Despite its growing popularity, many people are still reluctant to give meditation a try or are struggling to make a consistent habit of it. Much of this is rooted in different misconceptions about meditation that foster wrong ideas about what it is and what to expect from it. In this article, I want to discuss and dispel three of the most common myths around meditation, so they will no longer keep you from giving it a try and receiving its profound benefits!
Myth #1: Meditation is About Silencing the Mind
Let’s start with the big one. This is probably the most widespread misconception about meditation. Many people believe that in order to have a successful meditation experience they have to quiet the mind by getting rid of all their thoughts. But thoughts are not the enemy, and neither can you stop your mind from producing them!
What meditation concerns itself with is not that we have thoughts, but the matter in which we relate to them. Meditation is the practise of being present and realising whenever we are not, i.e. whenever we get carried away by thoughts. The reason so much emphasis is placed on our thoughts is because our thoughts are what determine our perception of reality and ultimately whether we experience suffering or joy in our everyday life. In Buddhism, meditation is thus understood as a form of mind training that helps us overcome suffering.
A typical meditation practise involves an object of attention – for instance a mantra or simply your breath – that will initially become your focus. Inevitably, however, thoughts will arise and distract you away from the object. Yet, rather than getting frustrated and starting to think that you did anything wrong, your job is simply to gently return to your object once you become aware of the distraction. That’s it. But it’s powerful.
The act of noticing our thoughts is the first step in separating ourselves from our thoughts and becoming less identified with them. By practising this skill, we become calmer as we are less drawn into the energy of our thoughts and start to tap into the space between them. It is in this space that we often experience the blissful and rejuvenating qualities of meditation. At the same time we must be careful not to fall for another common myth.
Myth#2: The Goal of Meditation Is to Become Relaxed
This is a tricky one because meditation can undoubtedly put us in a peaceful state of mind and being. But it is important that we look at this more as a side-effect rather than a goal to be pursued. Meditation has no purpose other than tuning in to what is and connecting to that part of us that is unaffected by the everchanging circumstances of our life – our true Self residing in a field of pure consciousness.
The quiet and calm we may seek from meditation already exist within us. Hence, it is not so much that we create these qualities as that we allow them to naturally arise. This is a subtle but crucial difference of perspective. Because when we enter our meditation practise with the goal of relaxing we already create an expectation that has the potential of going unfulfilled. As a result, we may come out of our meditation session feeling disappointed wondering if we did something wrong, when in fact everything was perfect the way it was.
Meditation is about giving ourselves the freedom and space to simply be – without any expectations at all. This in itself is very healing. Think about it: when else in our busy, modern lives are we ever free from any demands or expectations? Do yourself a favour and give yourself this freedom during meditation. Instead of trying to change things or pursue some pre-defined state of being, simply observe whatever internal experience you are having during your meditation.
Part of the meditation journey is learning to honour each meditation as a perfectly unfolding experience rather than judging it as either successful or unsuccessful. Rest assured that no matter your meditation experience you will still receive all its benefits. A seemingly “shallow” meditation (e.g. you feeling as if your mind is simply jumping from one thought to another) is no worse than a “deep” meditation where you may experience a sense of bliss and calmness. In fact, it is common and likely that as we begin to meditate we might feel as if we are having even more thoughts than before. That, however, is not because we create more, but because we simply start to pay more attention to what is going on inside of us. Our awareness is increasing, and so we will naturally notice more. Ultimately, however, what we are doing is lay the foundation for a more conscious life.
Myth #3: Meditation Is Hard and Difficult to Learn
Perhaps you are someone that believes that they “just can’t do meditation”. But this is somewhat similar to saying “I just can’t do sports”. Meditation is an umbrella term that encompasses very different styles and techniques. It may indeed be the case that whatever technique you have tried so far may not have been best suited for you and your needs.
For instance, a person who is chronically stressed and carries a lot of pent-up emotions around is probably not best served with a 20-minutes sitting meditation as a start. In all likelihood, it will be too intense and overwhelming, and indeed hard. But did you know that meditation can also be dynamic and not necessarily require you to just sit still? And that even just sitting still for 5-10 minutes without any “rules” (meaning no focused attention on your breathing or a mantra) will still create benefits for you? Some of the most powerful and scientifically proven meditation techniques are actually very simple and easy to learn. So don’t buy into the idea that meditation is a hard practise only reserved for monks and saints. There is a reason why the majority of successful people in the world all have a daily meditation practise – and that’s not despite their busy schedule but because of it.
There are many gentle and low-threshold ways of starting your meditation practise. This can be as simple as scheduling time throughout the day to take 2-3 conscious breaths or reserving 2 minutes before or after sleep to consciously direct attention to parts of your body.
Find Your Meditation Practise
Meditation helps us (re)gain an accurate picture of what is going on around and within us. As our perception clears up, our focus heightens, and our actions become more impactful. If you’d like to explore how you can integrate meditation into your life feel free to reach out or check out my meditation page. As a teacher and coach I will help you understand what you may be experiencing during your meditation, assist you in moving past common roadblocks, and support you in creating a daily practice that works for you!