WHY MEDITATION IS SO DIFFICULT — An Evolutionary Perspective

For those  who meditate or who have tried to meditate there is no need to explain the challenge it presents.

As the ancients knew only two well, our minds resemble the chaotic frenzy of monkey chatter.  Our thoughts and emotions constantly intrude upon our attempts at single minded awareness which is the basis of meditation.  Whether our focus of attention is a mantra or the breath itself, in short time we find ourselves thinking/feeling about the past, the future—-anything but what we have attempted to do, namely meditate.

Meditation traditions have wisely advised us not to get angry at ourselves or frustrated to the point of giving up.  We are told to be gentle with our efforts to meditate.  We are advised to persistently return to the focus of our attention.  We are also guided to observe our thoughts/feelings as if we are the witness of what traverses the window of our mind.  It sounds great.  But it is not easy.    Perseverance will pay off, we are told.

So why should we even attempt something so difficult.  The evidence is overwhelming.  Meditation is a healing practice.  I am referring to physical as well as emotional and spiritual healing.  And there are innumerable scientific studies to confirm it.  Those who meditate on a regular basis are reportedly healthier, have reduced symptoms of stress, improved immune symptoms and are over all more serene.

But why is this so difficult?  Why are we unable to do something so simple as to retain focus and awareness of our breath?

Perhaps the answer is simply the following:  we have evolved to be scanning beings.

Survival is best served by constantly shifting our focus to any potential threats in our environment.  To homo sapiens, this includes the inner landscape of our minds as well as the external world that threatens us.

Is it any wonder that we have difficulty meditating?  Couple that with a life time of habitual behavior and thinking and voila!  Meditation is tough.

But, I believe, because we are scanning creatures, constantly on edge, awaiting the next threat or attack, we need meditation more than ever.

Fortunately, our personal existence is not threatened on a moment to moment basis.  The biology of our brains, however, may see even normal stress and adversity as life threatening.  We are hyper-vigilant when we don't need to be.  And we know that this level of persistent, unremitting stress is absolutely injurious to our physical and mental health.

So while the evolutionary drive for survival makes meditation difficult, the need to pursue it is more essential than ever for our over all  well-being.

So, don't give up.  They promise us it will be worth the effort.

Leave a Reply