Why I hate meditating, why I do it anyway

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.  That’s Bert at left, meditating.  Or napping.  Not sure which.

Bert speaking:)

At Steve’s urging, today I resumed meditating.  I had stopped for a few weeks. 

I stopped because I hate it.

Well, hate may be too strong.  But I’ve gotten damn good at avoiding it.

I practice (when Steve can nag me into it) my own version of zazen, the Zen form of meditation.  I’m self-taught.  I bought myself a navy blue zafu and cushion online and read lots of books about it. 

From Albert Low I learned how to point my head towards the ceiling and follow my breath instead of leading it.  From Joko Beck I learned to label thoughts when they come up (eg, thinking how much I hate meditating), which lets me to detach from my own thinking and go back to breath-following. 

Another writer (can’t remember who) taught me to half-close  my eyes and defocus my vision so I retain some connection to the outside world.  And I think it was Philip Kapleau who taught me to keep a half-smile on my face, as a sort of secret reminder that the scary noise in my head is not to be taken too seriously. 

Why do I hate all this?  One reason, really. 

It’s uncomfortable. 

The discomfort takes three forms:

Discipline.  Discipline means making a plan and following it even when you don’t want to.  But I want to do what I want to do, and nothing else.  (So there.)   Anything else makes me feel, well, whiney inside.  It feels like being bossed around, chewed on by Top Dog, or like giving up my freedom.  I keep forgetting that freedom and discipline have a yin/yang relationship, and that I can’t have the first without the second.

Monkey mind.  Meditation forces me to sit and listen to my own internal chatter.  As Eric Maisel says, “It’s real bedlam in there.”  It’s no fun sitting and watching my thoughts gallop away with my sense of security.  No fun facing my inability to control my own mind.  No fun abstaining for twenty minutes from work, tv, books, music, food, conversation, or any other everyday narcotic. 

Discomfort itself.  The ability to avoid both mental and physical discomfort feels like a perk of adulthood.  Hey, I like comfort.  I like numbness.  Why leave it voluntarily?  Asking myself to do so feels somehow…unfair.

So why, despite the above, do I keep dragging myself back to the zafu?

I have five reasons.

(1) It makes me feel grown up.  You know, like you feel when you do something you don’t want to, just because it’s the right thing.  Like going to the dentist, or walking the dog in the rain, or voting.

(2) It calms me.  The first ten minutes of any practice session feels like mental roller derby.  But (on a good day) in the second ten minutes my shoulders drop, my breath slows, and a small space opens in the center of my mind where there are no thoughts, no feelings, just quiet.

(3) It reduces static.  By static I mean that level of unconscious tension or stress that plays in my head like endless background music.   After a week of  meditating that music starts to quiet down.  I  find myself sleeping better, less annoyed by commercials, more able to notice things like birds and sunshine.      

(4)  It helps me practice detachment.  Zazen forces me to stop all forms of doing — including trying to control life by obsessing about it — and, for twenty minutes, just be.  Among other things, this leads to not taking thoughts too seriously.  Instead of worrying No one will like that post I just published I can step back and say “Oh, look.  A projection.”  Or in bed at night I can tell monkey mind Oh, shut up, start counting breaths, and fall asleep despite not having solved all my problems.

(5) It’s the best alternative to monkey mind.  The only alternative, really, to letting monkey-mind dictate my feelings, warp my perceptions, and run my life.

Want more?

In addition to the books mentioned above, there are tons of web sites and videos about meditation.  

If you’re new to all this and want to taste the experience, try this guided meditation for beginners narrated by Jack Kornfield.  Kornfield wrote A Path with Heart, many other books, and also my single favorite line about spiritual life:

Much of spiritual life is self-acceptance, maybe all of it.





20 responses to “Why I hate meditating, why I do it anyway

  • Vivien Sabel

    Hi Steve

    Once again an amazing blog.

    I suppose this resonates with me too but for different reasons. I have spent some of my time in clinical practice suggesting to others that meditation may be of value. Yes, this is great but who am I to spout the virtues of such practice! After all I wasn’t meditating! Now I am. I only wish I had done it sooner! My partner Vu has been talking about it for years, but Felicity (my over-controlling inner monkey) has resisted all meditation and spiritual practice for many years. I have just begun my practice and cannot emphasise enough the value to me, my family and how supportive it is to all of my endeavours! I wish you and all others well on their spiritual journey…but I’m certain we only do what we want when we are ready to do so!

    Love and light Viv

    • fritzfreud

      Thanks, Viv. Yeah, I’ve always hesitated pushing meditation too hard for the same reason. How could I honestly recommend something I’m actively resisting myself? Which is why I wrote this post.

