You have sat down to meditate, but your mind starts wandering quickly. You get angry at yourself for losing focus. In less than ten minutes, you are so frustrated and lost in self-criticism that you quit. 

Have you ever been there? As beginners, many of us have. Frustration builds on a misconception of what meditation is and on unrealistic expectations. What you need is a slight but crucial shift in your attitude. In this article, we will explore how you should relate to the frustration and how you can overcome it.

Meditation exposes mind wandering

So what to do if you get frustrated while meditating?

Meditation is not the cause of mind wandering. But rather meditation reveals it, and that’s a good thing. The fact that you notice your mind wandering is positive. What’s worse is when it happens, and you don’t see it. There is no reason to get angry or frustrated, every time you notice a thought, think of it as progress.

When we are new to meditation, we usually have a lot of suppressed frustration and restlessness within. Meditation allows us to bring that up to a conscious level. And what we are aware of we can process, digest and eventually let go of.

Stop feeling frustrated while meditating by understanding the difference between awareness and concentration

Two necessary abilities are involved in meditation. The first one is concentration. The other is awareness or mindfulness as it is very often called today. These two complementary abilities are two different degrees present in all forms of meditation. 

In most forms of meditation, you choose a meditation object, for example, the breath. The practice is to direct your attention towards that object. However, it is just a matter of time before your attention goes somewhere else. That is why a lot of beginners easily get frustrated when meditating. But the truth is that even for experienced meditators mind wandering is normal.

The crucial moment

When you notice that you are no longer aware of your chosen meditation object, you have arrived at a crucial moment. That is, in fact, the mindful moment. Awareness or mindfulness means to be conscious of thoughts and feelings. When you notice a thought or feeling (like frustration), you are doing what you are supposed to. See your meditation object as a tool that helps you reveal the content on your mind.

If you have ever practiced guided meditation you will have heard your teacher mentioning that you are likely to forget your meditation object. Experienced teachers will often suggest that at precisely the moment you have lost focus. If you have done unguided meditation with a teacher, the mind wandering would typically be discussed after the practice is over.

False ideals make meditation frustrating

The idea that you are successful when you experience your meditation object and that you fail when you don’t is false. It will make meditation a struggle for you. Instead, think of mindfulness style meditation as the practice of re-focusing. Every time you get lost, realise that it is an opportunity to get better at observing and reconnecting. The meditation object is there for you to lose it. 

Acceptance is the key to dealing with frustration in meditation

What takes you away from your chosen object does not matter. What matters is that you become aware of it. A key here is to adopt an attitude of serenity and acceptance towards anything that grabs your attention. Accept that it expresses itself. It is there anyway. 

Forget any ideal of having certain kinds of experiences when you meditate. You begin your meditation in the state of mind you were in before you started. You bring your thoughts, feelings and frustrations with you. Every-day frictions will be the first thing to occupy your mind. By noticing them, you will surpass them. Many meditators say that it takes them about ten minutes to process their every-day thoughts and, afterwards the tone of the practice changes. 

The paradox of not getting what you seek

When you meditate, it is essential not to have unrealistic expectations. You might think that you ought to have specific experiences or that you ought to feel at peace. However, craving a calm mind is a sure way of not getting one.

Though experiencing peace and harmony is a characteristic of meditation, it does not come on command. It happens when you stop resisting the existing content of your mind. When you allow yourself to experience whatever there is, you realise that it’s just a thin veil and that there is a lot more to yourself than that. Discovering that you can contain any experience and be okay with it is a milestone for a meditator.

Deal with frustration by combining meditation with other yoga methods

If you are struggling with a frustrating meditation practice, you should know that there is a more natural way to learn meditation. In the yoga tradition, meditation is an essential component. Still, we also use many other complementary methods that prepare the body and the mind. By doing yoga poses, breathing exercises, yoga nidra and other techniques, you can remove restlessness, increase calmness and concentration before you attempt meditation.

By placing meditation at the end of a long session of yogic techniques, it becomes much more accessible and profound, even for beginners. Adding a weekly 2h plus session, like the ones in my website Forceful Tranquility, to your daily meditation practice will be an inspiring complement. You will see the benefits of a well-crafted yoga and meditation class already after the first session.

Key takeaways

If you get frustrated while meditating remember this:

1. The idea that you are successful when you experience your meditation object and that you fail when you don’t is false. In awareness meditation, the meditation object is a tool to help you reveal the content of your mind.

You can make meditation easier by combining it with other techniques from the yoga tradition.

Written by Christian Möllenhoff

About the Author

Christian Möllenhoff is an experienced yoga and meditation teacher as well as a teacher trainer. He is from Sweden, but he lives and teaches in France. He is the driving force behind Forceful Tranquility.