Meditation Misconceptions: It's Not As Hard Or Boring As You Think
It's been so rewarding and encouraging to see more people take an interest in meditation, and to see a steady stream of new faces show up to classes. Meditation is new territory for many and, understandably, people have a lot of questions about whether or not they're doing it "right". As meditation teachers, we've heard it all—"I can't switch off my thoughts", "I can't sit still for more than 5 minutes", "I just fall asleep, so what's the point?"
For starters, what you're feeling is totally normal. Even we have our off days, where we feel restless and impatient. But that's all part of the process. When it comes to meditation, there is no end goal or "being good at it". It is an ongoing process of discipline, awareness, patience, kindness and introspection. Even masters who've been doing it their whole lives still consider themselves students—so don't be too hard on yourself if you don't reach nirvana in your first month of meditating.
Below are a few common misconceptions about meditation, and tips for deepening your practice.
There's only one way to meditate
Meditation is more than just sitting with legs crossed and eyes closed. More than a practice, meditation is a mindset, and bringing a meditative mindset—that state of awareness and being totally present—beyond the mat has its own myriad of benefits. For those who struggle with seated meditation, try creating rituals out of everyday tasks.
Many of us have made a habit of rushing or surrounding ourselves with distractions, like being on our phones while going for a walk, or having the TV on while cooking. Instead, make a conscious effort to be mindful and present. Feel the air and sun on your skin when you go for a walk, observe the sounds and smells when cooking, sit with a cup of tea and do nothing but appreciate it.
By making a conscious effort to do things mindfully, these tasks can be transformed from mindless chores to meditative practices and loving acts of self care.
The more you practice being in a meditative mindset, the more you'll find yourself responding rather than reacting to situations in every day life; making conscious decisions rather than acting on impulse. At the end of the day, it all comes down to being patient with yourself and giving yourself permission to take your time to be completely present.
I have to empty my mind
Find yourself wondering what you're going to eat for dinner, or the emails you have to respond to, the conversation you had with a friend earlier? Honestly, don't sweat it. You're only human, and as long as you're alive, your mind will always be at work.
Meditation isn't so much about emptying the mind. Instead, it's about learning a healthy detachment from the thousands of thoughts that consume us day after day; the ability to observe and let go, rather than engage. As the late Ram Dass, one of modern history's most beloved spiritual teachers, once said, "In meditation we can watch the itch instead of scratching it".
If you find your mind wandering, gently guide yourself back to the present moment. A good way to do this is through breath—simply remind yourself "inhale, exhale" for a few breaths. Welcome back.
I need to set aside an hour every day
If you've never meditated before, sitting in silence for an hour is pretty unrealistic. Set achievable and enjoyable intentions for yourself, even if it's just five minutes in the morning, incorporating a few minutes of breathing exercises as part of your daily workout, or a quick guided practice via an app on your commute to work.
Embrace meditation as a grounding practice, a way to centre yourself, and make consistency your goal. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the temporal and spiritual director of Shambhala, a global network of meditation and retreat centres, has said, “The body benefits from movement, and the mind benefits from stillness.”