8 Common Meditation Difficulties and How to Overcome Them

Meditation Difficulties wandering mind

Meditation is challenging sometimes. You’d know I had my fair share of meditation difficulties if you read my previous post on how meditation changed my life.

Here, I’ll go into why you might run into meditation difficulties, some common ones that people often face, and how to overcome them so you can develop a more fulfilling meditation practice.

Why Would You Face Meditation Difficulties?

Pretty much everyone will face meditation difficulties because they arise from what we have in our minds. Since meditation is a process of reflecting on and clearing out the mind, the increased awareness of our thoughts can derail us in many ways, which I’ll explain in the list below.

Reasons You Need to Know How to Overcome Meditation Difficulties

Overcoming difficulties in meditation is no different from overcoming challenges in all the other aspects of life. We want to create resilience, focus, and consistency. If you don’t address the obstacles you come across, they will likely hinder your progress, leading you to discontinue your practice.

Specifically in terms of meditation, it’s important to overcome difficulties because:

  1. It will help you sustain a consistent practice, allowing you to reap the most benefits possible by meditating.
  2. You will become more mindful and aware of the present moment.
  3. You can better regulate your emotions, which, in turn, helps with managing stress, improving relationships, and improving your emotional well-being and emotional intelligence.
  4. Each challenge is an opportunity to reflect deeply to better understand yourself and have more insight into how you can build a better you.

8 Common Meditation Difficulties and How to Overcome Them

During my 10 years or so as a meditation guide, I found there were a lot of common difficulties that everyone faced. We’re each so stuck in our own minds that we often think we’re the only ones experiencing them but know that you aren’t alone in your meditation struggles. There’s a way to rise above all the following challenges.

Meditation Difficulties wandering mind

Restless Thoughts and Mind Wandering

Did you know the average person thinks about 6000 thoughts per day? That’s 2.19 million thoughts in a year! Then how many thoughts have raced through your mind during the entirety of your life?

It’s only natural that your mind wanders during meditation. You’re becoming aware of what’s going on in your mind, so you can’t help but see all these thoughts racing around.

When you recognize that your mind was wandering, simply remind yourself that the goal of meditation is to clear these thoughts out. That you want space in your mind to focus on what truly matters in life.

Then return to the method of whatever meditation practice you follow and remove that thought from your mind. As you keep subtracting these thoughts from your mind, you will eventually get to a place of clarity and tranquility, where you will have nothing more to get rid of.

Meditation Difficulties physical discomfort and restlessness

Physical Discomfort and Restlessness

Although my health improved almost immediately after starting to meditate, there were times when I felt like my physical condition was worsening during meditation.

Example 1:

In the earlier stages, when I was dealing with a lot of emotional memories, I sometimes felt like I was choking. It was difficult, but once I let go of the emotional, frustrating, or stifling experiences that I was reflecting on, the choking feeling stopped.

Example 2:

And once, when I found another huge mental block, I felt dizzy and couldn’t stand or sit up straight for a couple of days. I realized I had a deeply rooted habit of letting my limiting beliefs weigh me down. I didn’t even know I held onto such limiting beliefs until this experience. This is a habit I’m working on even to this day.

There are many more personal examples, but I’ll save them for an entirely new blog post on the topic.

Our minds influence our bodies more than we think. Our feelings, emotions, and thoughts affect us physically. The above examples are merely my personal experiences, so I’m not claiming that these associations I made between my mind and body are the absolute truth.

However, meditation is not an alternative to going to the doctor. It is simply a tool to let go of the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of your being. Although reflecting on your mind may result in physical discomfort, be sure to with your primary care physician if you have any medical concerns.

Impatience and Frustration

When the meditation process did not give me the results I was expecting or when I did not progress at the pace I wanted, I found myself feeling impatient and frustrated. But the reality was that I had been accumulating all my thoughts, feelings, and habits throughout my entire life. Comparing that to the time I had spent so far in meditation, it made sense that I would need more time to work through the things in my mind and let them go.

It helps to focus on the meditation method, rather than looking for the outcomes. Over time, you’ll find that you’re in a different place than where you were.