  • WG

    Lovely post.
    I am equally intimidated and dismissive of meditation (for many of the reasons listed here), except when I want to get to sleep.. instant soporific effect which clearly means I’m not doing it properly.
    I’m not sure my inner control freak would allow this much relaxation whilst remaining semi-conscious 🙂

  • fritzfreud

    Thanks, WG. Not sure I agree with you about the soporific effect, though. I mean, I know meditation is supposed to lead us to enlightenment (whatever that is), but along the way I think it’s equally valid to use it for ensleepenment as well.

  • Charles

    Yeah, I’ve wanted to start meditating for some time now, but somehow never got around to it. Always wanted to learn but never bought the book or dvd. Always wanted to try it but was always too busy or too tired.

    Is it a regular part of your routine and if so what time of day? Also, could you (or will you) expand on your comment about the ying/yang of freedom/discipline?

    In the famous words of Frasier Crane, “I’m listening.”

    • fritzfreud

      Hi, Charley. Yes, it’s part of my routine, when I’m doing it. Usually in the morning. But I need at least one cup of coffee in me or it puts me right back to sleep.

      As for the yin/yan thing, I experience myself as feeling free only in comparison to the times I feel unfree. A weekend, for example, offers relief from the work week. But take away my job (the discipline) and I don’t feel “free” any longer — just unemployed. Can’t experience freedom without the experience of working. Send me on permanent vacation with nothing to structure my time and I expect I’d feel, not free, but oppressively bored, aimless, and suicidal.

  • Marie

    I find sitting at the ocean or walking the labyrinth great ways to give my brain a rest. I enjoy meditating. It is a great way to escape. Working in my garden is another wonderful way to distract myself from the chatter that is going on in my head.
    Very often just stopping to listen to the birds singing or looking at the flowers will quiet the mind.

  • Cathy

    I’ve been meditating for a about a year now, and I could really relate to your post title. I find myself looking forward to it, or now that it is a habit, feeling I want to meditate everyday, but at the same time, I’m glad when it’s over. I’m working on calming down and letting ALL the chatter float away.

    • fritzfreud

      Thanks, Cathy. I’ve had periods when meditating came to feel habitual to me too. I’m not sure that even then I look forward to it, but most of my resistance goes away. Trying to recreate that for myself now. Takes me a while to get there, though.

  • Linda R.

    Interesting post Steve. I’ve often questioned the merits of meditation… If the quest is to achieve conscious relaxation and stress reduction, but meditation causes ‘discomfort’, doesn’t that make it self defeating? Why not find a less uncomfortable & more satisfying activity? Preferably something that requires just enough thought to temporarily clear the demons (or monkeys in your case) from your head. Activities like yoga, fishing, biking, cooking & reading work well for many…

    • fritzfreud

      Hi Linda. Sure, I suppose one might see zazen as self-defeating in the short term, since it causes discomfort before it alleviates it. Then again, so does going to the dentist and letting him drill a hole in my molar. But I don’t think relaxation is the only goal here. My larger objective is something more like what AA calls learning to accept life on life’s terms. Zazen (when I do it) helps me face and accept the reality of my own mind, my own existence and how I habitually perceive and react to it. Those perceptions and reactions tends to get distorted by anxieties and my need for control. Zazen relieves the distortion, if only briefly. For me, even despite the discomfort, that’s a cavity worth drilling.

  • curtis

    I was a “day dreamer” as a kid. In school I spent alot if time staring aimlessly out the window with no particular thing on my mind. I hated discpline & loved freedom which led to detention. Detention added to my mediation time. It’s impossible to stare out the window aimlessly with the phone ringing, door knocking, emails buzzing.. As an adult I have learned a differnt type of “staring aimlessly out the window.” Call it Zen or what ever it works to ease the stress of the day. I agree with Steve’s points. Being able to mediate means letting go of control which equates maturity.

  • fritzfreud

    Thanks, Curtis. Glad you found a way to ease your stress. I was a daydreamer too (still am), though I don’t think of daydreaming as similar to what I do when I meditate. Meditating is more like its opposite, since it involves catching myself daydreaming and then going back following my breath instead. Put another way, daydreaming is like letting monkey mind grab the steering wheel and drive away with me, where meditating is like repeatedly trying to get out of the damn car.

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  • Linda

    Steve, this Post was Terrific and so Helpful!
    Thank you Linda

  • Marco

    I just stumbled on this. THANK THE UNIVERSE. You were talking TO ME, and I’m so appreciative! Glad to know I’m not the only one that just doesnt want to but forces himself!

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