Clearing up common meditation misconceptions

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I find that there is a lot of misunderstanding of what meditation really entails. Let’s clear that up. Meditation isn’t something you can get better at, not something to boast about and certainly doesn’t make you better than anyone else.

Concentration, on the other hand, is something you can get better at. Often, concentration and meditation are conflated. Concentration has a place, and I’ve certainly practiced mindful counting and mindful breathing, but true meditation is something much more natural and effortless.

Meditation is your birthright, not something you must manufacture or possess.

If you’re new to meditation but feel disillusioned by thoughts of “I’m not doing it right” or “I can’t concentrate well,” then keep reading. Hopefully the following clarifications will help clear up any discouraging confusion.

 

Don’t try to stop thinking

Not thinking is actually an impossible task. Don’t believe me? Just try it and see how frustrating it is.

Meditation does not ask us to stop thinking. In fact, how many thoughts arise doesn’t fundamentally matter. Sometimes there are many, sometimes there are few. The common factor between experienced meditators and beginners is the same — just the bare witnessing of the moment’s offerings. That being said, having fewer thoughts may be an eventual byproduct of providing yourself the space to sit with no demands, agenda or goals.

Fewer thoughts might arise spontaneously and without intention, but trying to grasp onto the experience only makes it slip away. “I’m not having any thoughts” is a thought! Dance with it if it comes, but know that expecting it again only takes you away from the present moment.

 

Don’t expect results

Meditation does not come with linear results or progress. There isn’t a set number of hours you need to meditate in order to cross the mystical threshold of enlightenment. There is just this simple and ordinary presence, so full of wonder. Expecting results distracts from the simplicity of what is.

Because true meditation is an expression of our inherent nature — being aware — any so-called results are simply a natural quality of ourselves, what we have always been. Grasping for a sort of ideal meditative state leaves you in the mind’s cycle of comparison, criticism and judgment, and that’s no fun.

“Progress” in meditation, if we can even call it that, is much more like letting go of the idea of becoming a “good” meditator.

 

Don’t turn meditation into rigid discipline

Although a daily practice might include a timed sitting with a straight back on a meditation cushion, this is certainly not all there is to meditation. Being ourselves —  the knowing presence to experience — doesn’t require a straight back or a meditation cushion.

Invite some gentle contemplation while sitting under a tree, while walking between class or any time of the day where there is the absence of activity. Although there might be a strong urge to avoid these experiences that we typically label as boring or uninteresting, they are actually fruitful ground for inquiring into the nature of experience.

Know that you can meditate at any time of the day, even while performing duties and activities. If meditation is another name for ourselves, we can never cease being what we are. The presence of awareness, that which knows, is never absent from our experience. Although states come and go, the knower of all these states remains ever-present.

While a sitting practice might provide an excellent reprieve from the hustle of daily life and can provide an excellent space for self-care, try and carry the practice with you into multiple spaces during the day.

 

Don’t feel discouraged by boredom 

This is an extremely important reminder that I frequently revisit. I remember complaining to a meditation teacher of how bored I felt during practice.  He responded, “Good — that means it’s working.” I was stunned, but I think this teacher was hinting at something important.

If we sit for long enough, anything we’ve been avoiding will surface. That nagging frustration, the emotion we avoided, a belief we are scared to confront. Nothing is spared when we open ourselves up to what arises. When we are bereft of defenses and distractions, all that we try to repress makes itself known.

This can include a wide variety of feelings, but very often can be a strong sense of pure boredom or lack. The underlying feeling of something is wrong. In my experience, turning towards this feeling is a much better approach than trying to avoid it. Viewing uncomfortable feelings as a blessing of the practice rather than a curse can be an important turning point for new practitioners.

Hopefully, with these clarifications, you feel more encouraged and empowered to keep building upon your meditation practice. While I certainly don’t claim to be a meditation teacher or expert, I hope the tips I’ve picked up along the way from the frustrations, challenges and pitfalls I’ve faced on my journey can prove useful to any new practitioners out there.

 

Contact Alexander Christiano at [email protected].