Learning how to meditate on your own can be difficult, especially with all the meditation mistakes that could make meditation much more difficult. There’s an overwhelming amount of information available and it can be hard to decide where to actually jump in.
Plus, once you’ve actually committed to start meditating there’s a whole new set of obstacles you’re going to face.
The purpose of this post is to take a look at some of these common obstacles. Although every person is unique in their reasons for starting to meditate there is a common meditation timeline most fall into.
In order to help you hurdle over all these obstacles we decided search far and wide and bring in a few meditation teachers to help. Below you’ll find thirty-four experience-based opinions of meditation experts who took on the following question.
What’s the biggest (and most common) mistake you see people making in regards to starting a meditation practice?
If you’re currently stuck, or experiencing difficulty in your meditation practice, then we hope the following post on common meditation mistakes can help you get unstuck.
Andy Puddicombe is the co-founder of Headspace.com and an accomplished meditation and mindfulness teacher in his own right. His ten year journey around the world culminated in being ordained as an Tibetan Buddhist Monk in Northern India. He’s also an author of three bestselling books and has been featured widely across international press. Andi and the Headspace team are doing incredibly important work, you can learn more here.
It is important to try not to force ourselves to stop thinking. It is often the case that people try to clear their minds and force a sense of relaxation but this won’t work. The aim is acceptance, learning to step back and get a different perspective on thought, rather than stopping thought altogether. Meditation is a bit like falling asleep or falling in love…you can’t make it happen! In fact the harder you try, the further it gets away. It is a natural process of unwinding which requires surprisingly little effort.
Dan Millman is a bestselling author of The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, and a teacher of the Warrior’s Way, a result of his intensive 20 year spiritual quest. He continues to lecture and teach about human potential and helps us all live more awakened and meaningful lives. Learn more about Dan and his work here.
Meditation does not get you anywhere but here.
It does not lead to enlightenment, but rather is the practice of enlightenment: sitting, not reacting; noticing, not clinging.
You do not need to try to do anything. You do not need to ‘empty the mind,’ but just notice whatever arises in awareness, then turn your attention back to the breath, or your mantra, or counting from one to ten — whatever method you use to liberate your attention from the stream of thought.
Giovanni is the creator and writer at Live and Dare. A website dedicated to translating and updating the tools and teachings of world-wide wisdom traditions for the 21st-century mind. He’s practiced meditation daily for the last 16+ years, and has a deep well of wisdom and practical experience to draw from. Learn more about Giovanni and his work here.
The biggest mistake is not practicing meditation consistently.
Meditation needs to be practiced daily, for it to make a true impact on your life. Of course, every time you sit there is some benefit – even if only purely physical -, whether you perceive it or not. But mental and. emotional transformation only comes with consistent practice.
So consistency should be your primary focus when starting or growing a meditation practice – and not the length you sit, or how well you can fold your legs. Ten minutes everyday is better than half an hour three times a week.
You use your mind during all your waking hours. So, your conditioned patterns of thoughts and emotion are being reinforced 24/7. That is why it’s absolutely essential that you reinforce your meditation skills every day as well.
Another, and probably less spoken about, is: You keep your mind too busy during the day, and consume too much media.
Luminita is an enthusiastic student of the arts, psychology, and spirituality. She helps to shine light on life’s hidden truths, the paradoxes that both stare us in the face and hide from us in unison, as they silently shape our every waking moment. Purpose Fairy is a vault of conscious media containing observations on the human condition and how to access our infinite selves in our daily lives. Learn more about Luminita and Purpose Fairy here.
Most people are used to seeing immediate results, but with meditation, you might not get results right away. And if you let your mind trick you into thinking that it doesn’t work, that you can’t do it, you will never be able to silence your mind, chances are that you will quit.
So keep going. Don’t give up and trust that in time miraculous things will happen, because they will 🙂
Vishen is a entrepreneur, education technology innovator, speaker, investor and philanthropist – and the founder and CEO of Mindvalley, a company specializing in innovation in education by introducing mindfulness and personal development into global education and perpetual learning. His mission is to push humanity forward by empowering our audience to live healthier and happier lives, to unleash their fullest potential – to be extraordinary. Learn more about Vishen and his work here.
The following is a short passage from Vishen’s latest book, The Code of the Extraordinary Mind:
According to Emily Fletcher, who founded the Ziva meditation school in New York City, the biggest misconception about meditation is that its purpose is to stop your mind from thinking. Just try to stop thinking. Difficult, huh? As Emily says, when people try that, it’s usually “the beginning and end of their meditation career.”
She continues: But if we go into this thinking that the point of meditation is to get good at life—not to get good at meditation, and if we accept the reality that no one can give their mind a command to stop, then it’s so much more innocent, so much more playful, and so much more enjoyable. Trying to give your mind a command to stop thinking is as effective as giving your heart a command to stop beating—it doesn’t work.
Jonni is one of the co-founders of 1 Giant Mind, an organization dedicated to bringing meditation across the globe and instilling it as a daily practice in our modern culture. He is an internationally recognizing meditation teacher who has dedicated his life to sharing the knowledge gained from some of the great living masters of our time. He specializes in teaching the art of realising the minds potential, so to live the most innovative and fulfilling life possible. Learn more about Jonni and his organization here.
The biggest mistake people make when starting a meditation practice is two-fold.
