Meditation is a highly personal practice. Once you’ve developed a practice that works for you, chances are you’ll continue to hone and refine your craft until no one meditates in quite the same way you do. However, most of us are stuck in the beginning phases of our practice, just trying to get it right.
While there is no one way to “get it right,” there are common mistakes made in meditation that could hinder you from progressing as smoothly or as quickly as you’d like. These are five mistakes and misconceptions about meditation.
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It is Impossible and Unnecessary to Clear Your Mind.
Ask a stranger on the street what they think of meditation, and you’ll probably get answers that involve sitting cross-legged in a dark room, palms upward, thumbs and forefingers touching, emitting a long note that sounds something like “ommm.” Somewhere along the way, people have internalized the saying “clear your mind,” and it has become synonymous with meditation.
Unfortunately, any yogi can tell you this is not true. People attempting to clear their minds are always thwarted because our minds are never completely at rest. That’s the beauty and wonder of the human mind.
Does this mean meditation is futile? Of course not. The key is not to block your thoughts, but to allow them to come and go.
Everyone will have thoughts during meditation, some completely unrelated to your practice or anything even approaching mindfulness. Your job is to acknowledge the thought, sit with it, and watch it leave. If there is ever a time when your mind is “clear,” it might be the space between one thought and the next. Learn to sit in that space and enjoy it, but don’t become dismayed by the entrance of another thought. Meditation requires you to be at peace, or at least sit in a pursuit of peace. Unlike other pursuits, this one doesn’t seem to require much action. After all, you can meditate sitting down, seemingly doing nothing. But what you’re doing is far from nothing.
Meditating can be described as observing. You observe the thoughts that move through your mind, your body, and your surroundings. Often by meditating, we learn about ourselves. To learn about ourselves, we need to see ourselves as we truly are. This might sound difficult, but it means allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable with yourself. Is this hard? Being vulnerable with yourself can be harder than you might expect. We all have thoughts and emotions that make us uncomfortable, which we’d rather not dwell on. Yet in order to grow, we need to acknowledge and allow these thoughts.
Taking note of your thoughts and the emotions that accompany them is part of the meditation process. Your mind should not be clear during meditation. On the contrary, it should be very active, constantly shuffling thoughts in and out, like a fragmented movie about yourself. The challenge comes in not responding to or editing this movie, but simply observing and allowing it to play.
There is No One Way to Meditate.
Let’s go back to the image of someone sitting cross-legged on a cushion. If this were the only way to meditate, it wouldn’t be nearly as widespread! This image is simply a myth. Meditation is personal, and as such, it cannot be the same for every person. Meditation doesn’t even need to be done sitting down or in silence. Some people meditate best by walking or listening to music. Different types of yoga have even been established for different professions, like yoga for writers.
Try out different forms of meditation. Don’t forget to seek guidance and a teacher to help you tap into the full potential of meditation. In the end, it is still a professional practice that requires some study on your part.
You Can Never be Too Busy for Meditation.
Some monks meditate for hours at a time, and this has been popularized in the media. While you may admire their commitment or envy the amount of time they can spend on practice, this style of meditation simply isn’t feasible for most of us. Worse, the prevalence of this image leads many potential practitioners to assume they don’t have the time to meditate.
Fortunately, this is not the only way of meditating. Just as there are many styles of meditation, there are many ways to fit it into your daily life. You can go for a walk incorporating meditation into your exercise routine. If you are able, meditation could even become part of your commute to work. You can start with something as simple as breathing exercises, which can be as short as three to five minutes. However even though the length of meditation itself doesn’t need to be long, you need to make a commitment. You’ll get the most out of meditation from practicing it regularly and developing a habit.
Don’t expect instant or easy results.
Many people go into meditation expecting it to be easy and looking for quick results. While it’s true that just a little meditation can greatly improve your health and mood, don’t expect to master it any time soon.
People who study the art of meditation may practice for years before making a significant break-through. Like any field of expertise, meditating takes the time to master. Although it looks simple from the outside, the amount of mental and spiritual growing to do is immense, despite being invisible. Making progress in meditation requires practice and patience. Think of it like building a foundation. Many simple and seemingly tedious actions go into the foundation of a building, but they are all essential to the structure’s success. Skip one corner or leave out a post, and it’ll all come crashing down sooner or later.
On the contrary, taking the time to build a solid foundation, a mastery of the basics, ensures that you are always well-grounded when moving to the next step. In taking the type to read about common meditation mistakes, this is exactly what you are doing, strengthening your foundation.
Meditation Does Not Require You to be Religious.
For many people, meditation can sound uncomfortably religious. All that talk about spirituality and self-realization can be intimidating and may even turn you off from meditation. While meditation does address an element of spirituality, it does not advocate for any particular religious beliefs.
Spirituality does not equate to religion. There are no rules and regulations for meditation, just different methods to access yourself and your environment. Meditation can appear in secular activities too. Hobbies like playing an instrument or painting can be used as a form of meditation. It’s also possible to integrate meditation into any of your current spiritual practices, such as using prayer or mantras.
Meditation is not a system you opt into; it is an individual practice for you. Everyone has their unique journey, and no one need pressure another to embark on the journey according to their rules. Often the language used to describe meditation can sound religious or intimidating, but it’s just that, language. Some of the vocabulary in meditation stems from other language and cultures. These words are simply used to communicate what is happening internally. Our English vocabularies don’t always have the capacity to delve into the inner workings of the mind and body to the same extent that meditation does.
If you’re still skeptical of the spiritual aspects of meditation, you could try approaching the unknown as an exercise to grow and expand your knowledge. In the end, you should never feel pressured to ascribe to practices that make you uncomfortable.