As you've heard me say repeatedly throughout the course, mindfulness is an attentional control practice that teaches us to be aware of experience as it happens. Hopefully with time and dedication, our practice helps us to both deepen our capacity to be present and be present more of the time. This comes from training in formal ways as when doing a body scan, mindful movement or sitting meditation and in less formal ways like when paying attention to our senses while washing our hands. This training helps make our experience be more vivid as it relates to the neutral, the pleasurable, and the painful aspects of life. It helps us be present and available to enjoy the good things that life has to offer and supports us to feel our sadness and vulnerability more directly. With regular practice, what becomes apparent is that sometimes mindfulness comes easy and feels natural, and sometimes it's hard as hell. Often our struggles during meditation come from wanting a different experience than the one we're having. This is true even of experienced meditators. So now that we've talked about a few things to consider prior to beginning your mindfulness journey, let's focus on some of the more challenging aspects of establishing a new habit and how you might deal with obstacles that arise when we practice. In my practice groups, one of the greatest culprits that tends to trip people up, especially in the beginning is doubt. Skepticism and uncertainty about whether or not mindfulness will work often plagues people in the early stages of building a practice. Doubtful thoughts that might creep in during meditation may include something like; "What is it that I'm actually doing here? Is this even working? It doesn't feel like it's working." Or maybe, "Am I wasting my time?". Sometimes in life doubt's healthy. It can teach us to look closely and critically at things before we trust them, but if you make a commitment to give this practice a try, questioning the validity of the meditation really only serves to take us away from the experience before it had a chance to teach us anything. With doubts arise during practice, we have to remember that they're just thoughts, not facts. When you notice doubt, take note of it. You might say to yourself, "Doubt is here," and briefly turn attention to how that doubt makes you feel in your body. But once you've made note of this, understand that your thinking has caused you to contract from your current experience. So see if you can expand awareness again and gently return to the practice. One of the most challenging obstacles that I had to overcome at the start of my mindfulness practice was simply to sit still. Most of us are doers and problem solvers who like to live life at warp speed, and it can be really difficult to slow down and settle in when the mind is accustomed to being busy. During meditation, you might catch yourself running through a million to do lists. Solving the problems in your life or thinking about what you need from the grocery store. This is all completely normal. It takes time for the brain to rewire itself so that awareness becomes a more constant companion in our lives. Remember, the problem isn't thinking in and of itself, the problem is thinking without knowing that you're thinking. Noticing the wandering mind is what strengthens our capacity to be mindful. So when you notice that your mind has wandered and you've gone into some planning mode, gently note planning and return to the practice. Can you see a theme beginning to emerge here? Another common barrier comes from feeling irritated during our practice. Irritation in mindfulness practice occurs for many reasons. Maybe we don't feel like we're having a good experience or there's an annoying noise in the room. Maybe you just have an itch that you can't seem to make go away. While urge maybe the resist to irritation or to do something that brings us relief, it's good to remember the adage, what we resist persists. The work here is to include irritation or anything else for that matter as part of the mindful experience. If we can allow it to be there, we have options for either investigating it further or just watching it as it comes and goes from our attention. It may not seem natural to lean into the unpleasant, but I think you'll be surprised by what happens when you do. Recently, I was teaching a mindfulness based stress reduction course and was leading the class in a body scan. It wasn't too long into the practice before I started hearing the snores from folks who've fallen asleep. Now, I know better than to take that personally as a teacher because sleepiness is a frequent occurrence in the meditation experience. To me, feeling sleepy during meditation is an interesting phenomenon. On one hand, it's quite common for people with busy lives to begin to feel sleepy when they finally give their bodies and minds a break, or it could be that they haven't found the right balance between focus and calmness and have unwittingly slipped over into too relaxed a state. On the other hand, sleep can also be a way of checking out. Sometimes when an experience is overwhelming, we shut off from it. So it's good to be curious about whether the tiredness is telling you that you need more rest or that there's a feeling that needs to be expressed. If from time to time you fall asleep when meditating, consider it a little nap that you needed. However, if this is happening more frequently, try sitting in a more upright posture, standing up, having your eyes slightly open or maybe splashing some water on your face before starting. If that doesn't work, check in on that checking out thing that I just mentioned. Maybe there's something deeper that you need to explore. We talked in the last module about clinging and aversion and the formal practice of meditation is a great space to explore these phenomena in your life. I said earlier that often our struggles during meditation come from wanting the experience to be different than it is. During your meditation, you might notice that you want to be somewhere other than where you are, or maybe you're hungry and want something to eat, so you start envisioning delicious food options that you can have later, or maybe before you even start to practice, you tell yourself that your mind is too busy and that you need to be calm before you can begin. Wanting things to be different than they are can be a culprit that stops us from practicing or ignites restlessness and irritation during practice. If the mind is busy wanting to be somewhere else during your practice, see if you could be easy on yourself. Simply continuing to notice the thoughts string and gently bring your attention back to the object of your meditation. You may ask yourself what you're really needing and see if there are unmet needs or anxieties under your restlessness. You don't have to search for solutions during meditation, but giving the body and mind space and stillness support healthy discovery about our needs and desires. Ultimately, having a regular mindfulness meditation practice seems so simple, but practice isn't always easy. Our brains throw up all these obstacles that we have to contend with. It's not like a light bulb that you turn on and suddenly your life changes, it's a daily practice that might not seem to do much at first. But if you stick with it on a regular basis, you realize one day how far you've come and how much your life has changed for the better. Seeing these changes is encouraging and naturally makes us want to practice more. It's heartening to feel even small improvements in inner calm, a more reliable sense of perspective on repetitive thinking or more enjoyment of the small things. Be forgiving of yourself as you go and remember, you can always begin again, and again and again.