Here are the facts
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay
As a meditation instructor, I talk to a lot of people about meditation and mindfulness. When they find out that I’ve been practicing for years, a lot of reactions and misconceptions come up. It’s the same incorrect idea time after time.
Everyone is pretty receptive to the idea that some lucky souls can meditate, but they have beliefs that stop them from thinking they could be that lucky. In reality, anyone who is able to read this article could learn meditation. I know that the world would be a better place with more mindfulness and self-awareness. That’s why I want to make it as accessible as I can, and that starts with the right information.
Here are six of these false ideas that hold people back.
Myth # 1: Meditators are thought stoppers
The most common misconception is that meditation is about totally clearing your mind and having no thoughts. This sounds hard and impossible, and fortunately isn’t true.
Mindfulness meditation isn’t about stopping your thoughts, it’s about being aware of them. If you’re a living human being, stopping your thoughts means you are unconscious, and that is not the goal of meditation. In fact, the harder you try to stop thinking, the more frantic the thoughts will get!
Meditation is about training your awareness and mental focus, not emptying your mind. Enter your practice realizing that thinking is going to happen, and don’t get upset if you can’t stop getting sidetracked. When you realize you were off-topic, just return to the focus and be happy that you noticed it.
Myth #2: Lotus position
“I can’t sit in that, what do you call it, lotus position. I definitely can’t meditate.” Good news, you don’t have to sit like that!
For a long time I fell for the lotus position myth, and I worked on sitting cross-legged on a pillow trying to get to the leg pretzel. I was hurting myself before I switched to being more comfortable. After years of yoga and sitting in meditation, I am able to relax on a floor cushion for long periods. No one needs to start here, though. Many people meditate sitting in an upright position or lying down. The position you chose is up to you.
Meditation doesn’t need to be a difficult struggle. In fact, the easier you make it on yourself, the more likely you will be to do it. Personally, I try to remove all the difficult parts I can so it is as convenient to get to my practice as possible. For you, this might mean starting with only a couple of minutes, sitting in your kitchen chair.
The mental aspect of the sitting position is what’s most important at first. The main reason to sit upright is to prevent yourself from falling asleep, and it’s easy to watch your breathing, not because “it is written.”
Since I do a lot of yoga and my body is ready, I sit cross-legged all the time and it doesn’t bother me. But this is only a preference. Start where you are, and use self-care to pick the best way for you.
Myth #3: You need to sit perfectly still for hours
Don’t start with hours. How about 3 minutes of sitting with awareness? And, you can move to reposition if you need to.
Mindfulness meditation is about becoming aware. Sitting perfectly still is fine if you want to try being perfect. However, none of us are. What we want to do is become aware of our bodies, the sensations, and our thoughts. Trying to be perfect is all about control, which is not worth the impossible and futile effort required.
If you are in meditation and you have an itch or the urge to move, then just observe the feelings and sensations. When you are ready, with awareness, scratch the itch. If your left leg is starting to cramp and go to sleep, then thoughtfully move it to a new position and return to your focus. It’s not a big deal.
Myth #4: It takes years to see results, that’s too much time for me!
People quite often think of some holy dude who sat out on a rocky mountaintop for about 40 years, to learn to meditate properly and finally “get there.” And while there are many benefits of long-term meditation practice, there are also some short-term results you can see. Changes happen in weeks, without 40 years of suffering and a sore butt from that mountaintop.
In a short period of several days, most people report being calmer and feeling lowered anxiety. Sleep might improve, and the areas of your brain that are affected by meditation will already be changing. Some people think that only 90 days of a daily mindfulness habit can give you a lot of the results that are possible for you to EVER see. So really, it doesn’t take as long as many think to “get somewhere” with meditation.
Image by Susann Mielke from Pixabay
Myth#5: Meditation is a way to escape. I’m not into running away inside my head
You don’t want to run away? Good! I’m glad you have courage.
When we practice mindfulness meditation, we are doing the opposite of escaping. We are learning to be aware of our bodies and our minds. As we practice awareness, we actually start to know ourselves and how we react to the world. This can really impact your mental health for the better.
We might see how the stories we tell ourselves are affecting our reactions and effectively numbing us to the outside world. Self-awareness doesn’t let you escape the world as easily. As you start to see your reality in a new, more mindful way, you will be more present than ever before.
We dull the senses and distract ourselves with all the external activities that we commonly pursue. The outside world can be seen as one huge way to escape what really matters, our inner reality. From this viewpoint, meditation is one of the few ways to stop trying to escape and see what is real for a change, our inner thoughts and feelings.
Myth #6: Transcendent awakenings and mind-blowing experiences are the goals. I’m not into all that hippie stuff
Another common picture that people have of meditation is a bunch of colorfully dressed cross-legged mental adventurers, who one after the other find bliss and see higher beings.
Reaching Nirvana might be a goal for some, but you might never see a bunch of lights or higher beings if you meditate. You can be an average person and stay grounded. Tie-dyed shirts and visions are optional. I’m a paper-crushing desk jockey who happens to meditate too. People from all walks of life enjoy practicing.
Really, meditation is for normal folks who want to get to know themselves a bit better and find more peace and happiness in everyday life. You might get a spiritual awakening out of it. Or you might not. Having expectations of it can easily lead to disappointment when you don’t see Buddha or Jesus.
What are your meditation experiences? Are there any beliefs holding you back from starting a meditation habit? What would you gain if you started today?