- Most people have romantic notions of what meditation is ‘supposed to feel like’ even though they haven’t practiced before. This preconception is the thing that causes people to resist certain experiences in meditation that may not be within their expectations. This ultimately causes their practice to be unsuccessful and often they become disheartened. The simple solution is to begin having let go of all expectations and preconceptions.
- Many make the mistake of attempting to practice meditation without the instruction of an experienced teacher. The mind is a very complex thing to navigate. It is important to have an experienced teacher who has a perfected sequence of instruction to orientate you toward effortlessness and non resistance while practicing.
If you have an experienced teacher with a tried and tested technique, it’s difficult to get it wrong. Without these two things, it’s very easy to get it wrong!
Nikki and Kevin run Centered Meditation, a meditation studio in Sydney, Australia. After living a chaotic life they found peace and solace in meditation and now share these gifts with others. They take a grounded and practical approach to meditation, perfect for those who lead busy lives. You can learn more about Nikki and Kevin and their organization here.
Believing that the aim of meditation is to think of nothing and that some people are better at meditation than others.
Put simply, thinking of nothing just isn’t possible. The very act of thinking implies that your brain is actively engaged in cognitive processes, and nothing implies no-thing is happening at all.
Meditation is about allowing your mind to de-bug itself in the way it knows best. It’s about giving your body the time and space it needs to simply repair itself. In this way, there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ meditation. During meditation, your mind will sway between thoughts and your chosen anchor of awareness.
Research shows that at least 47% of the time, our mind is thinking about something other than what it is doing. This means that at least half the time, your mind is going to be engaged in thought. The key is what to do when you realise that you are thinking. This is the match point, if you will.
As long as you simply acknowledge you are thinking, stay completely unfazed by it, and then gently return your attention to your anchor, then you can never be ‘bad’ at meditation.
Elisha Goldstein is the co-founder of The Center for Mindful Living in West Los Angeles. His work blends traditional psychotherapy and mindfulness in order to achieve mental and emotional healing. He’s a true master at distilling complex ideas and making them easily digestible and practical. Elisha is also an accomplished author and speaker. Learn more about Elisha and his incredible work here.
The biggest mistake people generally make in engaging mindfulness meditation is to fix themselves. Most people who seek out meditation do so because they are suffering in some way. They feel lost, confused or have struggled with stress, anxiety, depression, bad habits or relationship problems. That’s how I stumbled upon it. For most of us, there’s a sense that something is wrong with us and that meditation will provide insight, calm and peace. As a result there’s this intense striving for this meditation practice to arouse a feeling of inner peace, but this striving becomes exhausting and set’s up a rule for how meditation “should” be. It creates these expectations that get logged in the brain and every experience measures itself against this idealic state of being.
What inevitably happens is the expectation is not achieved and impatience or doubt that this will ever “work” for them arises. Mindfulness meditation is about sitting next to the shaken snow globe and learning how to be still, quiet and pay attention. As we do this the particles of the mind and body may thrash back and forth like a horse becoming tamed, but little by little they begin to settle as we begin to see more clearly how the inner workings of the mind and body interact. We gain insight into our mind’s tendencies and learn how to actively let things be.
If we could set the intention to just be curious about what it means to be human and listen, apply a lot of self-compassion and forgiveness along the way, we can learn to rest in a sense of awareness that teaches us about insight and liberation in daily life.
Bodhipaksa is the founder of Wildmind, has been a practicing Buddhist since 1982, and teaching meditation since the late 1980s. Bodhipaksa is also a published author. His passion for meditation truly shines through in all of his work. Learn more about Bodhipaksa and Wildmind here.
One thing I see more than anything else with beginners is that they’re very quick to assume that they’re “bad” at meditation. They experience lots of mind-wandering, and they assume this means that the meditation isn’t working or that they’re not good at it. I have to explain that even people who have been meditating for decades experience a lot of distraction, and that the difference is that they simply don’t get upset about it!
I also explain that although the mind does wander a lot, it also always comes back to the meditation practice. And it does this quite spontaneously and effortlessly. The mind is like a cat that goes roaming, but always finds its way home again. So this is very encouraging! Your mind will always come back to the meditation practice.
Sara Auster is a Sound Therapy Practitioner and meditation teacher based out of New York City. Her methods are informed by her studies of neuroscience, psychoacoustics, Yoga Nidra, shamanism and Traditional Chinese medicine. Sara’s carefully crafted personal instruction allows her students and clients to use sound as a tool to support, access, and cultivate deep relaxation. You can learn more about Sara and her work here.
I actually don’t believe there are ‘mistakes’ when starting a meditation practice.
However, I do think there are many misconceptions about meditation. Here are the top three that I hear the most:
“I’m not good at thinking about nothing.”
Many people think meditation is all about not having any thoughts. They have a hard time doing this and feel like they’re “bad at” meditation as a result. Instead, meditation is more like setting time aside to guide your mind. It’s a peaceful, yet active process. You’re not sitting back with a blank mind; instead you’re softly moving your mind towards more awareness, consciousness, and choice.
“I don’t have time to meditate.”
When you first try meditation, it might seem like it takes too much time. How can you set aside 10, 20 or even 30 minutes a day, when it seems like there’s no time in your day to begin with? But if you stick with it, you might find that meditation actually seems to add time to your day. This happens because you’ll have more control over your mind and spend less time feeling distracted. You’ll feel more energized and rejuvenated, allowing you to handle your daily tasks with focus. You can start meditating just 2-5 minutes a day. Only increase the time once you start seeing the benefits.
