When you think about meditation, what comes to your mind?
Probably the image of a person sitting in a lotus position. Or at least a person sitting somewhere right?
That’s not completely wrong, but also not completely right.
Let me explain.
You confuse meditation with fantasizing
At least in the western world, meditation usually refers to a person sitting with their eyes closed.
But what are you doing while your eyes are closed?
Rene Descartes thought of meditation as thinking about something. When he wanted to solve a problem, he would meditate about it.
That’s not the kind of meditation I’m talking about.
Sometimes people visualize something when they refer to meditation. For example, they imagine being at a relaxing place, like a forest or a beach.
That’s also not what I’m talking about.
When I say meditation, I mean concentrating on something. It doesn’t matter if it’s your breath or an object in front of you. Or even a Mantra. There are different kinds of meditation.
But they all involve a deep level of concentration. And they are not passive; in fact they are very active processes.
So, if you want to know whether you are meditating properly, just make sure you concentrate as much as you can on the subject of your meditation.
You shouldn’t tense up though.
After you’re done with your meditation session, you should feel relaxed and full of energy.
If that isn’t the case, remember the beginning is not always pleasant.
But don’t worry.
If you stick to your practice, you will be rewarded with a deep sense of inner peace and a very relaxed and yet alert mind.
You think meditation is just sitting
But surely if you are sitting and you are concentrating on the object of your meditation, you are doing the real thing, right?
You are, but that’s not all.
Meditation isn’t confined to just sitting. If you’re just starting out, sitting with your eyes closed is a great idea.
Nothing can distract you. Well, your thoughts still can. Although I’m sure you’re already well aware of that 😉
But the truth is, pretty much any activity can be meditation.
Take Qi Gong or Tai Chi for example. If they use an activity as a meditation practice, it is often done with slower movement than usual. That makes it easier to concentrate fully on your body movement.
You don’t even need to do that though.
Let’s say you practice Kendo. That’s not a slow activity like Tai Chi. Quite the opposite. Not only do you have to be fast, you also need to fight against someone else.
And you can still be very alert while you do it. You have to be. Because if you’re not, you will most likely lose.
Do you think Bruce Lee was present while he fought his opponents?
Of course he was. He couldn’t have been a successful martial artist if he didn’t put all his attention in the present moment.
Any activity can be meditation as long as you fully concentrate on the activity.
Washing your dishes can be your meditation.
If you concentrate on the sensation of your hand when you pick up a plate or a cup. And on how it feels when the water touches your skin. Be as alert as possible for as long as possible.
Don’t stress yourself if you can only remain in this alert state for a short period.
That’s normal in the beginning.
Don’t give up!
You think it’s always pleasant
I recently read a study that claimed meditation can have a bad impact on you.
That surprised me.
Until now I only heard about the countless health benefits of meditation.
You are more relaxed and your self-awareness increases. Blood pressure decreases. It helps you to deal with anxiety.
What negative side effects could there be?
It turned out that some practitioners in this study had a very active mind. In fact, they had a constant stream of thoughts. Very negative thoughts unfortunately.
If you increase your level of awareness through regular meditation practice, you might experience a similar negative effect at first.
Maybe you will even feel how your body is getting more tense. This is a reaction to your negative thoughts.
Your negative thoughts will subside if you continue practicing regularly. Giving up before reaching this point would be a waste.
It’s like giving up jogging because your feet hurt after your first run.
Eventually, it will be fun and what took you great effort in the beginning will be effortless in the future.
You obsess over words
If you read different books or articles about meditation, you will probably be confused.
Why is that?
Because different teachers particularly spiritual teachers often use a different vocabulary for the same thing.
Depending on the cultural background of the teacher and their experience, you can end up with advice that sounds different at first, but means the same.
Here’s an example:
In Eckhart Tolles book “The Power of Now” he calls the state in which you are completely present “Being”. You could also call it “presence.” Or in case of the book “A Course in Miracles” you might refer to it as “God”.
Maybe you think it sucks that they use different words.
