“I SHOULD be meditating,” Lauren announced after we discussed ways to relieve stress in her chaotic life.
That comment sounded very familiar. Meditation, for many of us, seems like a lofty, health-positive, mental health-positive goal, but one generally relegated to the “someday” list—that is, “Maybe I’ll try it on Monday…or the Monday after that.” If this is your scenario, you’re in good company!
But what if you really have been seeking to finally forge a path through stress and overwhelm? Then finding a way to start meditating may be as easy—no, easier—than brushing your teeth.
As you’ve most likely heard from various sources, meditation is hailed as one of the best tools available to promote inner peace and calm, and boost overall health. The benefits of a few minutes of mindfulness are clear: Research shows that it helps increase self-awareness, lowers stress, and improves concentration. Meditation also has been shown to decrease anxiety and depression while revving up productivity and supporting mental focus. Just check out the many studies that are easily available.
But knowing and doing are two separate processes. Is meditation something that’s in your self-care arsenal already? If not, why not?
As for Lauren, once we debunked some of the common myths and objections, even she agreed to give it a try. (I’ll tell you what happened shortly.) I’m betting some of these false ideas Lauren had are familiar to yours, too. Let’s take a closer look at these meditation myths and the actual truths they mask. We just might discover how you—yes, YOU—can get started on your very own meditation practice!
Myth #1: It takes too much time. I’m busy!
Of course, that’s the most popular objection/excuse. Many of us barely have enough time to get out the door in the morning, let alone extra minutes during a chock-full, action-packed day.
Fact: Meditation can take very little time.
Do you have 5 minutes in the morning? Do you have 2 minutes in between meetings and phone calls? If this is all you can manage, that’s just fine. It all counts big-time. Sometimes meditating first thing in the morning is best —for example, when you open your eyes and sit up in bed, or right after you brush your teeth)—so it becomes a routine. Meditating is easier when it’s linked to another activity you perform regularly. Don’t be surprised if 5 minutes soon becomes 10.
Myth #2: I can’t turn off my mind chatter.
I often hear that people believe the goal of meditation is to have a blank mind and turn off all thoughts. Really? Honestly, I don’t think that’s possible, even for the holiest of monks. Being unable to focus on one thing or clear your mind doesn’t make you an unsuccessful meditator. On the contrary, we can discount any such conclusion.
Fact: There’s no such thing as failure.
You get to be you during your meditation, and everyone’s a winner. There are no specific “thinking” requirements and no “bad” meditations. Don’t expect to stop thinking or maintain a blank mind, or attain a perfectly peaceful state of nirvana. In fact, every session will prove to be different because your mind is very different from moment to moment. With practice, you might be able to achieve a deeper state of relaxation, but even for you A-types, no achievement or competition is necessary. Now that’s a relief! Just focus on your breathing or a word or phrase (a mantra), and when your mind wanders, gently bring it back, and voila, you’re meditating!
Myth #3: I can’t sit still for more than a minute.
Sure, sitting still sounds daunting, especially when life is swirling around you. But you can certainly find ways to get through the distractions of busy-ness.
Fact: Your meditation will go more quickly than you think.
Try this: Set a timer for two minutes and find a comfortable place to sit with your back upright. Simply relax and observe your breathing, in and out. That’s a fine start! If your meditation is over before you thought, maybe next time you can manage three minutes instead. And, for those of you who need to be constantly on the run (or if your mind is running even when your feet are not!), a guided meditation that’s recorded for you may do just the trick—you can listen from one of many apps on your smartphone. We’ve got you covered.
Myth #4: It won’t make a difference.
You’re expecting instant peace and gratification, perhaps? You might be asking, “How could sitting quietly for a few minutes have such an effect? Is it worth the effort? And if I’m stressed just about getting started, will I ever get to ‘that calm place’ that people talk about?”
Fact: That’s why we call it a “practice.”
Some people experience a new feeling of comfort with their thoughts and emotions quickly, but for many more, progress is subtle and gradual. Individual variations are totally normal and expected. I actually found observing my thoughts and emotions with a new sense of self-awareness interesting. As I continued, I noticed over time that I began to change my relationship to my thoughts and feelings, regardless of how compelling those thoughts and feelings seemed in the moment I experienced them. This simple insight was transformative and allowed me to let go of stressful thoughts more easily and more quickly—and I noticed they no longer held so much power. Just a few minutes a day produced rather life-changing results.
Myth #5: I’ll have to deal with disturbing thoughts.
Maybe you’ve had challenges, problems, and traumas in your past that you’d rather not revisit. Some past events are certainly more extensive and upsetting than others, and the idea of reviewing old, unpleasant experiences is not particularly inviting. The past is the past and you’re just trying to forget it all.
Fact: My favorite expression is “Let’s be curious and see what comes up.”
What you fear may never come to pass, but actually simply being aware of that fear can prove stressful. Facing negative emotions may not seem inviting, but remember that meditation is a practice that helps you to develop self-compassion and a new objectivity about the past. Past events don’t need to define you any longer, and the peace from making the choice to think about it another time and to return your wandering thoughts to your breath or mantra can be empowering. Your goal is to learn about yourself and what makes you tick, not participate in a heavy therapy session—though you might discover some peaceful, compassionate solutions to your emotional imbalance along the way.
I hope you’re beginning to see why meditation can be so valuable. Plus, it’s totally free of charge, and it basically can be done anywhere and for any length of time. As Lauren realized, there weren’t many options for self-awareness, compassion, and peace available that were as flexible and totally within her control. In about a month, I could see in Lauren’s progress the results of a daily meditation practice, which now was becoming more of a routine than a once-in-a-while event. Lauren is also vocal about how calm she has been feeling—even during family upheaval. Bravo, Lauren!