“Meditation is religious.”
It’s true that meditation is often practiced by various spiritual traditions. Meditation itself is non-sectarian, non-religious and non-theistic. It’s basically a mental exercise that has been tested by clinical science time and time again. Researchers have proven that PTSD sufferers, high blood pressure, ADHD patients and even cancer patients have experienced improvements from meditation.
Advice to new meditators:
There are currently a lot of options out there. Meditation is not a one-size-fits-all practice. You can start by looking for class descriptions with the words ‘basic’ and ‘beginner’. Generally those types of settings should offer the most introductory explanations and instructions. Also, try not to get discouraged if you have an experience that that’s not to your liking. Stay open to trying different styles, techniques, apps, and teachers. There is definitely something out there for everyone!
Jacob runs Sensophy, a blog and personal empowerment platform dedicated to making wisdom practical and transformation possible. The goal of his work is to help 20 and 30 somethings figure out what to do with their lives. Learn more about Jacob and his work here.
A big mistake I see is thinking a good mediation comes from sitting still.
Some of my deepest meditations come from running in the streets of NYC listening to gangsta rap.
Gayatri is a meditation and yoga teacher at the Australian School of Meditation and Yoga. A dedicated meditator of over 20 years, Gayatri is now dedicated to sharing the gifts of meditation and yoga with those who visit the school. Glean some of her wisdom from her answer below. Learn more about Gayatri and the organization she’s a part of here.
The biggest and most common mistake I see people making in regards to starting a meditation practice is that they think they can’t meditate, that it is too hard.
It is such a pity for people to see meditation as a great obstacle.
Mantra meditation is so simple and enjoyable that even children can do it, so stop thinking that meditation is something that only “spiritual people” do and realise that meditation is a gift that everyone can receive; Old, young, rich, poor, black, white, man, woman. It is available to absolutely everyone.
We just need to embrace it with a willing mind and open heart and receive the many, wonderful, life transforming, benefits that meditation has to offer.
Shamash is the international bestselling author of the Mindfulness For Dummies series, and has been practicing mindfulness meditation since 1998. The goal of his work is to help people live in the present moment in a calm and focused way, leading to greater health and well-being. Learn more about Shamash and his work here.
The biggest mistake I think is taking meditation too seriously. You can smile, you can lean back in your arm chair and you can relax!
Meditation is a natural process and with the right teacher you can gently enjoy the process, as long as you combine awareness with lots of self-kindness and letting go of any expectations.
Another common idea is to clear the mind immediately. The mind naturally calms down when you observe and are kind to your mind. And gets restless when you try to make it still. Go from control freak to kindness freak and you’re on the right path.
Remember if you try meditation and find your mind to be restless, don’t worry. That’s normal.
It takes a bit of time and practice to get the right attitude. And the right attitude is to let your body and mind just be, however it is. Restless, bored, tired, sleepy, sad or happy. Welcome all experiences with a smile if you can. Good luck!
Singhashri has been a devoted mindfulness and meditation practitioner for over 15 years. She teaches through Breathworks Mindfulness, an organization based upon the work of Vidyamala Burch, and uses mindfulness as a tool to manage pain, stress, and wellness. A truly valuable gift for everyone. Learn more about Singhashri and the organization here.
One thing I see over and over again in people trying to start a meditation practice is having unrealistic expectations. We have all sorts of ideas about what meditation is about, from clearing our mind of thoughts, to making us stress free.
If we aren’t aware of our expectations then we can get into all sorts of trouble when what we think should be happening doesn’t! So, I often tell my students to be aware of expectations, but don’t cling to them.
Get curious about what actually is happening, with a non-judgemental attitude and openness, and then maybe you’ll find that, over time, thoughts quiet down and you are less stressed, but please don’t strive to make that happen, which will only cause more tension.
Kimberley Jones is known as the midwife for modern mystics. She’s been described as a “real life spirit guide” and down to earth spiritual teacher. Her work centers around helping women navigate through the shift of awakening, so they can better shine their own light out into the world. Learn more about Kimberley and her work here.
The biggest mistake I see people make when starting to meditate is thinking they need to sit cross-legged in silence with their eyes closed like a Buddha and enter an instantly transcendent state of bliss!
They place huge expectations on themselves. Part of this is expecting that their thoughts must stop. It can all get a bit serious and intense because they are coming from the goal and outcome mindset. They think if they are still having thoughts and emotions, then they have failed at meditation. “I just can’t do it!”, “I can’t switch off my mind”, “I can’t focus for that long, my mind keeps wondering, I’m so rubbish at it”.
So, my tip is to remember that meditation is not about trying to control the river, it’s about resting on the river bank and watching the water bubble past. It’s about noticing that your mind has wandered probably a hundred times in one short meditation and to be totally cool with that and to just focus on your breathing.
Tom Cronin is a meditation teacher and creator of the Stillness Project. A project whose goal is to unite millions of minds across the globe, all connected in peace, harmony, and stillness. Tom has been teaching meditation for many years and has inspired thousands of people all over the world as a teacher, author and keynote speaker. Learn more about Tom and the Stillness Project here.
One of the most common mistakes people make in regards to starting meditation is not knowing what meditation is.
Many people believe meditation is having a still or empty mind. This would be possibly one of the effects of meditation, but rarely is it actually attained.
Meditation has many goals from releasing stress, increasing serotonin, decreasing adrenalin, improving sleep, reducing high blood pressure, and overcoming addictions. For all this to be achieved, many things will change in the mind and body.