But that also means you can substitute a word you don’t like for a different one, without losing the context.
Lets they you are not religious. Then you probably won’t use the word “God.” If you still want to read “A Course in Miracles” you can just replace “God” with “Being”.
Don’t get hung up on words. Meditation is not an intellectual exercise.
Often you can find helpful advice in books of spiritual teachers, even if you don’t like their choice of words. It would be a waste not to read them with an open mind.
I didn’t count how often I thought a particular book was nonsense because it used some esoteric words. Most of these books turned out very helpful.
Although sometimes they contained a bunch of spiritual mumbo jumbo.
Don’t worry there’s an easy way to avoid those books. Just download my list of books that influenced me.
No nonsense included 😉
You try to stop your mind
I don’t even remember how often I encountered this myth.
It sounds very logical.
Meditation is about concentrating on something. And when you fully concentrate on something, you don’t think about anything.
But here’s what’s wrong with this approach: Your thoughts aren’t your enemy. Compulsive thoughts are.
Your thoughts can be very useful. But only if you are using your thoughts and your thoughts aren’t using you.
If you want to solve a math equation, you need to think about it. That’s perfectly normal.
But what if while you’re solving this equation your thoughts suddenly change to something like this: “I can’t do this. I suck at math. Why am I even trying? I’m a loser.” Then this thought pattern won’t help you at all.
In fact, it will ensure that you will underperform. Because you don’t focus your mind on the problem, you are trying to solve.
Instead, you waste precious energy because you have to fight a battle with yourself.
If you fight with yourself often, you will have low energy. Maybe you even get a burnout. That’s common these days.
Or even worse you can get a depression and sabotage yourself for a long time.
As you progress with your meditation practice, those sabotaging thoughts will occur less and less.
Eventually they will stop entirely.
But until that happens, you can interrupt them as soon as you notice those negative thought patterns.
Watching them without judging them might be too difficult at the moment. Especially if this occurs when you have little time. Like during an exam.
You measure progress wrong
What do you think is the best way to measure your success in your meditation practice?
Maybe you think it’s the length of your meditation session. The longer you can meditate the better, right?
Or if you can stop your mind completely. Oh wait, we already busted that myth.
There’s a better way to measure it though. It’s a way that is both easy to measure and hard to improve.
A way so simple that most people completely forget about it.
To determine your progress, ask yourself the following questions: How often do I lose awareness of my life situation?
Here’s an example: You are talking with someone at work.
Are you aware of your own breath while you are talking? Can you genuinely listen to the other person or is your attention alternating between the words of the other person and your own thoughts? Do you argue a lot with your friends and family?
If your awareness is mostly confined to your sitting meditation practice, then you have only progressed a little.
Being present in your sitting practice is the easiest part. The difficult part is being fully present in your day-to-day activities.
Depending on how far you progressed already, just reading about this might make you more present in your daily life.
You think meditation is only for reducing stress
That’s why most people meditate, isn’t it?
Because they are stressed and they need to relax.
And they’re not wrong. Meditation is a good way to relax. But there is more to meditation than just relaxation. If you are present in your daily life, most of that stress you are trying to get rid of won’t appear in the first place.
In my experience, this is a very underestimated side effect of meditation.
Often people don’t even realize that they can transfer their awareness into their daily lives.
An example: A person practices yoga. As time goes on, the person notices how much yoga relaxes her. She feels tranquil and her body posture is beautiful.
While she does her body postures her breathing slows down, and she watches her breath with great awareness.
She finishes her yoga practice and gets home. Her husband awaits her. He had a bad day. His boss blamed him for something he didn’t do. He is grumpy and complains a lot.
Slowly she loses the tranquility she had gained earlier. She is now also in a bad mood. Anger replaced tranquility. They start an argument.
“Why are you like this? I only want to help you!” she says. “You’re on to talk. Don’t you know how difficult my life is?” he replies. They scream at each other.
And all the awareness and graceful posture is gone. Her awareness is now as low as his.
This happens a lot. Every day in many homes.
Don’t let it happen to you.
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