Meditation offers many benefits from calm and focus to lowered blood pressure and shifting our very neural structure. Yet many people struggle to get started. Others meditate for a while then fall off with their routine. I hear countless mistaken views and myths about meditation that contribute to the difficulties that might keep someone from sustaining this important practice. Let’s look at a few.
The First Three Myths About Meditation
These are the Myths about mindfulness meditation
1. My mind is too busy to meditate.
Many people have this belief about meditation, and it’s the most important one to understand. The human mind is always busy—that’s its job! It’s estimated that we produce somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 thoughts per day, some very helpful, many not. To provide a context, some liken the mind’s production of thoughts to the salivary gland’s production of saliva. Not the most pleasant image, but it helps us understand that the flow of thoughts is always present.
2. If I’m meditating the right way, I should be able to stop my thoughts.
The objective in meditation is not to stop the thoughts, as that would be impossible! What we’re doing in meditation is building awareness of our inner landscape. We’re paying attention to thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. We’re then intentionally shifting our attention back to an anchor, most typically our breathing.
Each time we notice a thought, it’s actually a moment of mindfulness! Instead of being critical of yourself for having a thought, remind yourself that noticing thoughts is the goal. And, instead of being frustrated that you’re having thoughts, use that energy to redirect attention to the anchor. If you can notice that you’re having a thought and keep yourself from being swept away by it, you can count that as mindfulness on steroids.
3. I don’t have time to meditate.
While many people believe this, how often is it really true? Are all the moments of your day spent doing something productive? Perhaps there are many minutes in your day when you’re surfing the web or watching TV or some equally “unproductive” activity. Among these moments, can you find 10 minutes in your day to sit quietly and be with yourself?
The key is prioritizing time for meditation. Most people find that meditating in the morning works best as, if they don’t, the day gets away from them. Try putting it on your calendar as a way to make it happen. Eventually, it can become like brushing your teeth, something you’re not likely to leave home without doing. Over time, you’ll notice the benefits of starting every day with meditation and you won’t want to lose the positive impact. By altering your views about this and other myths about meditation, you may find the issue of time a non-issue.
It’s possible that the time spent meditating will turn out to the most important minutes of your day.
Three More Myths About Meditation
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4. I’ve tried meditation and it doesn’t work for me.
It all depends how you define this. You may not experience instantaneous calm, yet meditation can change your brain. One study found that as little as eight weeks of meditation not only helped people experience decreased anxiety and greater feelings of calm but also produced growth in the areas of the brain associated with memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress regulation.
Meditation has also been shown to shrink the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for activating the fight or flight response. What’s more, the calming benefit of meditation is not linear. You may experience calm at times independent of when you’re meditating or how long you’ve been meditating.
5. Meditation is too boring for me.
It’s another one of the common myths about meditation. On first glance, meditation can seem boring. With social media and our devices, we spend much of our time in a state of continuous partial attention. Sometimes we believe this level of outside stimulation is the norm. But it doesn’t have to be.
I’m curious if you find watching the waves at the ocean boring? When we stop and pay attention to our breathing, we actually see that our breathing is fairly interesting. At times it can feel like a cool breeze on a summer day. Sometimes it can actually feel like the waves of the ocean gently moving in and out with a force all their own. Sometimes it feels like a gentle rocking motion moving throughout the body. Taking the time to pay attention to your breathing can bring all sorts of pleasant surprises.
6. When I try to meditate, I end up falling asleep. What’s wrong with me?
Many people get sleepy when they meditate. It’s a known hindrance, something that can detract from our meditation practice and contribute to self-doubt. It’s a good idea to pay attention to your posture and try to sense the recommended an upright, dignified, and relaxed posture. This helps train the body just as you’re training the mind.
For some people, walking meditation is a better fit. With walking meditation, we shift from the anchor of our breathing and focus on our steps. If you’ve heard meditation isn’t possible while walking, that’s an incorrect fact, it’s yet another of the myths about meditation as it’s the same process of mobilizing our attention on an anchor point, training awareness to one aspect of our experience.
The Final Four Myths About Meditation
7. Meditation creates a state of bliss.
While occasionally this is true, for most of us meditation is challenging. When we stop and pay attention, we may be surprised by how busy our minds are. When we take this time to focus what’s going on within us, we may also encounter challenging emotions such as sadness, grief, and loneliness. It’s definitely not all rainbows and unicorns!
Getting to know our inner states begins to give us more agency in working with them and greater awareness that, no matter whether pleasant or unpleasant, all states pass. With meditation, we see that the 1/2-life of emotions is actually very brief. We see that physical pain can be present and we can actually manage it more than we may think.
8. When I meditate in a group, I can tell that everyone else knows what they’re doing but I don’t.
Take a deep breath on this one. Our minds can get so caught up comparing ourselves to others. We’re left feeling inadequate. We wonder… Am I breathing the right way? Is there something wrong with the way I’m sitting?
This is a normal human tendency, and you can be sure that you’re not the only one in the group thinking this. Our minds are so full of judgments and we ourselves are most commonly the target of the negative ones. Compassion is an essential aspect of mindfulness so this presents an opportunity to remind yourself that you’re doing your best.
9. Meditation is narcissistic. With all the problems of the world, I’m just meditating to escape it all.
While meditation can provide greater peace of mind, it also serves to expand your mind. We all live with many mental stories about ourselves, about others, and about the world around us. These stories are full of judgment, and they blind us to our actual experience. Without realizing it, they can keep us separate from others, stuck in the lens of I, me, and mine.
When we tune in to our actual experience, our reference point begins to shift from self to the needs and experience of others. We begin to see much more commonality with the people we interact with. That what we struggle with is similar to what others struggle with, and that we are all much more alike than different. We begin to appreciated that we all want similar things including good health, financial stability, and peace of mind.
10. I’ve been meditating regularly, why hasn’t my mind slowed down?
Our minds are busy places. That’s just the way it is. And we often have expectations about every endeavor. We go to the gym, and we have an expectation that by going for X period of time we will achieve Y outcome. Sometimes we get this outcome, and sometimes we don’t. In other words, our expectation may not match reality. Meditation is very similar. We get what we get, and part of the experience is simply being with whatever occurs. This ability to be with whatever arises is one of the benefits of a regular meditation practice.
In summary, meditation is about paying attention. Perhaps your questions and challenges can help you pay greater attention to your own beliefs about the practice. Make a concerted effort and you may just find that your days bring greater calm, focus, balance, and clarity. I’d love to hear how it goes now that you’re aware of myths about meditation.