There are four hurdles in meditation: Restlessness, Laziness, Thoughts, and Images. In order to succeed in meditation, it is important to understand these hurdles and apply the correct methods to overcome them. It is also necessary to make meditation a priority; otherwise there is no motivation to meditate. We may read as much as we like, we may hear words of wisdom to our heart’s content, but that is not going to help us attain success in meditation. We have to meditate regularly to perfect the art of meditation and ultimately realize our own true nature, which is absolute peace and bliss.

Restlessness: First Hurdle in Meditation
Sometimes we experience the urge, when meditating, to get up and do something else. This is restlessness. It is caused by stray thoughts from all directions that hit us during meditation when we try to concentrate. More we try to avoid these thoughts, the stronger they seem to become and make us more restless. When restlessness builds up, we may feel the uncontrollable urge to move, shift, talk, and or even end the session. Restlessness is unpleasant, so there is a tendency of the mind to push it away, to not want it there. The mind is restless, and restlessness is further enhanced by struggling against it.
Meditation normally fluctuates in ups and downs, in cycles, for all of us. There are wonderful times and others where we don’t seem to get anywhere. It is normal for all meditators to sometimes feel restlessness. However, the difference between an adept and an ordinary aspirant is that the former is aware of the restlessness as soon as it arises and promptly uses proper methods to pacify his or her mind. An ordinary aspirant, on the other hand, allows the restlessness to overpower him or her and destabilize the meditation.

The Remedy
The remedy for restlessness has two components: attitude and action (kriya). The first practical step is learning not to feel bad about it “the whole day,” not even for a minute, as this only increases your restlessness, creating tension. Meditate, do your best, and give the results to God. Relax. Smile anyway. Be patient with yourself like with a child. Patience paves the path to successful meditation.
Apart from the attitude, the best way to overcome extreme restlessness during meditation is to stop meditating at that moment. Stay in the posture, but make no attempts to concentrate. Please take the following steps:

  1. Perform 8-8-8 Pranayama:
    Inhale normally through both nostrils and with closed mouth to a mental count of 8. Hold breath to a count of 8 and exhale normally to the count of 8. Perform 10 (or more, if needed) cycles of this breathing exercise. In most cases, restlessness will stop and you should be able to continue with your meditation.
  2. If the mind still doesn’t want to concentrate, give it a difficult job. For example, try with closed eyes to visualize an apple at the spiritual eye (the point between the eyebrows). Focus as much as you can, to see it inwardly as clearly as you do with open eyes. This is a technique taught by Paramahansa Yogananda for concentration. This visualization focuses the restless mind. When you are focused again, go back to your meditation technique.

Additional Steps You Can Take to Control Restlessness

1.  Analyze if it is your daily life which causes you the inner vortexes and restlessness. If so, work on changing that cause. The solution to restless meditations lies in our outer life. A good training during the day is to try to remain even-minded and cheerful at all times. Daily life and meditation simply can’t be separated.
2. During the day, also insert a few silent meditative moments. This will have a positive impact on your meditations.
3. Meditate for shorter periods, and make quality be your guide, not quantity. Enter meditation with high energy, give it your best, but then stop earlier than usual, when you see that your concentration is fading. Fill the remaining time with chanting, prayer, or visualization, with whatever inspires you most.
4. Yogananda once told one of his disciples, who was so eager in his meditations that it created tension, “Go with slow speed. In meditation, you should place more emphasis on relaxation.”

The Elephant and the Fly (Anonymous Story)
The following is a traditional story often told by teachers to their disciples for controlling restlessness. A disciple and his teacher were walking through a forest when the disciple experienced extreme
restlessness. He asked his teacher: “Why most people’s minds are restless and only few possess a calm mind? What can one do to still the mind?”
The teacher looked at the disciple, smiled and said: “I will tell you a story. An elephant was standing and picking leaves from a tree. A small fly came by, flying and buzzing near its ear. The elephant drove it away by flapping its long ears. In a short while the fly came again, and the elephant drove it away once more. This was repeated several times. Then the elephant asked the fly, “Why are you so restless and noisy? Why can’t you stay just for a while in one place?” The fly answered, “I am attracted to whatever I see, hear or smell. My five senses, and everything that happens around me, pull me constantly in all directions, and I cannot resist them. What is your secret, elephant? How can you stay so calm and still?”
The elephant stopped eating and said: “My five senses do not rule my attention. I am in control of my attention, and I can direct it wherever I
want. This helps me to get immersed in whatever I do, and therefore, keep my mind focused and calm. Now that I am eating, I am completely immersed in eating. In this way, I can enjoy my food and chew it
better. I control my attention, and not the other way around, and this helps me stay peaceful.”
Upon hearing these words, the disciple’s eyes opened wide, and a smile appeared on his face. He looked at his teacher and said:
“I understand! My mind will always be in constant unrest, if my five senses, and whatever is happening in the world around me, are in control of it. On the other hand, if I am in command of my five senses, able to
disregard sense impressions, and able to control my thoughts, my mind will become calm, and I will be able to disregard its restlessness.”
“Yes, that’s right,” answered the teacher, “The mind is inherently restless and goes wherever the attention goes. Control your attention, and you control your mind.”

He asked his teacher: “Why most people’s minds are restless and only few possess a calm mind? What can one do to still the mind?”
The teacher looked at the disciple, smiled and said: “I will tell you a story.

An elephant was standing and picking leaves from a tree. A small fly came by, flying and buzzing near its ear. The elephant drove it away by flapping its long ears. In a short while the fly came again, and the elephant drove it away once more. This was repeated several times.

Then the elephant asked the fly, “Why are you so restless and noisy? Why can’t you stay just for a while in one place?”

The fly answered, “I am attracted to whatever I see, hear or smell. My five senses, and everything that happens around me, pull me constantly in all directions, and I cannot resist them.

What is your secret, elephant? How can you stay so calm and still?”
The elephant stopped eating and said: “My five senses do not rule my attention. I am in control of my attention, and I can direct it wherever I
want. This helps me to get immersed in whatever I do, and therefore, keep my mind focused and calm. Now that I am eating, I am completely immersed in eating. In this way, I can enjoy my food and chew it
better. I control my attention, and not the other way around, and this helps me stay peaceful.”
Upon hearing these words, the disciple’s eyes opened wide, and a smile appeared on his face. He looked at his teacher and said:
“I understand! My mind will always be in constant unrest, if my five senses, and whatever is happening in the world around me, are in control of it. On the other hand, if I am in command of my five senses, able to
disregard sense impressions, and able to control my thoughts, my mind will become calm, and I will be able to disregard its restlessness.”
“Yes, that’s right,” answered the teacher, “The mind is inherently restless and goes wherever the attention goes.

Control your attention, and you control your mind.”


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