Having someone to support you and explain how and why this all takes place during meditation is an important part of your training.
Ideally, receiving assistance with your meditation practice from a trained meditation teacher would be recommended because you will have many diverse experiences that you may need some guidance with.
Ashley is a yoga teacher dedicated to spreading the gifts of yoga. After using yoga as a tool to help overcome and heal intense physical pain and stress in her life, she’s now turning those gifts outward. Her mission to help busy Type-A overachiever women gain back control of their lives, live pain-free, and love the life they want to live through yoga lifestyle practices. Learn more about Ashley and her work here.
The biggest mistake I see when people want to start a meditation practice is being confused about what meditation is.
Meditation is not a process of quieting the mind. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Meditation is about learning to deal with a busy mind. The natural tendency of the mind is to wander. We’re not trying to inhibit or change that tendency, but instead interested in learning to live with it to the extent that the wandering mind no longer distracts us.
When you set out to meditate with the idea that you are trying to quiet the mind you will get very frustrated very fast and stop meditating. That’s all counter-productive. I know because I made the same mistake and it took a really long time to convince myself that meditation is useful even when your mind is raging like a room full of monkeys playing dodgeball.
The beauty and art of meditation — the quietness of the mind — comes from learning to acknowledge and be with ALL the thoughts without getting caught up in the story lines. Eventually you will learn to create more space in between each thought and it is that space that creates the elusive “quiet mind.” But it is only a space and there will soon be a new thought, so don’t be fooled or disappointed. Just keep coming back to your individual thoughts.
Mahima has over 20 years of meditation training and experience, which makes her an extremely effective and engaging teacher, workshop leader, personal coach and motivational speaker. She is the Author of the bestselling Book A Rebel’s Guide to Inner Peace, and is an incredibly inspiring individual. Learn more about Mahima and her work here.
The biggest mistake I see people making when they start their self mastery meditation journey is that people think they should be able to do it on their own. And because there are so many online options to get great guided meditations people are even more convinced of this idea, and most end up struggling through or giving up not long after they start.
As a beginner the best way to move forward fast is to have interaction with a group, led by a powerful teacher. The group dynamic allows you to reach deeper states of meditation and connection to your inner strength and wisdom. Also, having the teacher who is fully radiant, there to ask questions to is what will allow you to experience what I call personal growth acceleration.
These group sessions allow you to experience yourself as an energy being, and this experience is an important part of understanding the question who am I. Which of course is what will give the deep peace and joy people seek in meditation. Having this boost and support will make solo meditations much easier and deeper.
Mandy’s work has been focused in the health and wellness industry for the last 15 years, before launching her meditation company in 2012. The goal of her work with Lifestyle Meditation is to empower sustainable transformation in others by offering meditation classes and programs that are educational, practical, and easily accessible. Learn more about Mandy and her work here.
The most common mistake (which is also the biggest!) that I witness as people are beginning a meditation practice is the belief that they can NOT meditate. I often hear people say, “I’ve heard that meditation is a great way to shut off the mind but when I try it, all that I experience is how busy my mind really is. Clearly, meditation is not for me.”
This is always a great time to remind each and every naysayer that everyone is a natural born meditator and they aren’t attempting to become something that they are not, but rather, attempting to un-do all that they’ve become. Somewhere buried underneath the swirling and chaotic train of thoughts that seem so loud when the body is sitting still, there exists a small quiet space just waiting to be rediscovered.
Jackie Trottmann is the founder of The Guided Life, a site dedicated to helping people live lighter lives, encompassing the body, mind, and spirit. Instead of being motivated by outer resources she teaches people to find an inner light and let that lead the way. Learn more about Jackie and her work here.
There are three big mistakes that can happen in starting a meditation practice. They call it practicing meditation because it takes practice! So, if you hit these stumbling blocks, you could give up practicing. Giving up, you would truly be missing out on receiving greater peace, productivity, and creativity and many more benefits that come through a meditation practice.
- Thinking you are doing it wrong. There is no right way or wrong way to practice meditation. Some people use breathing. Some people use mantras (reciting a word or sound). Some people use silence. Some people sit in poses, such as cross-legged. Some people just sit in a chair. Some people lie down. What’s important is to find a practice and position that resonates with you in order to be still and quiet your mind.
- Having expectations of losing control. Everyone likes to be in control. Meditation does not involve dropping into a trance or hypnotic state. It is merely being still in the present moment to quiet the mind. For me, it is a spiritual practice where I feel connected to God. Prayer is talking to God. Meditation is listening to God.
- Quitting too soon because you can’t quiet your mind. It takes practice to quiet the mind. You will think about what you will make for dinner, that your nose itches, or what time the ball game is on this evening. It’s okay. As you dismiss these thoughts, you will be able to quiet the mind to experience moments of no thought, only peace. It sounds crazy, but, by quieting (even attempting to quiet) the mind, peace and clarity will spill into your day. You will be more calm, patient, and less reactive to life. By staying with it, as in learning anything, it gets easier.
Lodro is a practitioner and teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage. He began leading numerous workshops at meditation centers and college campuses throughout the United States and to date has taught meditation at locations as diverse as Google, Harvard, and the White House. He is also the author of several bestselling books on meditation. Learn more about Lodro and his work here.
If you are beginning a meditation practice, you will, at some point, hit the wall where you want to quit. People don’t stop meditating because they start to change for the better. They stop meditating because they don’t see rapid enough change.