Meditation Difficulties strong emotions

Dealing with Strong Emotions

Increased self-awareness opened my eyes to many emotions I had experienced during my entire life. Sometimes, it felt like meditation was making me even more depressed, anxious, stressed, angry, and insecure. But when I recognized that I felt perfectly fine at the end of a meditation session, I realized past feelings were just resurfacing as I worked through them and let them go.

I like to compare this to the process of taking out the trash. As long as the trash is in your hand, it would stink, wouldn’t it? Once you toss it in the dump and walk away, you’ll be free from the smell of trash. Same thing with your feelings. You’re in the process of letting them go, so as long as they’re still in your mind’s possession, you’ll still feel them. Just trust your meditation method and let go.

Meditation Plateaus

There is only so much meditation and reflection you can do while only sitting with your eyes closed. At a certain point, you’ll feel like your meditation practice is going well, but when you look at how you go about your day, you might feel like you’re regressing.

This is when I found it helpful to start putting what I realized through meditation into action. It’s a form of active meditation, where you apply meditation and mindfulness to everything you do in your life. What’s the point of feeling calm and true in your seat with your eyes closed if you can’t maintain it throughout the day during your daily activities, right?

Meditation Difficulties deeper self awareness

Deeper Self-Awareness

Through deeper reflection, I began to notice personal habits that were not as selfless and altruistic as I thought I was. There were a lot of ugly sides to me that I did not want to admit as my habits or thoughts.

But, owning up to my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors was incredibly liberating. Once I acknowledged that I had been thinking, feeling, and living such an ugly life, I felt hopeful because I could now start to change everything one by one. I began working on changing one thought process or habit at a time, letting go of the blockages that kept me from breaking these habits as I found them. 

Conflicts with Meditation Guides

Everybody is different, so conflict is inevitable. But I used to think meditation guides and experienced meditators should behave and act a certain way. I thought they should always be calm, considerate, happy, and helpful. However, much to my disappointment, not everyone lived up to my expectations. At one point, I even thought, “If that’s how I’ll turn out when I’ve been meditating that long, then I don’t want to do this!”

When I looked back at my experiences in the meditation program I’d been following, I couldn’t deny that my life had changed. I was certainly healthier, happier, and more emotionally stable than I was before meditation.

So, I decided to stick with the meditation program and let go of my expectations of the guides. Once I started focusing only on myself, letting of what was in my mind, and only changing myself, I began to make even more progress in my meditation journey.

Meditation Difficulties resistance and procrastination

Resistance and Procrastination

All of the meditation difficulties above can feel discouraging at times and repulsive at other times. Even when I had every intention to change, I realized my mind was so accustomed to being the way it already was that I came up with all kinds of excuses not to change and meditate. It’s so easy to start placing the blame and fault on others and my conditions instead of owning up to my own resistance and refusal to do something about my situation and my mind.

At these times, it helped me to ask myself, “Do you like where you are now? Do you want to continue living that way forever? Think about life before meditation. Do you want to regress back to that?” That definitely prompted me to meditate, even if it was only for a few minutes.

Tips for Overcoming Meditation Difficulties

Here are a few common ideas to summarize the above tips on how to overcome meditation difficulties.

Meditation Difficulties non-judgmental awareness

Non-judgmental Awareness

When you become aware of the different feelings and habits you have, you might be inclined to judge that it’s something either good or bad. Something that benefits you or doesn’t. But doing this will only take you down a spiral of disappointment and discouragement.

Meditation isn’t about judging what is right or wrong, good or bad. It’s about letting go of what’s in your mind and finding clarity and truth. It isn’t about beating yourself up when you can’t be what you expect to be after meditation. It’s about recognizing that is how you have lived until now and beginning to make changes, a little bit at a time.

Meditation Difficulties patience and persistance

Patience and Persistence

You might overcome some meditation difficulties in a short time, and others might take longer. It depends on how deeply rooted your feelings, emotions, thoughts, and habits are in your life. The key is to stay consistent. Be patient with yourself and with the process and persist. Over time, you’ll find that you’ve changed and you’re somewhere very different than where you were.

