Recently I spent a lovely weekend staying at an old manor house in the British countryside with many friends. We began discussing meditation and I shared some of my insights from my current mindfulness masters degree studies. They shared stories about their meditation practice. A few asked questions about how to deal with different issues they had faced. As they did so, it highlighted to me how many misconceptions there are about meditation. Over the years I have been asked similar questions to what arose during that weekend. So today, we’re going to debunk myths and address common challenges which hopefully will make practice a lot easier for everyone.
“I can’t stop thinking”
This is the number one comment that is made when people ask for my advice. When meditating, new practitioners may think that the aim is to clear your mind and not think at all. In doing so, they start becoming stressed or concerned when they continue to think. In fact they need not worry at all. Thinking during meditation is absolutely fine. In fact, it’s quite natural. The main thing is to be aware of your thoughts and not necessarily engage with them so much that you no longer are aware of what you are thinking or analysing.
“I keep trying to focus on my breath, but I become distracted/bored from focusing on my breath”
Nothing to worry about here either. In terms of distraction, this again is quite natural. When you notice that you have been distracted, bring your awareness back to the breath. If you’re bored of using breath as the object of your practice, then why not switch to sound? Let different sounds come to you as and when they arise. Much like the breath, bring your awareness to the sounds without trying to label what each noise is. Essentially, be aware of the soundscape rather than analysing the different noises.
“I can’t help judging things that occur in my practice or the practice itself”
I still struggle with this issue from time to time. It can be easy to think of nice relaxing practices as the ‘correct’ outcome of meditation and practices full of distraction and judgment as ‘wrong’. But in mindfulness and meditation, there is no right or wrong. Whatever arises is fine. For judgment, we can end up being judgmental about being judgmental. To stop this cycle, all we need to do is again bring awareness to the fact that we are judging. In reality, it is even to some extent okay to judge during a practice so long as you’re aware that you are doing so.
“I can’t sit still for long in a cross-legged position”
Great news, you don’t need to sit cross-legged. Many people choose to do so, but if it is uncomfortable or hurting you, then you can sit upright in a chair. The main idea when it comes to posture is to sit upright without straining yourself so that you are in an alert, comfortable and stable position. This will help you to maintain focus during practice.
“I keep falling asleep”
This is common when meditating with your eyes closed. When this happens, it’s advised that you meditate with your eyes open. However, recently I was even taught that it’s best to always meditate with your eyes open. In doing so, you practice meditation and mindfulness with all of your senses. I have been practicing exclusively with my eyes open for a while now. At first it takes some getting used to. Over time I have found that it has made it easier for me to be mindful as I go about my daily business as I have effectively practised during meditation not to be so distracted by my visual field.
To add, if you always fall asleep, then maybe it’s because you need sleep 🙂 Listen to your body.
“I can’t find the motivation to sit for long”
Be kind to yourself. It takes time to build up your practice. Think of meditation like building up your stamina for a swim or run. At first, you may only be able to swim or run for a few minutes, but over time you’re able to swim or run for longer amounts of time. Mindfulness and meditation is exactly the same. Little and often is absolutely fine.
To conclude, don’t feel discouraged by any of the thoughts above. These are absolutely normal occurrences. Do what you can and treat yourself and your practice with care.