Before I started meditating daily starting on November 1, 2015, I had tried meditation on and off several times. I had heard about many of its benefits and had even witnessed its benefits in friends and family members. Nevertheless, part of me was still skeptical. I struggled with my racing mind and at sticking with a practice that I felt that I had no aptitude for whatsoever. The perfectionist in me saw it as a waste of time when there were so many things I had to do or could be doing that were more “productive.”
How wrong I was.
Though I continue to struggle a lot with my monkey mind and have days where I don’t stay present for more than 30 seconds, meditation’s impact on my life has been nothing short of miraculous and transformational.
Today, I would like to share 5 common mistakes that people make while starting a meditation practice that I wish that someone had shared with me earlier.
1. Believing that there is a certain way that meditation has to happen.
I am a very “by the book” kind of girl. So realizing that there are no strict rules for how meditation has to happen felt both liberating… and scary. The reality is that you don’t have to be sitting up to meditate. You don’t need to be cross legged on a cushion. You don’t need to close your eyes. You don’t need to empty your mind. You don’t have to meditate at the same time or in the same place or for a specific period of time. You don’t need to use a mantra and you don’t need to follow your breath the entire time.
You are naturally a spiritual being with or without these things and it is about connecting to that part of you (that connects us all) is a ways that is accessible and that works for you. It’s less about something you work to achieve and more about something you let yourself be, sink into, and connect with. The real work is being aware and present that it is happening.
2. Not fully comprehending what meditation is.
You know that meditating is good for you. And the internet is filled with reasons to meditate and the benefits of meditation. But what IS meditation? In the words of Swami Rama:
“Meditation is a word that has come to be used loosely and inaccurately in the modern world. That is why there is so much confusion about how to practice it. Some people use the word meditate when they mean thinking or contemplating; others use it to refer to daydreaming or fantasizing. However, meditation (dhyana) is not any of these.
Meditation is a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state. It is the means for fathoming all the levels of ourselves and finally experiencing the center of consciousness within. Meditation is not a part of any religion; it is a science, which means that the process of meditation follows a particular order, has definite principles, and produces results that can be verified.”
Though I believe that the meditative experience varies from person to person and even from day to day and minute to minute, I believe that meditation involves a clear, relaxed, and inwardly focused mind. When someone meditates, they are fully awake and alert, but their mind is not focused on the external world or on the events taking place around them.
Meditation involves and still inner state that allows the mind to become silent. When the mind is silent and no longer distracts, meditation deepens.
3. Not understanding what being in a meditative state feels like.
As I alluded to above, the experience of meditation varies from person to person and even varies for the same person depending on the day, type of meditation, life circumstances, etc. Some people feel a sense of peace and calm. Others feel frustrated and impatient. Others feel more anxiety at first. You can feel dizzy or a vibrating inside or outside of your body. You may feel warmer or cooler. You could feel numb or as though you are being pulled upwards. You may also feel as though your energy is spilling out into the entire room. Or you might feel something else entirely.
Get curious about how meditation makes you feel on different days. There are an infinite number of variable that can impact how meditation might feel to you. It’s not static. Some people believe that you are supposed to feel a certain way or you did not achieve a meditative state. That is not true.
4. Not knowing what it means to “achieve” a meditative state.
Some people believe that in order to achieve a meditative state, one needs to be in a quiet room, sitting in a certain position, controlling the breath. Well, guess what? You (and most people) are likely meditating every day without even knowing you’re doing it. Also, meditation isn’t something to be “achieved” in the sense of something that is completed, mastered, or checked off once you get there.
You can be in a meditative state when you’re staring into space, when you’re daydreaming, when you’re relaxing in a chair, and even when you’re staring at the TV. When your body is relaxing and your mind is quiet, you naturally achieve a meditative state.
5. Believing that one type of meditation is better than another.
Meditation is about being about awareness and connection with your spiritual center on a conscious level, and it doesn’t matter how you achieve that awareness. If you find this space through guided meditation, then do guided meditation. If you prefer breath awareness or mantras or something else altogether, do that. Be flexible and patient with yourself and curious and non-judgmental about your experience. Try to see things with a “Beginner’s Mind” as though you were approaching and seeing your experience and yourself for the first time.
People meditate for different reasons, and people approach meditation with different goals and hopes. Some people might desire a deeper spiritual connection, while others seek to learn how to relax and improve their cardiovascular health. Still others might be in it for a challenge or to try something new.
Whatever draws someone to meditation, there are no rules when it comes to achieving a meditative state. The key is awareness — becoming more aware of when you reach this state, more aware of when and how many times during the day you achieve this state, and more conscious of what you are thinking about and doing when you reach this state and while you are there.
Ultimately, remember that meditation is a practice, not a box to be checked or a skill to be mastered. Mistakes happen, even for advanced meditators.
I would love to hear about your experiences with meditation, or what keeps you from wanting to meditate. And I would love to hear about some of your favorite meditations/experiences with meditation.