We’re so used to instant gratification in America. Meditation is not that.
Meditation is a gradual shift. You have to put in the work of sitting on your butt on a daily basis, coming back to the breath over and over again, and only then do you start to see subtle results. You might notice that you were less reactive when that jerk at work was showing off. Or, you were more present with your partner over dinner. Or, you were more patient with that person in front of you in line at the supermarket. It’s those moments when you say, “Ah ha! I might be kinder/more present/more patient because of this thing I’m doing.”
If we want to make this shift internally, it will be slow and steady. These days some people are trying to market meditation as “effortless.” It’s not. Sorry. It’s a lot of time and energy spent coming back to the present moment. We’re so used to being distracted that it actually takes a great deal of effort to come back to right now. But if you want to change for the better, you ought to do it.
Janice Marturano is the Founder and Executive Director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, a non-profit organization dedicated to training and supporting leaders in the exploration of mindfulness and the fundamentals of leadership excellence. She is an expert in using mindfulness as a tool for to strengthen and cultivate four hallmarks of leadership excellence-focus, clarity, creativity and compassion. Learn more about Janice and her work with the Institute for Mindful Leadership here.
We principally work with hard-working professionals who care about their work and families. Simply put, they put enormous effort into everything they do and they want to succeed. So, when they begin to bring mindful leadership practices into their lives, they bring that same push to succeed into the exploration.
But, there is nothing to ‘achieve’ and too much effort to ‘get good at meditation’ can actually sabotage your intention to be more present for each moment of your life. So, it is helpful to consider mindful leadership practices as a journey, and one that you will be on for your entire life. Nothing to get good at and nothing to achieve.
Each time you practice, or take what I call a Purposeful Pause, you learn to step off the reactive, autopilot treadmill we are often on, and you cultivate the space needed to make more conscious, creative, and compassionate choices.
Dr. Tirch is the Founder of The Center for Compassion Focused Therapy, the first clinical training center for Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) in the USA. Dr. Tirch has had extensive experience in Eastern meditative and philosophical disciplines over the past 25 years. His mission revolves around expanding sensitivity to human suffering, combined with the development and dissemination of ever more effective, evidence based methods for the alleviation of this suffering. Learn more about Dennis and his work here.
The most common mistake that I have seen when people are beginning a regular meditation practice involves having impossibly high and unrelenting standards for themselves.
The realm of the mind is elusive in that it is intangible, and our expectations are often impractical, or even impossible, when we develop practice in our inner life.
If I were to begin with a personal trainer, I could look at the 300 pound barbell in front of me, or watch a person running like the wind on a treadmill, and I could clearly know that in the beginning I could only lift what was possible or run in the way that my body would allow. Of course, I still might overdo it with exercise, but I would likely confront and need to accept my physical limits. Overriding them would just not be possible.
When we approach a meditation practice gradually, gently, and with great self-kindness, we are much better off than if we approach the meditation practice with an eye towards competition and accomplishment based motivations.
We can watch our mind and gently redirect our attention to this very moment, as much as we can letting go of the mind’s grasping demand that we immediately “get it right” or “clear our minds”.
We can sit for smaller intervals, relax into our practice, and see the cultivation of self-compassion as central to the development of a disciplined practice.
Often, people are culturally indoctrinated to try to punish themselves into increasing their behaviors and capacities, but that just isn’t how learning works. Punishment can sometimes reduce an undesirable behavior, but it doesn’t lead us to develop new and productive behaviors, let alone develop mindful compassion or wisdom. Begin steadily, gently and with kindness, watching the mind as it moves, and you will begin well.
Claire is the Director of Content and Training for the Mindfulness in Schools Project. The project stands upon the belief that the young people in their classrooms could benefit from learning mindfulness skills. The aim of MiSP is to improve the resilience and wellbeing of all young people to enhance their school career and to support them throughout life. Learn more about Claire and the Mindfulness in Schools Project here.
Rather like going to the gym, or going on a diet, many people embark on a meditation journey with the expectation that it will instantly change their lives. They also set themselves unrealistic goals about how often, where, and for how long they will practise. When they don’t then miraculously transform overnight into a calm, skillful, enlightened being, they give up, claiming that meditation ‘doesn’t work’.
Like anything with the potential to make long-term positive changes, meditation is unlikely to reap immediate benefits. A little like training a muscle, it takes time, requires commitment, and can involve routine that sometimes leave you questioning what it’s all for.
It’s hard to tell how, whether or when you may begin to notice the changes that meditation can bring about; for some, the changes can be extremely subtle and slow; for others, they may not realise the extent of the benefit until they have to deal with adversity or a crisis; some simply notice a gradual shift of gear, widening of perspective or sense of greater connectedness; some only realise this in themselves when it’s pointed out to them by friends, family, or colleagues.
The key is to let go of a sense of an end goal, and just try to ‘enjoy the journey’ – the practice itself.
Sarah created Quiet Mind Meditation to address the need of making meditation down to earth and accessible for people from all walks of life. The goal of her work is to explore some of the principal concepts that apply to all meditation, the how and the why, and also introduce a variety of difference relaxation and meditation techniques. Learn more about Sarah and Quiet Mind Meditation here.
The most common question, and concern, that I hear from those new to meditation would have to be “I can’t stop thinking”. This is widely held misconception, and the key reason why some people even avoid learning meditation, because they have tried to stop thinking and failed, or are secretly worried about what might happen if they did manage to stop thinking.
