There is an old zen adage that says, “You should sit in mediation every day for twenty minutes, unless you're too busy—then you should sit for an hour.” But, what happens if we think we're not cut out for mediation or that we're no good at it?
I’m not actually surprised anymore when people tell me that they can’t meditate, or that they cant stop their thoughts long enough to meditate, or that they sat down for five minutes to meditate and it just didn't work. I remember feeling the same way when I first started my meditation practice. Mediation is not easy to come by, but it is available for everyone.
Below are undoubtedly two of the most common myths about meditation. Myths that I can hopefully help dispel so that inner peace is accessible to everyone—even those who think meditation is not for them.
There isn't one person who begins a meditation practice that did not have that same thought at least once. In fact, I thought that at first too.
Meditation (dhyana) and Samadhi, (which Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describes as a superconscious state) comes with practice. Lots and lots of practice. Sadly, a majority of the people I have talked to think that they can sit down for five minutes and if they aren't in complete bliss right away then they aren't doing it right, or they aren't capable of meditating.
This kind of thinking seems to be the norm but it’s really a shame. It takes practice to be effortless. It has been said that it can take a minimum of 18 minutes for most people to drop into that space where the whirling mind-stuff starts to subside. Thoughts will come into your head even if you're really good at meditation. It’s a fact, Jack.
How to overcome this myth: Start with the intention to relax. Find a comfortable position either sitting on the floor, if you can sit comfortably without fidgeting for an extended period of time, or in a chair. There really is no right way to do it but I don't suggest lying down when first starting a meditation practice because it is too easy to fall asleep or space out.
Then, bring the attention inward, to the breath. For the first few cycles of breath, just notice it. Don't try to change it and don't judge it. Just observe it. After you've dropped into your breath, count in for five on the inhale and out for five on the exhale. Allow the inhalation to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Allow the exhalation to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Slowly lengthen the breath until the inhale is for eight and the exhale is for eight.
I’m not going to lie, stopping the thoughts is not easy. It feels like it shouldn't be that hard to get overwhelmed by the energy of these thoughts. But, it’s a process. It takes time to be able to stop the thoughts—and a lot of practice. Like, a lot. Distracting thoughts are normal for almost everyone. I promise, you're not alone in that. We are riddled with projections and preconceptions that the perfect meditation is out there, but just not available to us. That just isn't so.
How to overcome this myth: Allow the thoughts to arise and meet them without judgment. Just notice when they come in, acknowledge that the thought is there, and then let it go. Be the “seer” or the watcher of the thoughts. When we let the thoughts become what is being seen we automatically have control of the mind. I like to picture my thoughts floating away on a cloud. Every time a thought comes in, receive it, allow it to float away on a cloud, and then return to your breath.
Which brings me back to the breath. Using the breath is a fantastic way to drop in to the body and tune out the rest of the world. Hatha Yoga Pradipika says, "When the breath is steady or unsteady, so is the mind."
I like to find a quiet little space, sit comfortably and turn my attention inward to my breath. I count my breaths backwards from ten to zero. This is my time to settle in to the practice of watching my thoughts float away until it feels effortless. Sometimes I use a mantra, other times I use a pranavayu. But, I always use the breath to help me tune in.
It’s a misconception that mediation is easy. Truth be told, it isn't. It is hard to take time out of the day to sit and focus on the breath. Mediation is a practice, but with enough practice it does get easier. If we can start with the intention to relax, that’s half the battle! The more still we become, the more we become the watcher of our thoughts, and the more we can allow creativity and clear thinking to arise. Stilling the mind chatter and thoughts is a practice, and the clarity that we get from mediation is worth the practice.
Photo by Jake Laub