When it comes to meditation, what’s a myth and what’s the truth? After 500 consecutive days of meditation practice, I’ve started to figure it out. Today I’m sharing the top 3 meditation myths.
3 Myths About Meditation
Today I marked a big milestone in my meditation practice: 500 consecutive days of meditation practice. To mark this milestone, I wanted to share three of the most common myths about meditation, and the truths that I’ve learned from my experience.
Meditation Myths and Truths
Meditation Myth 1: The goal of meditation is to clear your mind from all thoughts
When the topic of meditation comes up, people often say to me something like:
I want to meditate but I can’t stop my thoughts.
Does this sound like you?
That was me, too, for a long time.
I would often walk away from a meditation practice feeling like I failed because my thoughts do not stop. Ever.
We tend to have this image of meditation as sitting in stillness with complete focus on our breath. The moment we notice we have drifted off into thoughts, we think we failed.
Meditation Truth 1: The “goal” of meditation is simply to observe what is happening
I hate to use the word “goal” in connection with meditation, but I know that’s the language we speak in this world. So, to the extent you want to define a goal for your meditation practice, this is the goal:
Observe what is happening.
That’s it. Just observe. Notice.
Keep in mind that stopping all thoughts is a high bar. I don’t even know that it’s possible. Certainly for me. My brain didn’t come with an off-switch.
Start with a focus on your breath. Inhale. Exhale. Keep that going for as long as you can. At some point, your mind will drift off. You’ll begin planning dinner or composing your next article. You’ll start hearing the conversation that you’re going to have in an upcoming meeting. Maybe you’ll reflect on a conversation you had yesterday. The moment you notice it, gently bring yourself back to the breath.
And remind yourself that this is what happens.
Meditation is a practice. Some days, I can be off in thought for a long time before I notice. Sometimes I notice very quickly. Every time I notice, I bring myself back to the breath.
This isn’t as simple as some people make it seem. That’s why it’s a practice.
Meditation Myth 2: You need a dedicated space and props for mediation
There’s an entire consumer culture developing around meditation. Cushions. Meditation centers like Inscape and Mndfl. Instagram images of cozy corners in a quiet room. Apps like Calm and Headspace. All of this can lead us to believe that we need these accessories to meditate.
These spaces and props can help us create an environment conducive for meditation. And they can also create a formidable barrier to a regular meditation practice.
The more things we “need” in order to do something, the less likely we are to do it consistently. More things required means more excuses not to do it.
Meditation Truth 2: All you need is you
I do not have a dedicated meditation spot in my apartment. I do not own a meditation cushion. Most days, I sit for my morning meditation practice in the gym. Not in a quiet corner, but in the middle of the stretch area. Around me, people stretch. They jump around. They talk. Weights clang. Music plays.
It’s not conventional, but it works for me. I’ve got 500 days to prove it.
The exact situation that will work for you might be different. Nothing works for everyone.
This isn’t to imply that cushions and meditation spaces and apps aren’t wonderful, because they are. I’ve used the Calm iOS app to build my 500-day streak. I love the app.
But I don’t need the app or a cushion or a zen space to meditate. All I need is a willingness to dedicate some time to practice, wherever I am.
Meditation Myth 3: Meditation produces instant happiness
In our fast-paced, overstimulated world, the promise of instant zen and post-meditation happiness lures us like a waterfall in the desert. Serene, faded images and reports that meditation can diffuse depression and anxiety lead us to believe that we will get up from session oozing with joy and happiness.
You might be shocked, as I was, to discover that it doesn’t quite work like this.
Meditation Truth 3: Meditation can make you feel a range of undesired emotions
Remember Truth 1, meditation is about noticing?
Here’s what happens when you start noticing: You notice.
This is one of those things that seems obvious from the outside but when it happens to you it’s like lightbulbs going off:
First, noticing isn’t selective. You don’t only notice thoughts. You also notice emotions.
Second, you don’t get to notice only the good feelings. You also notice when you feel angry, sad, anxious, depressed, frustrated, spiteful, resentful and bitter.
Our culture invests billions of dollars across a range of industries to help us escape these “undesired” emotions: pharmaceuticals, television, movies, food, work, social media.
In meditation, there is no escape. In meditation, everything comes up. It’s uncomfortable at first. And it can be really difficult. It can be really painful.
This is one of those things that I wish I had known when I started, because when I hit the part it was rough. I was expecting zen and I got pain. Until someone told me that this is common.
And here’s what I learned: if you stick with it, eventually it becomes easier to navigate the undesired emotions. You begin to recognize that nothing is permanent. You expand your capacity to hold space what arises. And that’s when you start to get to the zen place.
By the way, the zen place doesn’t mean that you no longer feel the crap. It does mean that you can roll through the crap with much greater ease. You start to notice the waves, but instead of riding the waves you realize, “hey, I am the ocean.”
If you want the zen, you’ve got to go through this rough patch. The rough patch is rough. You’ll want a good support system in place for this part.
Do you have any questions about meditation or cultivating daily practices? Please contact me or share them in the comments.