Whether we are new to meditation or have been practicing for years, we all come face to face with resistance. Sometimes, because it is a new experience, it is more difficult to "train" ourselves to sit down and meditate and resistance, often obvious, can be hard to overcome. However, those of us who are well practiced, are not immune. Society seems to actively work against taking time out to sit quietly and work with the mind and our emotions, in these cases, the resistance can be more subtle.
Having an understanding of what kinds of resistance to practice there are can help us overcome them. Often these resistances have become such a part of our identity that we don't realize they have become habit energy. Fortunately, a lot habit energy is often quickly unraveled just by recognition. There are some forms of resistance that may have taken deeper root and we will find the need to recognize them repeatedly before they weaken enough for us to not be overtaken by them.
So what are these resistances to practice?
There are five:
At some time or another, we are touched by each of these forms or resistance. They take place before and during our sitting practice. When they rise up before sitting we find it difficult to make time to sit and meditate. When they rise up during meditation, we find it difficult to stay focused and present. When we are able to recognize the particular resistance that is manifesting, the best way to address it, is simply label it. For example, if I find I am experiencing a lot of Restlessness and I am feeling pressured to check things off a daily "to do" list. I may think I don't have time to sit and meditate. Or if I do manage to sit down, my meditation time is spent running through my "check-list". The thing NOT to do is fight it. To resist a resistance is to give it more power. These resistances love energy. The more energy we give them, the more resistance they can give us. Instead, what we do is just take note. In the case of the example, in recognizing that I am caught up in Restlessness and Staying Busy, I simply notice that is what is happening. I might say, "Ah, Restlessness." or "Ah, this is Staying Busy." Be sure to keep the label impersonal. It is not about you. It is just something that is happening. Don't judge yourself or berate yourself. It is habit energy. The more we just notice it happening, and the less we resist, the weaker the resistance.
You may want to keep a journal to simply jot down situations when particular kinds of resistance occur. Again, it should not be a journal to judge or berate one self, but simply to record instances of resistance so that you can recognize them when they arise. Over time, you will find, rather mysteriously, that the resistance occurs less and less. Sometimes they simply disappear!
In all of this, the key is compassion. Be kind to yourself. Being a task-master is just another kind of resistance. Soft, gentle noticing is all that needs to be done. Let the rest just happen.
I am Do'an Prajna, a bhikṣu (fully ordained Zen Buddhist monk) and zen teacher. Here I share my thoughts and observations about living a life of compassion, attention and gratitude.