Years ago, meditation changed my life forever.
However, I didn’t get it right away.
I probably screwed it up for several months before I really got good at it (however good you can ever be at meditation). But once I did it made a huge difference.
The thing is, I stuck to it mostly out of stubbornness. So, it was sheer luck that I got through the rough patch to a place where I could meditate more effectively.
I can’t imagine how many people have started meditating, had one of these misconceptions deter their practice, and dropped off without experiencing the full benefit of it. And I should know, I’ve surveyed hundreds of meditators and found that a lot of harmful misconceptions run rampant, especially in beginners. That’s exactly what I hope to keep from happening for you.
There are several misconceptions about meditation practice, especially for beginners, and these misconceptions hold people back in various different ways.
But mostly…they just make you quit. Which really sucks because something like meditation needs to be stuck to for an extended period of time before you really see the fruit of your efforts.
If you’re just starting out in your meditation practice, or have been thinking about giving it a try, I don’t want these misconceptions to hold you back. That’s why I’ve organized the top five misconceptions I see in beginner meditators along with my notes for how to deal with each.
1. You have to sit
This is a pretty widespread misconception. It’s not as killer as some of the other points below but it still inhibits people in their practice and makes them think that, if they have a hard time sitting, meditation just isn’t for them.
The truth is, you don’t have to sit cross-legged to meditate if you don’t want to. Heck, you don’t even need to sit at all. You could practice walking meditation and meditate while moving (it’s my favorite practice).
So, get out there and try out different forms and methods of meditation and find what works best for you. There is no one ultimate sitting form or method so know that you can make the practice your own.
2. It always gets easier
Alright, so, I’m not trying to be a downer or anything. But the truth is, for some, it just doesn’t get any easier. At least, it takes a much longer amount of time before the person really starts to get a grasp on things.
However, the great part about it is, it doesn’t have to get easier for you to experience the benefits of the practice…you’re just going to have to put more work in than the average person to see those benefits.
The most basic example is in quieting the mind. While your mind can never be empty, considering the mental state that most of us live in, we really do need it to calm down a bit so we can gain the clarity necessary to meditate effectively.
For many, with a little practice the mind gains a sort of relative quiet: it still races but it’s less chaotic, more clear, and you feel more in control of what is going on.
However, for some, this just doesn’t happen. Even serious meditators like NBC’s Dan Harris report that after years of serious meditation, while they swear by the practice and what it’s done for them, they still feel like when they sit down they’re stepping into a warzone.
The thing is– that’s okay. No specific thing has to happen in meditation. All you need to do is sit down and be with whatever is happening for however long it happens. The quality of your sessions might feel different from other people, but as you go about your daily life you’ll notice you see the same benefits that others do, you just have a harder time sitting (for now).
3. Meditation cures anxiety
I’ll be the first to admit it – there’s a lot of crap out there about meditation.
There. I said it.
So many people try to tell you that meditation will cure your anxiety and that all you need to do is start sitting to find this great sense of peace. Obviously, it’s the people who have never had real clinical anxiety who say this.
Sure, this is true for some. I’ve seen meditation do incredible things in people with anxiety and its been proven without a doubt in scientific research. However, for some– particularly if you have a more severe form of anxiety– the mental pain of immersing yourself in meditation may be too great and this idea that meditation is a global cure-all needs to be corrected.
In that case, professional treatment should be sought out before jumping into meditation. This isn’t just unhealthy, it’s completely ineffective. In the same way that you need to be able to reach some relative clarity, at least to where you can view the thoughts as they’re racing through your head while meditating, with severe anxiety sometimes this just becomes impossible.
So, if you suffer from anxiety and have either tried meditation or are thinking about it, just know that it can make a big difference, but it won’t necessarily work how you imagine it at first. Go into it understanding this and you’ll appreciate what benefits meditation does offer you.
4. You need to empty your mind
Most who aren’t familiar with meditation think that it’s about clearing your mind of all thoughts, with the ability to sit in some kind of peaceful silence where the first little chirp or crackle will break your perfect Zen. Unfortunately, this is really nonconstructive and plays into a bigger misconception about meditation as a whole (which we’ll get to next).
The truth is, our mind is that of a willy, ravenous, and mischievous monkey to paraphrase the Buddha. When you sit, your mind is going to feel as though it’s running a million miles a minute, thinking about, “I can’t forget this…”, and, “I wonder what they think of me?…”
Meditation isn’t about quieting this chaos– it’s about being with whatever is going on in the mind and gradually, over time, learning to take the driver seat back from this wild monkey.
The monkey will still be there, but he’ll know that you’re the boss. So meditate and know that no matter how crazy your mind is that this is perfectly normal. It will be tough, but keep meditating.
5. Meditation is about attaining perfect peace
It’s a ridiculous idea, that you could somehow completely empty your mind of all thoughts. Even more ridiculous is the idea that meditation is about trying to maintain this artificial state of perfect peace (which, by the way, is apparently very easily broken? At least movies and shows always seem to make it appear that way…).
We’re screwed up. I’ll be the first to say it. You are, I am, we all are in our own different ways. What makes us better than these flaws is standing up, admitting to them, and making the decision to do something about it. And meditation is merely an extension of this.
It’s about recognizing who we are in the most fundamental sense– not running from it by trying to maintain some aura of false peace or hiding from it by pretending that we’re always happy.
Meditation is about standing in the face of the storm, being present for everything as it hits you, and learning how to take control right there in that moment. It’s incredible when you can see past these various misconceptions and experience the practice as it was intended to be.