But the human mind exists to think, to process, analyse, create, and inspire. Apparently we have an average of 67,000 thoughts a day, so simply telling the mind to stop thinking is akin to opening your eyes but telling them not to see. Frustrating and rather impossible.
What to do instead?
Befriend your thoughts. When we just observe with interest the funny little plays of the mind, we remove the performance pressure, and the sting of failure. So, we can begin to build our ability to just watch our thoughts instead of being manipulated by them.
With practice we shall begin to see or ‘sense’ our thoughts out on the distant horizon of our mind, and know that we have an opportunity to choose which thoughts we might entertain, and which we shall let pass.
This is an empowering lesson.
Imagine sitting patiently in the sunshine waiting for a train. You are just watching, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the ease of being present without any urgency or need to do anything. You notice the frenetic activity going on around you, the city workers eager to get to work, school kids laughing loudly, and the many noisy trains arriving and departing. You are not overly bothered with any of the noise or dramas around you, but are rather content to just sit quietly and watch without needing to engage or react. And as each train pulls into the station, you have plenty of time to consider whether you wish to jump on, or wait awhile.
The trains could represent our frenetic thinking: the steady stream of thoughts that constantly flow through our mind stream. After all, thoughts are just energy blips in the brain, as normal as watching trains, and we have a choice whether to step onto the train or not.
So, in meditation expect thoughts and when they do arrive simply observe them; you might listen to them, and be curious about the nuances and patterns you find, but you don’t want to be distracted or drawn into a discussion with them. Over time they lose their potency, and you can continue to sit and enjoy the sunshine of your meditation practice.
In fact, learning to recognize and sit with our thoughts and not get lost in the stories and the drama they bring, leads us to a deep understanding that our thoughts are not in fact reality, and we are not identified by our thoughts.
This can be enlightening.
Dawa Tarchin Phillips is a modern lama, author, and senior Western meditation teacher. He is a global spiritual leader and the President/CEO of Empowerment Holdings, LLC. He is Co-founder and the Director of Education of the Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential at the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of California Santa Barbara, where his work focuses on cognitive and academic benefits of secular mindfulness in school children, young adults, educational and business leaders. Learn more about Dawa and his work here.
The two biggest and most common mistakes I see people make with their meditation practice are:
- Not relating to thoughts and emotions effectively, which means judging or fighting with the natural arising of thoughts and emotions as mind’s self-liberating creativity.
- Not getting effective guidance from a qualified and experienced meditation teacher.
We live in an age of self empowerment and access to information is easier than ever. If you have a high speed internet connection you can learn about almost anything, anytime from anywhere. When it comes to properly interpreting and understanding the phenomenon in your own mind, an experienced meditation guide is priceless and cuts through the clutter in minutes, not months.
Kaira Jewel Lingo teaches Buddhist meditation, mindfulness, and compassion internationally, with a focus on activists, people of color, artists, educators, families, and youth. She began practicing mindfulness in 1997. An ordained nun of 15 years in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing, she is now a lay Dharma teacher based in Washington, D.C., leading retreats in the U.S. and internationally, and offering mindfulness programs for educators and youth in schools. Learn more about Kaira and her work here.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when starting a meditation practice is believing that meditation means they are supposed to stop their thinking. This is not the purpose of meditation. Meditation is paying attention to what is going on in this moment, which is our breathing, our physical sensations, sounds, other stimulus coming through the senses, and thinking. The nature of the mind is to produce thoughts.
We can be aware of our thinking without allowing it to proliferate and wander mindlessly. We can be aware that we are thinking when thinking arises and sometimes we can release our thoughts and decide not to entertain them.
Because according to research, most of our thinking is repetitive and useless. In meditation we can train our minds to recognize that we are thinking (rather than being so caught up in our thoughts that we don’t even know we are thinking) and stop identifying with our thoughts. Then we can redirect our minds to objects of reflection that are more helpful and inspiring.
The problem arises when we believe our thoughts are the problem. We don’t need to be bothered by our thinking. We can just let it come and go like clouds. If we try to force our minds to stop thinking it usually makes things worse. This is because our minds don’t do that very well and then we feel “meditation must not be for me” and we want to give up.
If we know that when we meditate thoughts will arise, that this is normal and we can simply notice them, our meditation practice will unfold more smoothly. And we can even enjoy the journey!
As Suzuki Roshi said, “When you try to stop your thinking it means you are bothered by it. Don’t be bothered by anything.”
Zoë Wild is a professionally trained and certified life, business & spiritual coach, workshop leader, public speaker, author and founder/executive director of One Light Global, an international nonprofit humanitarian organization. Zoë dreams of a world where every single person knows their essential, liberated nature – where the truth of each unique soul is fully and freely expressed, so we can play and explore life in radiant compassion and electric freedom, together. Learn more about Zoe and her work with Wild Meditation here.
The biggest mistake new meditators make when starting a practice is separating meditation from the rest of their lives. In the West, meditation has become synonymous with sitting still in an uncomfortable position on a cushion “blissing out,” preferably in lululemon yoga pants. This is not meditation. In fact, this behavior generally makes people either loathe themselves (if they can’t do it) or become very holier than thou (if they can)!
Meditation is the practice of being fully present with wisdom and compassion in every moment and activity of your life.
Sitting is often taught as the first step because there is so much happening in your mind, emotions, and body in every moment that it is easiest to observe and discover in the beginning when you are doing nothing else but sitting down with your eyes closed.
