When I started to meditate, I had this image of a person with eyes closed, crossed legs, having a serene smile while achieving a state of peacefulness. I thought I had to empty my mind to accomplish this serenity that I was longing for. When nothing of this happened, I started to judge myself as a "bad meditator". Fortunately, I read about mindfulness meditation and practiced with mentors who helped me demystify all those previous beliefs. I hope I can offer here the same, that you can have a much more relaxed and truthful feeling of what meditation is all about.
1. “A successful meditation practice is when I completely eliminate all the thoughts”.
Truth: The focus of meditation isn't about stopping our thoughts or empty our minds. We are all human beings with valuable and incredible cognitive capabilities. If you identify yourself with a "busy mind", I welcome you to the club! You're a normal person.
While it's not really possible to stop our minds and thoughts, we can train and decide how much attention we can give them. When we practice meditation, we learn precisely that: to train our mind to recognize one thought and come back to the focus of attention, such as our breath or an image. In the meditation practice, we explore the "gap" between our thoughts. We can identify one thought and gently, without judgment, coming back to our focus of attention and then starting again. Again, and again and again.
Meditating regularly helps us, over time, to spend more and more time in this state of awareness, between our thoughts. Additionally, it teaches us to recognize the type of thoughts we have. In the case of ruminating thoughts and inner critic voices, it's quite helpful as it brings us to the consciousness of what is happening. We can then decide to continue to "hear" our mind or go in a different direction.
Please, be conscious that you may feel you have been thinking all the time at the end of the meditation, and perhaps frustration arises. I experienced exactly that, especially when I started to meditate. I felt that I was doing something wrong, and my meditation would be considered not successful. The key is to exercise gentleness and kindness towards oneself and acknowledge that a flow of thoughts or a "busy mind" is normal and happens to each one of us.
There's no right or wrong when we meditate. The fact that we can recognize our "busy mind" it's a breakthrough. We can say to ourselves: "Oh, a thought about planning!" or "There's a thought!", shifting us from being involved in the process of thinking to witness what is going on. It lifts us to a higher level of consciousness.
I invite you to celebrate the growth in awareness each time you identify one thought and come back to your anchor, as there's no need to be judgmental.
2. “I don’t have enough time to meditate”.
Truth: We don’t have to spend hours meditating when we have a full agenda. We can adapt our practice to our schedule in a realistic way. Maybe 10 minutes a day is what you can do, or it can be even less. Commitment is vital as it’s more beneficial to practice regularly for a short period of time than to do it occasionally for a more extended period of time.
3. “It’s all about sitting still and quiet with my eyes closed”.
Truth: There are a lot of ways to practice meditation and different postures to explore. Your eyes can be closed, or you can lower their gaze. You can sit in a chair or a cushion; you can sit in a cross-legged posture. The important thing is to listen and respect your body while choosing a comfortable posture. You can do sit, stand, or walking meditation, or even practicing it while lying down. Independently of the posture you chose, find your own sense of balance between relaxation and alertness. As a favorite teacher of mine, Jack Kornfield, says: “meditation is a practice of ‘falling awake’, rather than ‘falling asleep'.”
4. "Meditation’s goal is to feel calm and peaceful afterward."
Truth: If you expect that meditation is all about feeling calm and peaceful, you will probably be going to judge yourself when these states of tranquility don’t come. You are more likely to be frustrated and think, “I’m not doing this right”. The struggle coming out of this situation can make you feel miserable or give up meditating.
States related to inner peace and quietness can come. Other states, such as feeling restlessness or boredom, can as well occur. Embrace with gentleness and curiosity the state you are feeling right now, without the need of fixing, resisting, or controlling.
The meditation practice is not about performance and achieving a particular outcome or state, though you can experience several benefits from it.
Meditation is about the process itself. Meditation is about training the mind to focus our attention in a deliberate way.
During meditation, we have an anchor where we focus our attention, such as the breath. When a thought comes, we acknowledge and witness the thought, and with kindness, we return to our anchor, the breath—focusing on how is our natural breath. When another thought comes, the process starts again. And it’s perfectly normal. The importance here is offering ourselves kindness while we go from one thought to our breath. The invitation is as well to explore how we relate to the experience itself.
As we let go of expectations while observing what is happening, we struggle less and less. There’s an acceptance without judgment or resistance to our entire experience. We see the whole picture with clarity, and that can give us freedom.
5. "Meditation is a spiritual or religious practice."
Truth: While it's not really possible to stop our minds and thoughts, we can train and decide how much attention we can give them. When we practice meditation, we learn precisely that: to train our mind to recognize one thought and come back to the focus of attention, such as our breath or an image. In the meditation practice, we explore the "gap" between our thoughts. We can identify one thought and gently, without judgment, coming back to our focus of attention and then starting again. Again, and again and again... like going to the gym to train our muscles as more as we practice as more as we can learn how to handle our internal world skillfully, finding ease in the flow of life.