“If you ask why we meditate, I would say it’s so we can become more flexible and tolerant to the present moment.” ~ Pema Chodron
Are you intrigued by meditation and mindfulness practices but don’t know how to get started?
Mindfulness is available to all of us. Everyone deserves mindfulness, but because our lives are so hectic and full of distractions, many of us are living in a state of mindlessness.
Mindfulness can begin in the form of seated meditation and then expanded to include our other daily activities.
Because meditation and mindfulness have become so mainstream, there are many misleading myths around these subjects.
I’ll do my best to dispel seven of the most common ones:
1. In meditation, the goal is a clear and empty mind.
Mental fullness is our natural state. Our minds tend to overflow with thoughts, ideas, worries, emotions, plans, hopes and dreams. Complete absence of thoughts is never going to happen.
As the wise Buddhist teacher and author, Pema Chodron, writes in How to Meditate: “You don’t need to struggle not to have thoughts because that’s impossible.” I define mindfulness as the ability to pay attention to what is right here, right now—without getting hooked on any certain idea, belief, opinion, feeling or memory. It is a practice of watching the way we think without identifying ourselves as our thoughts.
2. You need to be a calm and patient person to meditate.
Meditation practice often results in making us more calm and patient in our daily lives. However, being calm, quiet and patient are not prerequisites. Intense and difficult emotions are part of life and therefore part of meditation. We must sit with whatever we are experiencing… otherwise we’ll never sit!
3. Stick to one technique in order to get the best results.
There are widely varying opinions on this topic, but in my view, you don’t need to commit to just one style of meditation in order to benefit from meditating.
Maybe you will find a teacher and a single technique that resonates. If not, it’s okay to try a variety of techniques. The key is consistent, daily practice. It is helpful and recommended to seek out a meditation teacher or more experienced spiritual friend to guide you on your new path.
4. Meditation makes us feel good.
Meditation is simple—sitting still, breathing, paying attention to each moment. However, it’s not always easy and can sometimes make us feel downright bad. Especially at first, we become more aware of our rampant thoughts and crazy emotional swings. Old, stored emotions and long-forgotten memories can arise. This heightened self-awareness may feel like a step back, but it’s actually a key part of becoming a more mindful person.
5. Meditation is difficult and time-consuming.
Meditation is not complicated and does not require any special equipment or accessories. We don’t have to meditate for hours to feel the benefits of this powerful practice. Even just a few minutes of quiet, mindful breathing can transform us.
We tend to make things feel more difficult than they are through procrastination. When it comes to household chores, writing assignments, tax returns and meditation, we’d often rather do anything but the task at hand. However, once we sit down with intention, we discover it’s not so hard after all.
6. Meditation is for adults.
7. Meditation must be done in a proper seated position and in a quiet, secluded place.
Mindfulness meditation can be done in the traditional seated position—as well as through mindful action such as walking, eating and talking. Ultimately, mindfulness becomes a natural part of our being. The key is presence. Letting go of the past and the future; focusing on the present moment at hand, even if that moment is loud and in public.
Like pretty much everything in life, mindfulness takes practice. How do we get started? How do we develop dedication and discipline? Here are a few suggested practices for beginners.
I recommend beginning with at least five minutes of formal seated meditation each day. Early in the morning works best for me, but it could just as well be in the afternoon or evening. Find the time that best suits you. There are plenty of free resources out there on beginning a meditation practice.
This practice can be done anytime you sit down to eat a meal. (Yes, even during the holidays.)
Hover you palms over the plate or bowl of food. Think about where it came from. How it was planted, cultivated, transported, purchased, prepared and served onto your plate. Feel gratitude for the fact that you have something so delicious and nutritious to eat.
Place your palms together and take a breath, smelling the delicious aroma of what you are about to eat. Take small bites, taking the time to chew mindfully. Eat in super slow motion.
Mindful eating gets easier with time. Try to start with one meal a day and work your way up.
Turn off your phone, unplug your headphones and walk deliberately, focusing on the soles of your feet. Look around at the scenery. Pay close attention to your surroundings.
Use your breath as an anchor; whenever your mind wanders to the past or future, bring it back to the present by feeling the sensation of breathing. You can also do this practice while driving, biking, running or any other form of transportation.
Notice what you are saying. What words are you using? What is the tone of your voice? Why are you saying what you are saying? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? Is it mean-spirited? Could it go unsaid?
Bringing greater awareness to our voice and verbal communication is essential. Try going one full day without saying anything—good or bad—about anyone who is not in your physical presence. It’s hard. You might not be able to do it on the first try. This practice makes us much more aware of our tendency to talk about others behind their backs.
The beauty of mindfulness is that it can be with us in every moment. The potential to be present and fully experiencing what we are experiencing—life—is always here.
May this article be of benefit to both brand-new beginners and those renewing an interest in this practice of simple presence and openness.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Flickr/Ryan Oelke
Relephant bonus: a famous meditation practitioner and writer: