Written by Katie Hess, of lotuswei.com
Intrigued by meditation, but not sure how to fit it into your schedule? Interested in the benefits, but not sure where to start? Meditation for beginners is simpler than you think.
Or maybe you tried meditation, but felt you weren’t any good at it?
Here are some common myths about meditation:
Meditation for Beginners Misconception 1: I’m not good at meditation—my mind is too busy.
When you start to practice meditation it suddenly seems that your mind is 10x busier than usual. This phenomenon is actually a good sign. In fact it’s not busier. It means that you’re simply more aware of the busy-ness that’s present.
And your mind should be quiet, right? In fact, it’s pretty impossible to have a pristinely quiet mind when you start meditation. The nature of the mind is to be busy.
Rather than having no thoughts, meditation is about getting to know your mind and observing the thoughts that arise. And you’ll notice that by observing your thoughts, they oftentimes dissolve into mid air and disappear.
Meditation for Beginners Misconception 2: The ultimate purpose of meditation is to feel more peaceful.
You may feel more peaceful as a nice side effect of practicing meditation, but that needn’t be the sole motivation for your practice.
The Tibetan word for meditation is ‘Gom’ means ‘getting used to’—in essence getting used to your own mind. It’s about making a small effort each day that will create profound mindful-awareness in all areas of life over time. That’s also why it’s called meditation ‘practice’, because we’re always practicing.
The five minutes of meditation you practice each day will have a positive effect on how you feel not just while sitting, but throughout your entire day—making you more productive, effective, focused and clear.
And when practiced regularly and consistently every day (even if only five minutes a day), it has an exponential effect, helping you more deeply understand yourself and unravel unproductive mental habits.
The more aware we become, the more we’ll be able to take charge of our monkey minds and emotional triggers instead of allow them to take charge of us.
Even better, practicing meditation each day when we’re for the most part calm, will really help us later when rubber hits the road. When something really emotionally disturbing arises—we’ll be better equipped to handle it, because we’ll already have exercised the ‘muscle’ of remaining open to a situation without reacting—just observing.
Meditation for Beginners Misconception 3: The more miraculous the experience, the better the meditation practice.
Meditation practice can actually at times be quite mundane. You might be fighting the urge to fall asleep or continually bringing your mind back to focus on paying attention as it runs away to the past or future.
Or you may get rather bored of your mental dialogue. That’s a good thing. It means that you’ll not be as seduced by your thoughts and emotional reactions.
If you practice meditation regularly for a long time, you’ll be sure to have all kinds of experiences. You may have blissful experiences or painful experiences. You may suddenly feel viscerally connected to your surroundings and all beings, or you double over in sadness looking at some aspect of yourself that you’re disappointed in. In any case, observe all experiences with the same level of: ‘oh, hmm, interesting’, and leave it at that.
It’s wise not to get attached to the blissful highs, nor feel adverse to the harder times. All meditation practice is good practice. If you’re fighting dosing off, if you’re looking at your own faults, watching your racing mind or having some sort of beautiful peaceful experience, it’s all the good. Practice staying open and no matter what happens, just keep observing.
Meditation for Beginners Misconception 4: The more complicated, the better the meditation practice.
Meditation doesn’t require any special mantras. It doesn’t require any special visualizations to be profound. Don’t get me wrong… mantras & visualizations can be really helpful. The point is that sometimes even the simplest practices have the most profound results.
Sakyamuni once said that if we were fully aware of each breath we took during a day – from the moment we awoke, to the moment we went to sleep—that we would be fully enlightened. Enlightened meaning: completely free of anger, fear and other disturbing emotions, as well as a knower of the ‘three times’— the past, present and future.
The practice of observing one’s breath is an effective mindful-awareness method that can be practiced all throughout the day, no matter what we’re doing. It’s a powerful method for placing your attention on the present moment. It’s not necessarily easy, but it’s simple and powerful.
Meditation for Beginners Misconception 5: Meditation is about lying down on one’s back to relax.
It’s actually better not to lie down—you’ll be much more tempted to fall asleep that way. If we agree that the best results will come from paying attention and being open and aware—then it can be quite helpful to sit with your spine straight. That opens up the body in a way that makes it very conducive for mindfulness.
You can be sitting in a chair or on the floor with your legs crossed. Use cushions on the floor if it’s more comfortable. The point is to relax your body as much as possible while keeping your mind awake and clear.
Meditation for Beginners Misconception 6: I need a special, quiet place to practice meditation.
You can meditate anywhere! You can meditate at work at your desk during a break. You can meditate on the bus, subway or in a taxi. You can meditate while walking. You can practice meditation while you’re washing the dishes.
Oftentimes a barrier for starting a meditation practice is this notion that we need a special corner, an altar, a silk cushion… when in fact anywhere will do. It is about cultivating an inner practice, not decorating a special place.
Now, if it inspires you to create a special place, and triggers you to sit down and practice—then that is a good thing. Just don’t let not having a special place prevent you from starting a meditation practice.
Also, becoming aware of one’s mind does not require silence. There can be all sorts of noises around you. It can actually help your practice, by giving your mind something to focus on. It’s not about blocking out the outer world. It’s about hearing, smelling, feeling, being 100% present by focusing on all the details with a calm, clear attention.
Allow everything in the outer world to be there. Let the noises all be there: the dogs barking, kids screaming, planes flying overhead and traffic. Allow them all to be there—you are fully present with them, instead of fighting what is.
Instead of going against the grain, getting tense and putting up resistance to what’s in your outer world—use it as a focus point to calm your inner world by listening to sounds around you.
Meditation for Beginners Misconception 7: Meditation is serious business.
Meditation is about suffering… sitting until your back and knees ache. And it’s about being ultra serious. Ha! Just kidding.
Though sometimes in the beginning the body is not used to sitting, it will become used to it. Whenever I am around Tibetan monks I marvel at how they can sit all day long with their legs crossed and not get fatigued.
I remember sitting all day every day at teachings in India with knees burning and back aching. I am probably one of the most physically inflexible people around. But I can tell you from my experience, that the body gets used to sitting and it becomes more and more comfortable. I can now sit with crossed legs quite comfortably for long periods of time. I can even sit in full lotus position, something I thought would be completely impossible before.
And you can allow yourself to be humorous. You can laugh at yourself.
We don’t have to be so serious or take ourselves so seriously. We can let more joy in.
Meditation for Beginners Misconception 8: If I repress all the crazy emotional stuff I’ll be better at meditation.
it’s okay and beneficial to strive to be a better and better person each day. But the fast path to being a better and better person is to be real… real with yourself, honest with yourself, aware of all aspects of your being. Because…
A little compost makes for a rich soil. The compost is all the stinky stuff—that things about yourself you don’t want to see. All that stinky stuff, when observed properly can transform into a rich soil. It transforms into wisdom and insights.
Meditation for Beginners Misconception 9: Meditation is about escape from the craziness of life to somewhere more peaceful.
Meditation is about being present with what ‘is’, about accepting what ‘is’. It’s about being aware and not wishing to change what is.
Meditation is not about escaping reality or running away from the chaos of life. It’s about using the chaos in order to wake up.
For centuries the Lotus flower has been the symbol of enlightenment, because it grows in a muddy swamp. But if you’ve ever seen photographs of a Lotus flower or pad, you’ll never see one that’s dirty or dusty.
That’s because of a unique effect that only the Lotus has, called ‘The Lotus Effect’. If you look at its petals or leaves through a microscope, you’ll notice that the way they are doesn’t allow for any speck of dust or dirt to remain.
The metaphor of the Lotus relates to our life: Life is messy. Transformation is messy. Our moods and feelings can be messy. Life is chaotic. But we can use the craziness of life to wake up our pristine, pure nature.
So the point of meditation is to look at all of it. Observe everything that arises without judgment. ‘Be’ with all of it. And let all of it be. Use difficult situations to help you wake yourself up.
Meditation for Beginners Misconception 10: In order to get real benefits I need to meditate several hours each day.
In fact, sitting to meditate for just five minutes each day is sufficient to be absolutely life changing. Try it out yourself for one month and see what happens.
If you’d like a simple short audio track of a meditation to help guide you, here’s one. Enjoy!
Love & flower petals,