Meditation is such a simple practice, but there are so many misconceptions about it. Perhaps this reveals something about the mind’s tendency to over-complicate things. Preconceptions about meditation can prevent you from trying the practice, or cause you to give up after trying for a while—which is a shame because meditation has such amazing benefits. In this article, we bust 5 common myths about meditation.
Myth #1: Meditation Is About Stopping Thoughts
The idea that the mind is meant to go completely blank during meditation is a common myth. Meditation is not about stopping thoughts, but rather about cultivating awareness—awareness of both the outside world and internal thoughts and feelings.
If you practice meditation and find your mind filled with a million thoughts, this is not an indication you are doing anything wrong at all. Even extremely experienced meditators report many thoughts during meditation sessions. During meditation, when we find that we are thinking, we simply notice the thoughts and return to the object of meditation. In this way, we learn to stay present and avoid being carried off by a million daydreams and worries. The process of not identifying with the thoughts shows us that we are not our thoughts. This is not a blank state of mind, it is an aware one.
Believing the myth that meditation is about stopping thoughts can create a problem. If you are meditating and find yourself thinking, you may then become annoyed at yourself (“I’m doing it wrong!”). You will find that “what you resist persists.” Rather than reacting emotionally to the thoughts that come up, by practicing meditation we are learning to view them in a non-judgemental way.
Myth #2: You Need To Have Excellent Concentration To Meditate
Many people get intimidated by meditation because they think that it requires practically supernatural powers of concentration. In reality, absent-minded people can meditate just the same as goal-oriented or alert people. Again, if you expect meditation to be about concentration, you may be discouraged when you find your mind wandering. However, noticing the wandering mind IS the meditation practice. We let our thoughts pass through our minds like clouds blowing across a windy sky, not attaching to or judging ourselves or our thoughts.
Myth #3 Meditation Makes You Calm and Blissful
If you enter meditation expecting to dissolve into some kind of Zen –like state of bliss, you may be bitterly disappointed. At times, meditation can feel like quite a struggle, as all sorts of difficult feelings, thoughts and sensations may surface—you may feel restless, uncomfortable, and desperate for the session to end. You may also feel states of calm and happiness during the meditation and in other areas of your life, but this is not the goal of the practice. We meditate to become aware of whatever comes up for us, be it positive, negative, or neutral.
Myth #4 You Need To Sit Cross Legged
Meditation is traditionally associated with the lotus position because it is said to provide the perfect balance between relaxation and action. Sitting with a straight back can help keep us in an alert state during a session. Standing up requires effort to balance and will make it harder to concentrate, while lying down may result in falling asleep.
In the West, and increasingly in the East, we have spent our entire lives slouching on sofas or sitting on chairs at home, at work or in the car. Therefore, sitting in the cross-legged position for the duration of meditation can be uncomfortable or distracting. Make sure that your hips are higher than your knees and try adding cushions under your knees and seat. You can also try kneeling on a meditation bench if available. It is also fine to sit in a chair, or even to lie down (unless, like many people you have a tendency to fall asleep after a couple of minutes).
Meditation does not even have to be practiced during a meditation session; doing the dishes, going for a walk, eating your dinner… awareness can be brought to any situation. The practice of mindfulness meditation aims to bring this non-judgemental awareness to our daily lives.
Myth # 5: The More You Practice, The Easier It Gets
Learning any new skill, you might expect to see improvements after a time, which would then motivate you to continue. It is true that with experience, you may find your mind calmer during meditation sessions and in everyday life – but this does not mean that each session will be easier. Every session will be different, and this should simply be observed.
If you enjoyed a few calm and blissful meditation sessions in a row, but then experienced one that was very challenging, you may feel like you have taken a step backwards. Truthfully, challenging sessions will always come up and they are not an indication that something is wrong. As meditation makes you more aware of the workings of your mind, you may find it seems to become more challenging as many thoughts and feelings you were previously unaware of come to the surface. The non-judgemental attitude that we are cultivating applies to the experience of the sessions themselves, and we learn not to become too attached to the blissful experiences or too disappointed by the challenging ones.
The fact that each session is different reveals a key insight: everything is constantly changing. One minute you are calm, the next angry, the next distracted, the next focused, the next in pain, the next experiencing pleasure and so on. By noticing these changes in a non-judgemental way with meditation, you are training the subconscious to be comfortable with the idea of change and release expectations. This means you will not be so desperate to cling to pleasurable experiences or run from painful ones, because both have their gifts. Basically, with a regular meditation practice, you will be calm, and you will get to know yourself better and better. Most importantly, please remember: The only bad meditation session is the one that you do not do!