Once you begin to get the hang of it, it is essential to bring the practice into the rest of your life. If you are able to become calm while doing nothing, but are a) not learning or b) not able to maintain this alert state of compassionate observation when you engage with the rest of your life, you are missing the point of meditation.
Without awareness and wisdom, we are living in illusion, literally making up a fantasy world and suffering make believe stories that are determining the course of our lives.
Meditation is about seeing things as they really are! In order to do that, you have to be able to bring it into your whole life. You don’t need to try to duct tape your mind or change who you are, you need to dive in fully alert and discover the truth for yourself. It is the adventure of a lifetime and it will set you free. Don’t wait!
Dr. McKay is a neuroscientist, influential brain health communicator, founder of The Neuroscience Academy, and TEDx speaker. Her work revolves around making translating brain research into simple and actionable strategies for peak performance, creativity, mental health, and well being. Learn more about Sarah and her work here.
I don’t meditate as I find it stresses me out!
So, I’d frame your question as – what do I do to find my place or moment of calm?
In the absence of a meditation practice, I use a combination of of Bottom-Up, Outside-In AND Top-Down tools to reduce my stress response, modulate my emotions, and cultivate self awareness.
I walk. In nature. Every day (if I can). I’ve found it’s hard to walk ‘wrong’. When I walk I don’t have the constant narrative running through my head as I do when meditating. Am I walking the right way? Am I thinking too much about walking? Oh no, now I’m feeling sleepy! Will falling asleep ruin my practice? I’m such a novice. Perhaps I should go home and an app to talk me through each step. No need to compassionately observe my mind. I just walk with my dog, and think about whatever I want.
I read. My favourite part of the day is getting into bed with a good book. I consider losing myself for an hour in a novel the ultimate mindful attentive practice.
I get curious about my emotions. I recently gave up my 5pm red wine habit for FebFast. The first two weeks I struggled with cravings come late afternoon. Instead of fighting them, I tried to explore them as a good scientist should. What were the physical sensations involved? What was triggered the craving? Could I distract myself? Did the cravings come in waves that eventually subsided. Curiosity killed the cravings!
I nap. If I feel like it, I indulge my circadian rhythms and take a mid-afternoon nap when the urge strikes. I’m very good at it. It feels sooo good. And quite frankly, it’s hard to do it ‘wrong’. Plus we have plenty of evidence it smooths emotions, sparks creativity and improves your memory.
Michael Taft is an author, meditator, teacher, and neuroscience junkie. He currently teaches a secular-based approach to meditation that is scientifically-backed. He’s been meditating for over thirty years and has an extensive resume, including, regularly teaching at Google, and being an advisor to the Therapeutic Neuroscience Lab. You can learn more about Michael and his work at Deconstructing Yourself here, a true treasure trove of meditation wisdom.
In my experience the most common mistake people—especially those new to meditation—make in their practice is this: They believe that the goal is to stop their thinking. Very often when I begin to work with a new student, I will hear something like, “I’m not very good at meditation. I can’t clear my mind at all.”
Thus my typical first instruction to people is to drop that goal entirely. Mindfulness meditation is not about stopping your thinking. Thinking is part of what’s going on in the present moment, and mindfulness is all about contacting what’s going on in the present moment. It’s true that some other forms of meditation (mainly concentration practices) make it a goal to reduce the amount of internal dialog that is arising, but even in those cases it is considered to be somewhat more advanced.
In mindfulness, by contrast, you simply accept that the thoughts are arising and return your awareness to your meditation object, such as the body sensations associated with breathing. Trying to “stop thinking” is totally beside the point. Once people realize that they can let go of “clearing the mind” as a goal, they have a much easier time settling into a deep and productive mindfulness practice.
Suchanda is one of the biggest and most popular child, newborn, and maternity photographers in India. Her goal is to capture the most precious moments of life, so we can cherish these magical memories forever. Beyond her photography she’s an incredibly wise and compassionate human being (which you can see from her thoughtful response below). You can learn more about her work here.
The biggest mistake is when people hear the word ‘meditation’ they instantly assume it’s all about crossed legs, closed eyes, and sitting for hours. A difficult task.
Meditation is nothing but a state of being, of being in allowance, of being in surrender, of giving up control.
We are natural meditators. People just don’t know it.
We all have different ways of connecting to Source energy, of zoning out. For some it is simply going on a long drive, for some it is dancing, singing or listening to music, for some it is playing the violin, for some it is just relaxing in a rocking chair by the window. My husband, for example, feels most inspired when he sits under the shower with water washing all over him…There are no rules…it can be anything.
People assume it is wrong to have thoughts…that you need to empty your mind. In the process they end up having more thoughts than usual by simply trying to enforce it.
Meditation is not thoughtlessness. Thoughts can come and go like passing clouds. It is about seeing them float by, not latching on to them, not marinating in them. Then suddenly, they come less and less and it is a clear sky.
People normally think of meditation when they are on rocky road and as soon as things are okay they give up. The highs and the lows will come, since life is a journey and we have come to experience all of that. Meditation allows you access to the essential engine oil that helps you power through it all.
Liz Hansen is a meditation and yoga teacher based out of Queensland, Australia. The goal of her work is to bring the benefits of meditation and yoga to the lives of busy and stressed out people. Regardless of your lifestyle or background, these practices can transform your life. Learn more about Liz and her work here.