Meditation Difficulties Expectations and mindset

Mindset and Expectations

Take every challenge as an opportunity to let go of something and get closer to your place of inner peace and truth. I found that expectations—whether they are about the guides, the meditation process, or myself—only block me from making progress. Cultivate the mental habit of breaking away from any self-limiting beliefs that hinder your progress and keep you from moving forward. Focus only on continuously moving forward in your meditation journey.

Enhance Your Ability to Overcome Meditation Difficulties

There were several other things I did that helped me overcome meditation difficulties and continue making progress in my meditation practice.

Meditation Difficulties seek guidance

Seek Guidance

When I’m stuck in the habit of thinking a certain way about what’s going on in my life, in my mind, and around me, I sometimes find that it’s difficult to break away from my thought patterns. A lot of times, I don’t know how to think or feel any other way.

This is when help from someone else proved extremely helpful. A meditation guide or mentor can prompt me to approach my feelings and thoughts from a different perspective that is outside of myself, from an objective point of view. This makes it a lot easier to work through what’s in my mind.

Meditation Difficulties different techniques

Explore Different Techniques

There are many ways to achieve the end goal of meditation. Overall, yes, it’s all about letting go of, decluttering, and throwing away what’s in our minds. But there are so many different ways to let go.

Take a piece of trash, for example. You can walk over to the trash can and place the garbage gently inside, you can just toss the garbage into the trash can, you can run over and slam the garbage into the trash can, or you can shred the trash to bits and sprinkle it into the garbage can. See? So many ways. And there are more that I haven’t listed, but I’ll leave that up to your imagination.

Experiment and see which way of letting go works well for you. Different techniques might work better or worse depending on your mental situation or the thoughts that you’re trying to declutter. Once you find something that works, then declutter away!

Meditation Difficulties meditation in daily life

Meditation in Daily Life

I personally don’t believe in meditating 10-20 minutes in the morning and going about the rest of my day without applying what I learned in meditation to my daily life. As I mentioned earlier in this post, what’s the point of feeling calm 10-20 minutes a day, only to rack up all the stress and clutter during the remaining hours, minutes, seconds, and milliseconds that I am awake? Why not just declutter my mind throughout the day whenever I can remember?

So, I always suggest to everyone, “Try to become aware of what’s going on in your mind throughout the day and let it go as it comes up.” Meditate in action.

Meditation Difficulties retreats and workshops

Retreats and Workshops

Similar to seeking guidance, it’s difficult to think outside of myself when I’m so used to thinking a certain way. But I also found that when I’m facing difficulties, I’m prone to thinking I must be the only one experiencing these doubts, questions, or issues.

Fortunately, the meditation program I follow hosts regular meditation retreats and group sessions where I could connect with other meditators. There, I realize that I’m not the only one struggling and that we’re all working through similar difficulties together. We can encourage and help each other to continue decluttering our minds and keep going on our meditation journey.

Meditation Difficulties journaling

Journaling and Reflection

Sometimes, I come across feelings, thoughts, or habits that I don’t want to share with anyone. In this situation, I like to write in my journal. I record what’s going on in my mind, write about my reflections on the emotion or habit, and also write intentionally about how I plan to change it.

Over time, I notice patterns in what triggers these feelings and habits in me, and I can create an even better plan about what I will let go of and how I will change and improve going forward.

Conclusion

As I wrote in another blog post, meditation wasn’t always fun and games. But depending on your attitude and mindset toward your practice, your journey can be absolutely miserable or really enjoyable. The fortunate thing is that you have a choice: Do you want your meditation journey to be filled with difficulties and challenges that block you and bring you down constantly? Or do you want to have an enjoyable meditation practice that fills you with gratitude all day and enables you to look forward to every moment?

I hope you choose the latter. To do that, simply focus on the practice, taking every challenge as an opportunity to grow and strengthen your meditation muscles.

Did I forget to address any meditation difficulties that you experienced? How did you overcome them? Let me know!