re cold. Take a moment at the beginning of your practice to check how your body feels, take a few deep breaths and allow your body to relax. Even after doing this, if you feel some discomfort during the meditation, it’s okay to shift your position.
Minimize External Disturbances
The only thing we need to be able to meditate is to be able to think a thought, which we can do no matter what is going on around us. However a lot of external noise can cause us to become frustrated.
Whenever possible, find a quiet place to meditate where you’re unlikely to be disturbed. If you have pets or young children, give them something to do in another room. For a silent meditation such as Primordial Sound Meditation, we recommend that you do not listen to music during the meditation as this will keep bringing your attention out into activity. In general, we also recommend meditating inside. While meditating outside can be enjoyable, it can also be filled with potential disturbances, birds chattering, invading insects, strange or unusual sounds.
Falling asleep during meditation happens to everyone once in a while. It just means that you are a little tired and the body releases the fatigue through sleep. However, it can be frustrating if you find yourseff falling asleep during every meditation.
If this happens, then it’s time to look at your lifestyle and ask yourself why you’re so tired. Are you getting enough sleep at night, are you under too much pressure, are you eating the wrong diet, are you exercising regularly?
Expectations are one of the biggest causes of unhappiness in our lives in general and can create frustration during our meditations.
The experiences we have in meditation are the correct ones for us at that time. Don’t look for any particular experience, simply accept whatever comes innocently. Meditation is to enrich our lives not to give us some flashy experience while we’re meditating. Don’t expect the experience
you had previously to necessarily show up again and don’t look for someone else’s experience in your meditation. A variety of factors influence your experience, from what you’ve eaten, how rested you are, what’s going on emotionally in your life, even what time of day it is. Every time you sit down to meditate, begin with the same innocence you had when you first learned, not knowing what to expect.
Hungry or Over Fed
When you meditate the mind settles down, which causes the body to also settle. When you’ve just eaten a large meal, the body is actively digesting the food. If you meditate on a full stomach there will be a conflict between the mind wanting to become more rested and the body needing to stay more active, disturbing your meditation. In general therefore, we recommend meditating before eating a meal. However, in doing this, if you are always hungry during your meditations, this will be disturbing. In this case, eat something light to stave off the hunger but not so much as to create a lot of digestive activity.
Release of stress is one of the most important benefits of meditation but is also the leading cause of frustration and restlessness during meditation. Stress is physical, we feel the tightness and tension in various parts of our body and the knots of stress in our muscles.
Meditation is a process of settling down. Rest is how the body heals itself, which it does by releasing what shouldn’t be there – stress, fatigue and toxins. When we begin our practice, the mind becomes quieter and less active. This causes a corresponding settling down in the body, which allows some stresses to be released. This release causes an increase in the body’s activity and a corresponding increase in mental activity. Mental activity is thinking thoughts so the mind grasps something to begin thinking about, usually what we were thinking about before we sat to meditate.
Thinking thoughts during meditation is the indication that stress is being released so this is a good thing and shouldn’t be a cause of frustration. Realizing that our attention has drifted to thoughts is the indication that this release of stress is complete so now is the time to return to our mantra, breath or other object of our meditation.
Sometimes, the release of stress can cause us to experience a physical sensation such as a change in body temperature, some tingling or slight movements of the body. All these are natural and not an excuse to quit the meditation.
In addition to physical stress, meditation also helps us release emotional stress. Usually this happens without us noticing but occasionally we might feel the welling up of an emotion. When you notice this happening, again come back to the object of your meditation.
Finally, we should mention our old friend the ego and its role in causing frustration during our meditation.
The ego is a necessary and, when balanced, important layer of our life. However, when out of balance, the ego likes to control everything by creating boundaries. The goal of meditation is to step into the unbounded field of all possibilities, which can feel threatening to the ego. Your ego helped create who you are and so knows you very well. It knows all your habits and weaknesses and will use them to trick you into not meditating. Beware of the ego when you meditate, it can sound very tempting. When the doubts arise and all those reasons why you should stop the meditation show up, ask yourself, “Is this my Higher Self directing me or is it my ego?”
If we are practicing easily and effortlessly, every meditation will be a good meditation and give us exactly what we need at that time. The frustration you feel is actually an indication that something good is happening. Be patient, once you recognize any of these distractions for what they are, you will notice them and continue meditating without feeling frustrated. Always remember, we don’t meditate for an flashy experience during the practice. We meditate to enrich our lives out of meditation.