There are a lot of misconceptions about meditation and mindfulness and these ideas about what it is or isn't might be holding you back from trying something that could be benefitical to you. So I decided to write my Top 5 Myths of Meditation and Mindfulness to debunk some of these misunderstandings!
Meditation is a religious thing
This is a common misconception that really couldn’t be farther from the truth. It is true, however, that there are many types of meditation that are rooted in eastern philosophies and/or religions but the idea that you have to adhere to any particular religion or give up your current religion to meditate is a total fallacy. Meditation is basically, sitting and breathing. Full stop. You can be a practicing Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or believe in the flying purple people eater and practice meditation without dogma or any sort of belief in anything attached to it.
Some people I have met have shied away from meditation because they believe that it means they are worshipping some other deity or that it is going to allow some sort of false idol hood worship sneak into their mind, but it really, in itself, it is just sitting down and trying to quiet your mind by stilling your movement and focusing on the sensation of breath (for example) for a length of time. There are people who pair this practice with the spiritual philosophy of their choice and while much of the "modern" meditation instruction out there today has it’s origin in eastern philosophy, we can also look to our more western traditions to see that monks and ascetics exist in all different belief systems and in most religious texts do we find examples of people who sequestered themselves in quiet and solitude in order to find inner peace. Basically, in summary, you don’t have to believe in anything to sit down and shut up for a second. If you want to meditate on an image of the God of your choice, this is also up to you!
2. Meditation and mindfulness takes too much time!
Nope! Another idea some people have about meditation is that there is no way they can fit it into their daily schedule because they have kids and plans and obligations and there is just no way they can take 30 minutes out of their schedule to just sit. Dishes need to be washed, kids need to be bathed and they just can’t fit it in! Perhaps you don’t have the time in your day to sit for 30 minutes or even 5 minutes without being harassed or someone wanting something from you. But mindfulness and small moments of meditation can be integrated into your day-to-day life in more subtle ways than sitting on a cushion.
When you wash the dishes, try to focus on just doing that, to focus on the sensory experience of doing the dishes, the feel of the water, and the task that you are doing right now, without thinking about what you have to do next or tomorrow. If you can do this, even for a second, you are practicing mindfulness. Various traditions incorporate walking meditation into daily practice and by focusing on being present in your body as you feel the feel of the pavement beneath your feet with each step you are practicing mindfulness. The point is, small moments of meditation can be brought into your daily life no matter how much time you have, and it’s not all about sitting on a cushion staring at a wall. Often we fill up the little bit of spare time we have with watching TV or playing on our tablets or phone, but some of this time could be used for meditating! It is really about what is a priority for you.
3. If I meditate or practice mindfulness, it’s going to make me all spaced out and dreamy!
On the contrary, mindfulness is actually about being connected to the present moment and being present in your body rather than shying away from and avoiding your current experience. If you feel shitty, that’s cool, but notice the feelings you are having rather than flying on autopilot, letting your emotions do the driving.Ask yourself questions like: “What am I feeling right now and what part of me is feeling it?”Notice too, how these emotions change and morph as you observe them and also learn to sit with those feelings rather than try to get rid of them.
It is our natural instinct as humans to try to get rid of shitty feelings as soon as we feel them! What happens if you just tell yourself “Okay, I’m going to feel shitty for a bit, and then it’s going to pass and I’ll feel better for a bit.” When we recognize the transience of our feelings, we realize we don’t need to have so many opinions about those feelings. By being present in our bodies and staying with our emotions we become more connected to ourselves and the world around us, not spaced out and dreamy.
4. Mindfulness and Meditation is just for hippies and flakes!
Nope again! In fact, more and more businesses are incorporating mindfulness training and meditation into their offices, and they are recognizing the benefit to their employees in areas from stress relief to conflict resolution.Many mindfulness and meditation practitioners have written books on incorporating mindfulness into work and western science has now proven that meditation lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and can even help with sleep problems. See the links below for some books that recommend how to do this. People of all walks of life are practicing meditation and it has nothing to do with social class or what job you work at or anything like that.
5. Meditation is too hard and I can’t do it!
A lot of people give up on meditation without really giving it a chance because they tried to sit down on a cushion and sit still for a few minutes and their minds went berserk, running all over the place, with a million thoughts.And so they tell themselves, “This isn’t working, I can’t calm my mind and I can’t stop thinking”.Meditation isn’t about stopping thinking and making a blank space in your mind where there are no thoughts.There are people who have been meditating for years and they still have thoughts that arise that they can’t control.Meditation isn’t about self-judgment and self-criticism and berating yourself if you don’t get it right because there is no “right”.
One technique that teacher Pema Chodron recommends is, to when you notice that thoughts are arising in your mind, just to label them as “thinking” rather than to judge yourself for having them.When we label our thoughts as “Okay, I’m thinking right now, I am going to let that go and go back to my breath”, we can just let go of all these expectations of “getting it right” and just recognize that there is benefit in just sitting and breathing and that thoughts are all part of it! You can look at them without judgment and, here is the best part: notice that you have two voices in your head, the one that is having all these crazy thoughts and the one who is observing you having all these thoughts.
Once you realize this, you see that sometimes this voice in your head can’t necessarily be trusted, isn’t always thinking logically and doesn’t always have to be taken seriously.And all of this, from just sitting and breathing! Oh and did I mention, you never “get it” or get “perfect” at it! I think that’s why it’s called a “practice”.
Check out my links below with some of my favourite resources and let me know, how has mindfulness or meditation helped you?