This is the question I hear above all else. Concerns about whether they are “doing it right” is the most common reason that beginners stop meditating and, unfortunately, miss out on the multitude of benefits associated with a consistent meditation practice. This inspired me to address some of the more common misconceptions I’ve heard regarding meditation.
Myth: There is one right way. There are many, many ways and techniques to meditate. As a beginner, it’s best to explore the variety and start with what you’re most drawn to. What you are most comfortable doing and desire to do again is likely right for you and what you will stick with. You may decide to do one or several different types as part of your daily practice, and your routine may evolve over time. For example, part of my daily routine is to do a simple Zen meditation, followed by a guided meditation. However, if my mind gets too busy, I shift from Zen to a mantra to help me focus and get my mind off of my thoughts. There are no rules, just what works for you.
Myth: Meditation means stopping your thoughts. The nature of the mind is to generate thought, and it is beyond our control to stop this function. While you meditate, thoughts will generate. Meditation doesn’t stop the mind; it focuses it. This means the meditator is able to witness each thought as it comes up, watching it go by without engaging it, and witnessing the next thought and the next without attachment. Suffice it to say, it is no easy task to detach from thoughts that come up during a meditation, especially for beginners. Because this takes practice and a level of discipline, it will likely take time before you are able to do this, so be kind to yourself as you learn. With consistency, your ability will improve over time. However, I’ve been meditating for nearly 30 years and I still have days where it is more difficult to ignore my thoughts. We are not aiming for perfection. Our goal is discipline and to learn to accept that the experience we are having at any given moment is the one we are meant to have.
Myth: Meditation is a religious activity. Meditation is a tool that has been used around the world for thousands of years for both its health and spiritual benefits. While it is not a religious practice in itself, it can be used to enhance your spiritual practice, whatever that may be. Many often associate meditation with religion because it is, in fact, often used as a religious practice in many religions. However, practicing meditation is not a religious activity and can be done by anyone who wants to benefit from its many potential gains.
Myth: Sessions have to be long to get benefits. While your meditation sessions do not have to be long, it is best to sit for a predetermined length of time to learn the discipline of detaching from thought and building up all the positive gains associated with meditation. This is especially true when your mind is racing and won’t stop no matter what you try. Here is where meditation discipline is born. The most benefit will be gained from a consistent practice with both a morning and evening session lasting 15-30 minutes each. Over time, when more experienced meditators discover their ability to move into the meditative space more effortlessly, many choose to supplement their practice in more unconventional ways. Many activities we do every day can be used as meditations, such as walking, exercising, or even eating—called mindful eating. “Micro meditations” take a few minutes or less and can be done on the fly to address a sudden difficult thought, emotion, or bodily sensation, or can simply be used introduce peace, and over time adds to overall benefits.
Myth: You have to sit still. As mentioned above, in addition to the more traditional meditation techniques where one sits still in contemplation, there are also a number of moving meditations that can be added to an existing meditation practice for variety or for individuals who prefer to move.
Myth: Meditation is scary. If you believe meditation is scary, you will bring that energy into your meditation, which will make it ineffective because you will be focused on your fear—which is both thought and emotion—rather than detaching from your thoughts, which is what makes meditation effective. If you are fearful, do some research about meditation and what happens during meditative states and expansions of consciousness so you can understand the science. Also, explore your own beliefs to discover what’s at the root of your fear. If you trust yourself and the process, you will see that meditation is about self-development and is a process that will make you a better you. It should invoke peace and joy; never fear.
Needless to say, these can all be impediments to beginning or maintaining a meditation practice. However, you’re reading this blog because you are interested, and that’s a good start. If you have questions, do some reach, find a teacher, but by all means, start meditating! You won’t regret it.
If you have some meditation myths you would like to share, feel free to contact me. I’d love to hear yours!