Demystifying Four Meditation Myths
Throughout my journey teaching meditation in our community and online I hear many reasons that people find meditation difficult and a number of them relate to some ‘myths’ around what meditation is supposed to be like. What our experience should be or what our practice should look like!
Here I’m going to bust four of those myths for you so you can let go of them as barriers to practice!!
#1: You must clear your mind of thoughts
Many people start learning to meditate with the belief that it is about not thinking. What happens then is that when we start to learn a technique such as anchoring our attention to the breath and we notice that our mind wanders away to thoughts ALL THE TIME, we feel like we have failed at meditating, that we are no good at it and that we might as well give up.
This is a story that I hear all the time and it may sound familiar.
The deal is when we meditate we are PRACTICING bringing our mind back to an anchor (such as the breath) so that we are not so caught up and lost in our thoughts all the time, but this is just that. A practice. If your mind wanders and you keep bringing it back (either through noticing it yourself or through guidance of a teacher) you will over time, on some days, find more space between the thoughts. But for the technique we use in meditation to work, it isn’t conditional on not thinking. You are still meditating if your intention is there to keep coming back to your anchor each time your mind wanders.
#2: Meditation will make you feel calm
Managing stress is a big reason that people come to learn to meditate. And it is a wonderful practice to help you to navigate difficulties in life with more ease and to regulate your nervous system through awareness, breath and grounding tools.
However, mindfulness meditation is at its heart about living with greater presence and fully embodying our experiences, whether they are perceived as pleasant or unpleasant. My teacher, Tara Brach, shares a funny story about a client of a therapist that attended a silent retreat to help deal with overwhelming feelings of anger. Silent retreat can be intense, there is no distraction from our inner landscape, and during the time there he had to deal with very difficult feelings. On return to his therapist he was upset and said “you told me the retreat would make me feel better!”. The therapist replied, “Yes and you are. You are feeling your anger better, you are feeling your fear better, you are feeling your sadness better!!!”.
This little story highlights that when we turn our attention inwards and we don’t allow ourselves to numb the feelings with distractions (social media, TV, food, hobbies, other people) we may actually find that difficult feelings intensify. Through bringing awareness to them in a supported, kind and curious way we are able to work with them rather than hiding them away.
#3: You must practice every day to be successful
When I teach mindfulness courses there is often an undercurrent of fear, judgement and shame towards the start of the course. As students miss a day of practice they might start to become discouraged and again, feel that they have failed.
Yes, you will see the most benefit from meditation practice if you do it regularly. Once or twice per day is ideal. But this does not need to be long (10–20 minutes is great) and if you miss a day just commit again the next time you can.
Herbert Benson (Author of the book Relaxation Response) states that we start to see the benefits of practicing meditation after the first time we do it. The very first time! Each time we practice builds on that. So it’s not like if you miss a day you suddenly have to start again from scratch.
Just like learning any new skill we retain the skill even after long breaks in practice. There is a reason for the phrase “it’s just like riding a bike”! I recently took up playing piano again after a break of over 20 years. Did I have to start from the very beginning again? No! I was a little rusty but I was soon back playing the same grade I was all those years ago.
That said, practice every day and you will see amazing results! But if you take a break, return again letting go of judgement or shame. Just start where you left off!
#4: Meditation is all about looking inwards (‘navel gazing’) and hiding from reality
There is definitely a misunderstanding out in the world that meditation is solely focussed on our internal world and thus potentially hiding away from the reality of the world around us. And some people may look for that in meditation, which is something to bring awareness to.
Meditation helps us to see how interconnected we all are with each other and the planet through the deep awareness that we bring to our own experiences. However, ‘Spiritual bypassing’ can happen where, as we start to understand that we are all one and the same at a deep level, we then bypass the structural inequalities that show up in people’s actual lived experiences in our world.
Yet, you’ll find that most traditions of contemplative or mindfulness meditation practice are very much bound up in social and environmental justice and service of some kind. In mindfulness meditation traditions we not only cultivate focused attention and embodied awareness but also work with the qualities of kindness and compassion towards ourselves and others. We learn to lean in to difficulty and pain in a way that helps us to show up to injustice in our world. Plus, interpersonal mindfulness, such as mindful listening and speech, are key to integrating the tools of meditation into our lives. We don’t meditate to become better meditators but to become better, kinder and more peaceful humans.
I hope these little tips help in demystifying meditation practice and that they might inspire you to delve a little more into it or give meditation another go if you perhaps thought it wasn’t for you!
Check out our Meditation Classes or Courses for more inspiration.
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Get in touch if you have any other questions about any of this!