There are a lot of misperceptions about meditation, which put many people off trying it in the first place and lead others to give up too soon.
For those who are considering signing up to a class this Autumn, it is helpful to be aware of a few things that may otherwise lead you into “This doesn’t work for me” camp:
Every five minutes counts.
One of the top reasons people don’t start or maintain a meditation practice is believing they don’t have enough time for it.
In an ideal world, we would all meditate for 20 to 30 minutes early morning and early evening. Although this ideal doesn’t fit with the busy lifestyle of many meditators, that doesn’t have to be a reason not to practice.
Like getting physically fit, meditation helps us build mental and emotional fitness. And similar to a physical fitness regime, the benefits accrue gradually over time—and every effort counts towards healing and strengthening our wellbeing.
So, while it may take longer for us to notice the benefits if we only meditate for five minutes once a day, than if we do 20 minutes twice a day, if we make it an habitual rather than ad hoc practice, we will still accrue the benefits and slowly start to notice them.
Our minds will not be still and that’s okay.
Meditation is a process of quieting the mind, but for most people the mind will remain quite busy. Finding ourselves constantly distracted by thoughts, sensations in our bodies or sounds in our environments is normal—and not proof that we are poor meditators.
There will be moments of stillness during meditation—of which we will have little or no awareness—and these moments provide deep levels of healing on all levels. The process that brings about these moments is that of focusing our attention on one thing—like our breath—and noticing when our attention drifts off to something else. And, when we notice this distraction, bringing our attention back to our point of focus.
We may have to repeat this cycle many times throughout the meditation and that is fine. That is the process—we are doing it correctly and it is having an impact on a level we won’t be immediately conscious of.
Meditation is not relax time.
Falling out of the belief that our minds will be completely still during meditation, is the expectation that it’s a time or pure relaxation. While that can sometimes be the case, it won’t always be so. And besides, relaxation is not the purpose of meditation.
Although our minds may feel busy throughout, the moments of stillness do provide both our bodies and minds with a deep level of rest—albeit briefly. In time, we start to notice changes: improvements in our physical health, improvements in our mood, less anxiety and greater resilience to challenging experiences.
But during those challenging times, while we may hope to “get a break” from it during meditation, it is quite probable that thoughts around it will be very persistent instead. That is ok—it is not an indication that we aren’t doing it right.
Quite the contrary, I usually find that while a problem might keep intruding into my meditation, afterwards it abates somewhat, allowing me to be more present to whatever I’m doing as I’m going through my day.
So, the key thing to remember is that we don’t meditate for the experience we have during the meditation session.
We do it for the improvements it brings to us outside of it—increased self-awareness, improved health and happiness and greater ability to be present to what we’re doing moment to moment, instead of being caught up in anxiety about what may or may not happen.
These are all simple points, but being aware of them can help shift our mindset from “I can’t do this”, or “This is not for me,” to being more accepting of our experience during meditation.
If you’re starting out, or trying to re-establish a lapsed practice, go easy on yourself. Don’t expect too much, be patient and stick with it. In time, you’ll see the benefits and realize that you’re not such a bad meditator after all.
Author: Hilda Carroll
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Mae Chevrette/Flickr