How to Deal with Challenges

When you formally practice mindfulness, from time to time you’ll experience
challenges that are considered hindrances for your growing practice. You may wonder
why you’d want to bring awareness to your panic in the first place, because all you’ve
ever wanted is to get away from it. You may even have fears that your panic could get
worse if you pay attention to it. Although it’s normal to feel this way, you may be
surprised to discover that as you gradually turn toward panic with greater awareness,
acknowledgment, and compassion, it will subside—just as turning in the direction of the
skid straightens you out on a snowy or icy road. Even though it feels counterintuitive at
first, the seeds of possibility are there if you’re open to them.
Let’s look at other predictable challenges that will arise when you practice
mindfulness. When you begin to meditate, you’ll soon notice how frequently your mind
wanders or is consumed with wanting, avoiding, restlessness, sleepiness, or doubt.

WANDERING MIND


One of the first insights you’ll experience when you first begin a formal practice of
mindfulness is how busy your mind is and how much it wanders. Rest assured that it’s
always been that way—you’ve just never been very mindful of its activity. Although you
may think that an inability to focus means you’re no good at meditating, most everyone’s
mind inevitably wanders during meditation. It can even be helpful to notice your mind’s
activity when it becomes distracted. You may discover that your thoughts and emotions
are often preoccupied with either rehearsing the future or rehashing the past. This insight
into the workings of your mind will give you important information. You may realize,
for example, that you need to deal with an unresolved relationship or other unfinished
business.
In dealing with your wandering mind, you’ll begin to understand more about your
mind-body connection. When you come back to the present moment after wandering off
with various worries, you may notice that your jaw is clenched or your stomach is in
knots. You’ll begin to realize that these physical tensions are connected to your thoughts
and emotions.
Another use for the wandering mind is concentration training. The way to build and
sustain concentration is to repeatedly bring your mind back to the present after it has
wandered off. Just like lifting weights again and again to grow muscle, when you bring
your mind back again and again to your breathing or whatever you’re meditating on, you
increase your capacity for attention.
As your practice of mindfulness deepens, you’ll understand that (a) the only changes
you can ever make are in the here and now and (b) the moment you realize you’re not
present, you are in fact present. This is “where the rubber meets the road,” starting in this
moment.

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