Misconceptions about Meditation (and tips to build your practice!)
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I asked my friend, Vicky, if I could share our recent conversation, since I think it could be beneficial for others to hear it. She happily obliged! Thanks Vicky!
I was having dinner with a friend recently, and the topic of meditation came up. I had mentioned that I liked meditation and Vicky was curious for more. She said that she had tried meditation a couple of times, but she “wasn’t good at it”. She felt she would spend the whole time thinking, and by the time the meditation was ending 10 minutes later, she would realize that she was deep in thought and “wasn’t actually meditating” (in her words). She had mentioned some stress from work that she wanted to get through, which sparked her interest in starting meditation again. I spent some time addressing some of her beliefs about meditation, and we came up with a game plan to help her get on track!
Here are some common misconceptions that I hear people say about meditation:
Misconception #1: Meditation means to clear your mind
Nobody can clear their mind on the spot, especially not someone new to meditation. The mind is an endless loop of chatter. That's its natural state and comfort zone. Meditation doesn’t teach you to “clear your mind”. Meditation teaches you non-attachment and non-judgement, so that you don’t have to be wrapped up in the stories of your mind. You can have thoughts, invite them in, then be an observer and watch them go. You can also get curious about the thoughts that are popping up during your meditation. That's a lot more fruitful than trying to clear the mind. The more we resist thinking, the more we think, right? So meditation teaches us surrender and acceptance. And while yes, experienced meditators can get to a point of stillness in the mind, that is merely a byproduct of the process, which is observer’s mind.
Misconception #2: I’m not good at meditation
Truthfully, nobody really is. In her book Discover Your Dharma: A Vedic Guide to Finding Your Purpose, Sahara Rose, a highly accomplished spiritual guru and teacher, admits that she is a spiritual teacher with a monkey mind. She states that her relationship with meditation is: “It’s complicated”. That's a good representation for the rest of us. The truth is, it depends on any given day how the mind wants to work. Some days we are at ease, some days we are simply not. That’s part of being human. When I asked Vicky how often she was meditating, she said once a week. I encouraged her to get the most benefits by trying to do it more frequently, such as once a day, or at least most days out of the week.
Misconception #3: I’m not actually meditating, I’m just thinking
Similar to #1 and #2, the awareness that you are thinking is the purest form of meditation. Maybe some of those thoughts or feelings needed to come up, because you needed to process them. And every split second that you realize you were lost in thought and brought your awareness back to the breath (or any sticking point in meditation), you are cultivating mindfulness and that’s a good thing! So I told Vicky that she was actually doing it right, despite her concerns of the opposite.
Misconception #4: I have trouble finding the time
You can do it. Can you spend 10 minutes less doing something else (TV, social media, etc.) and 10 minutes more to do something good for yourself? My gut says, probably yes. Wherever that time is for you, try to stick with it every day. Many spiritual texts and practices suggest meditation first thing in the morning, but if you can’t stick with that, then don’t. Pick a different time of the day that works for you. I personally don’t meditate first thing in the morning because I have to walk Rocco (my dog) and then go to work. So I meditate later in the day, usually after lunch, as well as after dinner each day.
Practical Suggestions for Making the Most of Your Meditation Practice
- Set an alarm or reminder: working in healthcare, I remind patients all the time to set alarms to remember to take their medication. Hell, I have an alarm set to remind me to water my plants, because sometimes I forget! It takes time to build a routine, and the beginning is the most crucial time to set that reminder. Like I mentioned before, choose a time of day that you will be the most successful completing your meditation. Eventually, you won’t need a reminder, just like any other routine you have already established.
- Frequency is crucial: Let’s say you were training for something - an athletic event, a dance recital, etc. You would want to do that thing pretty much every day, if not most days, so that your body can be in tiptop shape for it. The same stands for the mind. It needs that TLC every day. If you can do it more than once a day, even better. But if you can’t do it every day, most days will still help!
- Stick with the process, not the outcome: I wouldn’t even advise trying to “clear the mind” as a goal. Simply taking the time to show up is enough. Whatever happens during that time is what was meant for you. Often in life, when we push for an outcome, we get frustrated when we don’t get it. But if we remain open, perhaps it gives us the space for that outcome to come find us :)
- Be compassionate with yourself: It’s a practice! Which means, it takes time to see the benefits and we’ll never be perfect at it anyways. Maybe we only did it 4 out of the last 7 days. Well, that’s better than 3 out of the last 7 days, or 0 out of the last 7 days. Let’s say we forgot to meditate this whole past week. It’s never too late to get back on the horse. But if we are so hard on ourselves for being “bad” at this new practice that we quit, then we never reap the benefits of something that could be so good for us. Or, we miss out on finding something that we truly enjoy. Meditation also gives us the headspace to be more compassionate with ourselves. When we are more compassionate with ourselves, we are more compassionate to others. Think about how different the world would be if we were all more compassionate with one another. It’s a chain effect - a beautiful one if we see it through!
After our discussion, Vicky seemed much more at ease about trying meditation again! I was really happy to discuss meditation with someone who seemed so open to it. It was very refreshing!
Overall, if we are wanting to start a meditation practice, and there are many reasons to do so (see my post on How Meditation Changed My Life), just dedicating a few minutes each day can help you live a more centered and balanced life! It’s the ultimate form of self-care.
Bye for now!
Quote: “Be brave enough to be bad at something new” - Jon Acuff
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