Once we decide to begin a regular meditation practice, and have chosen a time and place to establish the habit of meditating, the biggest obstacle to continuing is having an expectation that you will be ‘successful’ and immediately experience a shift of some kind .
Sometimes we expect that our thoughts will stop arising, but thoughts will always arise. We simply need to practice not being too easily distracted by the thoughts, but instead to come back to a single focus. For some that might be a mantra, or perhaps observing the breath.
Champion sports athletes don’t start out as champions, but instead keep practicing and practicing every day, even when they seem not to be making progress. It’s the same with meditation…keep practicing even when it seems as though you are not ‘very good’ at it.
Eventually, you will start to notice that you are less reactive, and more responsive when confronted with a stressful situation; and you will start to feel an improvement in your ability to focus. The change might be subtle, and others may notice it before you do.
Basically, the biggest mistake I see people making when they start, is to give up too soon. Every time you meditate, you are making progress, so don’t stop.
Justin Mazza runs the site Mazza Stick. The goal of his work is to accelerate conscious evolution and bring the most cutting edge personal development wisdom to those who dare to dive in. He draws on many different practices and sources of knowledge to deliver you practical insights. You can learn more about his work and personal mission here.
The biggest mistake people make when starting a meditation practice is believing that they will become meditation masters in just a few days or weeks.
It takes time; months perhaps, even years, to be able to become completely still inside and out.
The reward of meditation is the ability to be fully present in your entire body, instead of just in your head with the constant bombardment of mental noise.
Brahma Kumaris Australia is part of a worldwide spiritual movement dedicated to personal transformation and world renewal. Its commitment is to helping individuals cultivate of a deep collective consciousness of peace and an understanding the individual dignity of each soul. Below you’ll find an extensive breakdown of meditation problems provided by their staff. Learn more about the organization here.
Problem: One takes up meditation when feeling stressed or down and then when they start to feel good and things are going well they think they don’t need meditation any more so stop.
Solution: To know it is food and nourishment and daily strength for the soul – without it there is weakness and vulnerability the same as when we don’t feed the body each day.
Problem: Thinking I don’t have time.
Solution: There is meditation while you do things , like, walking, showering, eating, etc., and j-a-m (just-a-minute take one minute every hour to meditate).
Problem: Falling asleep or feeling drowsy
Solution: Sit in a position of alertness – e.g. with a straight back, not lying down, and even better with eyes open.
Problem: Chastising the self when one cannot concentrate and the mind is all over the place.
Solution: The mind needs praise and encouragement. Even to have sat for the meditation to maintain the routine is worthy of praising yourself and a pat on the back.
Problem: The mind goes to unresolved issues rather than focusing on meditating.
Solution: Give quality time to resolve issues. Some deep seated issues might need counselling and it’s worth it to put the mind at rest. Then meditation will happen. They should not think about unresolved issues during mediation. Some people think they will get a solution in meditation, not realising they need to transcend thinking about the situation in meditation.
Problem: Lack of concentration.
Solution: Use guided meditations and as one listens to the words repeat them under the breath (to give the mind something to do, which aids concentration). Keep three main things in mind – Listen, repeat the words under the breath, and feel (any of the words/concepts being spoken).
Solution: Use a variety of things – guided words, music, silence, or write your own words and record your own guided commentary and when you hear your own voice saying powerful things this can often work subliminally.
Problem: Inability to get a routine started. Inconsistency, or not realising the importance of a routine.
Solution: Affirmations at night before sleeping. Such as, I will wake up looking forward to my meditation. Have a powerful aim by writing down the reasons why you need and want to meditate and re-read it often as a reminder. Or, find a group or class that you feel comfortable with, so you are connecting with like-minded people and talking about it becomes normal.
Problem: Not meditating often enough – thinking that once a week is fine.
Solution: Meditation needs to be a regular daily routine, even 5 minutes each morning, and night, for beginners can bring big changes.
Problem: The expectation that a meditation experience will ‘happen to me’ and it should be deep and profound.
Solution: A meditation experience is not a foreign add-on to who I am. It is me being with myself and the contents of my own mind and enjoying it.
Problem: Meditation makes a person feel so alive and uplifted, that they get a bit out of balance with the rest of their life; responsibilities and requirements and being a functioning human.
Solution: Take it gently and sensibly.
Problem: A person just starting may feel they need less sleep.
Solution: Maybe they do, however (as with the previous point), all things in balance
Problem: Trying to focus too hard, getting a headache, and giving up.
Solution: Be gentle.
Problem: Thinking it will be mastered in one day, week, or month, and then getting dispirited when it may become a bit of a challenge.
Solution: Take it gently and don’t give up. Understand the subtle nature of the mind and meditation, and therefore lower unrealistic expectations.
Problem: A person may become more withdrawn as a meditator, if there is this tendency already.
Solution: It’s good to meditate with other people and enjoy the group atmosphere as well as solo meditations.
Problem: Completely forgetting about meditation if life becomes chaotic and therefore lessening its benefits in a time of need.
Solution: Maintain a routine, even if is a small amount.
We hope the post above will be a great tool in your meditation toolkit, and helped to answer any common questions you might have about your own meditation practice. Don’t let the length of the post be overwhelming.
Remember, the most important thing you can do to actually start meditating is to set aside time and do it. Set aside five minutes and dive in. And let the answers above help you overcome any hurdles or bumps in the path you might experience.
Image via: Joshua Earle
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