Understanding These 6 Misconceptions About How to Meditate Will Take the Pressure Off
“I could never” is something I hear people say all the time about meditation. “I could never sit still for that long,” or “I could never stop thinking for more than a minute.” That’s something for gurus and Gwyneth Paltrow, they say. An acquaintance once told me, “I knew someone who’d been meditating for so long, he could do it while he was driving.” She was in awe! But the truth is, that could really be any of us.
I’ve been meditating regularly since 2015 and meditation, put simply, is tapping into your awareness of the present moment. That’s it. Simple, yet difficult, as my meditation practice leader would say. Yet, misconceptions about how to meditate are plentiful—including that one about how it takes a very practiced meditator to be able to do it while driving. The truth is, it doesn’t take a good attention span or a quiet mind to meditate. Anyone can do it, anywhere, while they’re doing anything. So here I’d like to address some of the most common myths and misconceptions about meditation to show you that, yes, you can do it too—even while driving.
This is just one way to meditate.
Myth #1: You need to be in a quiet room with your eyes closed
Sitting lotus-style with eyes gently closed is the stereotypical picture of a well-practiced meditator, but many people (including long-time meditators) find it difficult to meditate that way. If that is you, try something new. Sit in a chair, or lie on your back and gaze at the ceiling. Try it standing up. See what works for you. The position itself isn’t really what matters; the important thing is simply to be relaxed and comfortable.
Myth #2: You must clear your mind of all thought
Part of staying aware of the present moment is noticing where your thoughts go. To clear your mind of all thoughts is near impossible; what is possible though is to observe your thoughts without getting caught up or lost in them. This practice is called “thought meditation,” where you observe your thoughts as they come and go, and it’s one my meditation group uses.
My instructor compares the flow of thoughts to a river. If you’re in the river, you’re lost in the current, and it’s impossible to observe its flow. But it is possible to climb out of the river, sit on the shore, and watch your thoughts as they go by. So what do you do if you fall in and get distracted by your thoughts? Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, as soon as you become aware of it, acknowledge it and bring yourself back to the present moment. That is meditation.
Myth #3: You have to be completely still
I need a lot of support for my meditation—and by that I mean something to keep me grounded in the present moment. I do not do well with sitting still, so my favorite method is walking meditation. When I walk, there is so much meditation support: the feel of the ground beneath my feet, the sights I see as I walk by, how the air feels on my face.
You can meditate while doing virtually anything. This is why so many beginning meditators find meditating while driving so appealing—they can use their thoughts, the passing scenery, the feel of their feet on the pedals all as support for their meditation.
This dog = #meditationgoals
Myth #4: You’ll figure out a way to do it “right” every time
Every time you sit down (or get up to walk) and meditate, your experience will be different. One day, you’ll drop right into the moment, and feel an expansive sense of space and time. Others you’ll feel completely closed off and have to fight to even feel the floor beneath you.
Instead, it’s best to approach each session just being open to whatever happens. So the next time you have difficulty staying present and find yourself drawn to your to-do list remember that that’s okay. This is a case where the cliche “it is what it is” is absolutely true. Let go of your preconceived notions and think about meditation as the way a dog sees the world: without judgment, just fully accepting of the present moment.
Myth #5: There is only one “right” way to meditate
The only guideline to how to meditate properly is that you need to stay aware of the present moment. It doesn’t matter how long you sit in a session or where that session happens, just as long as you do it.
“Short times, many times,” is a common mantra I hear in my meditation community. I’ve sat in 90-minute long sessions, which for me is definitely a challenge. For me, it’s more effective to meditate for 30 seconds, maybe 5 minutes here and there throughout my day. I like to integrate it into my everyday life. I’ve learned you can use just about anything that’s happening in the present moment as a support for your meditation.
One method I like is talking meditation. During a conversation, there’s lots to keep me grounded in the present moment: my thoughts, the sound of the other person’s voice, my impulse to respond or simply listen, the feel of my own voice as I speak.
He has no idea that she’s meditating right now.
Myth #6: Once you master it, you will always be chill
While meditation is something you’ll get better at the more you do it, it doesn’t mean you’ll forever be at constant peace. Even the monks that wander the hills of Tibet have trouble staying present. Meditation can’t prevent you from ever feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed; it’s not a fix or a cure. It’s a tool to help you calm your mind, keep you aware, and to alleviate those normal emotions when they occur.