So…full disclosure, I am kind of a hard ass for a meditation teacher. What can I say…sometimes my South Jersey shows! In every class I teach, I begin with one particularly intense instruction that makes my students inevitably wriggle with discomfort. I tell my students to sit completely still for the whole practice, no matter what. If you’ve tried meditation, you’ve probably experienced the frustration and irritation that arises through stillness. And if you’re anything like 80% (making up my percentage, but you get the idea!) of the students I’ve taught, you’ve probably caved and scratched that itch, cracked that stiff neck…maybe you’ve even released that picture perfect cross-legged position you so ambitiously adopted, in favor of the freedom of outstretched legs.
If you are in a meditation class, chances are you are seeking balance and some sense of mastery over your emotions and your mind. Well…here’s the thing, guys…I promise you, if you don’t learn how to get over the obstacle that is the body, you won’t get what you’re after. You simply won’t be able to access the true potential of your practice.
When you first sit down for meditation, you start to REALLY notice your body. And one of the first things you start to notice about your body is how much it hurts or aches or itches. This is a completely normal experience. Being bound to our physical bodies can be pretty uncomfortable and pretty frustrating on a daily basis, especially if we are dealing with any chronic pain, tension or injuries.
But here’s the thing – if you spend your entire meditation practice fixated on your body, continually adjusting your posture, and scratching every itch in an attempt to alleviate your discomfort, you will never move beyond your body. There will ALWAYS be some new itch, some new ache to focus on and try to ‘fix.’ I promise you. It’s the nature of having a body. It always will want your attention if you are willing to give it. As a result, your practice will be completely focused on your irritating discontent with the present moment – and you will remain with your awareness very much grounded in the external environment.
Now, in daily life, there is nothing wrong with reacting to these annoying physical sensations – but here’s the thing – in relation to your meditation practice, you will make real progress in your and experience more lasting benefits sooner if you learn how to sit with some discomfort on the physical level. Hear me out.
When you sit for meditation, every time you react to an itch, an ache or a tingle, you are sending the message to yourself that you are not okay with the present moment. You are not okay with things as they are. You want things to change, you want to be in charge. You want to control your experience. You are not content to let things be as they are.
As long as you continue to react to every little sensation in your body – you are essentially saying to yourself ‘I cannot meditate unless everything is perfect and I am completely comfortable.’ Well, that’s never going to happen. If it’s not an itch or an ache, it’s going to be an ambulance siren wailing past, or your dog barking. If you remain reactive, there will always be something that prevents you from going inward. Meditation is about accepting the present moment, exactly as it is – and finding peace within in it. Regardless of whether things are ‘perfect.’ Because things are never going to be perfect. Because that’s life.
When you start practicing intentional stillness, you need to acknowledge that you are training your mind. In a sense, you are building a muscle – an acceptance muscle. When you make this choice to deeply accept the present moment, you learn how to respond, rather than react. You learn how to choose your behaviors. It starts with choosing not to scratch an itch. Choosing not to crack your stiffening neck. It starts small. But it’s benefits are major. You learn how to sit with physical discomfort and create a balanced mental and emotional state, even though things are not perfect. Through strengthening your acceptance muscle, you gain the ability to sit with and sit through difficult experiences in the body…and over time that ability extends to the mind and the emotions. You learn how to sit with difficult thought patterns, with painful or uncomfortable emotions – not only in your meditation, but in your daily life. Meditation becomes not just something you do for 20-30 minutes a day, but a way of life.
Life can throw all sorts of challenges at us – all sorts of situations that throw us into a heavy head trip, facing challenging emotions and fear or shame based thoughts. Meditation has a wonderful effect on the mind and the emotions (not to mention all those brain benefits!!), but you will not experience all awesome those mental and emotional benefits if you never train yourself to deal with the physical.
When you learn through your seated meditation practice to be with what is on the physical level, suddenly, you might find that not only can you sit comfortably on the middle seat of a plane, but you can sit comfortably on the middle seat of a plane next to a crying baby!! Maybe you start to observe that you can rest in the uncomfortable sensation of self-doubt, analysis and fear while you wait for a potential partner to text you after an exciting first date. That you don’t need to distract yourself from the difficult, yet familiar barrage of emotions and thoughts. That you don’t need to delete his number just so you won’t compulsively text. Because through your meditation practice, you learn to be okay with things as they are. You can rest in a little uncertainty. You can just be in an experience without trying to control it or analyze it.
This is epically liberating. This is the true practice of contentment. When there is contentment, there is no suffering. When there is no suffering, we can see the truth. We can things as they are. We can see ourselves as we are. We can see others as they are. And it’s awesome.
SO STOP MOVING!!!
(Disclaimer – don’t take any of this too seriously. You should never sit through PAIN. Sit with annoying sensations. Mild to medium discomfort. Never pain. Be the boss of your bod, but don’t be a tyrant. Honor your body. Know what it needs. Know the difference between the desire or preference to move – and the NEED to move.)