The first mistake I made with meditation was believing that I didn’t need meditation.
I was living the life of a normal citizen, chasing the American dream. I had deployments and monthly training with the Army National Guard. I had a full time job. I was a full time student. I had a rigorous workout routine, and maintained a social life.
I learned that the problem with continual goals was that I was rushing from one thing to another, never fully present through any of it. My brain would only rest after wrestling my mind to slow down before sleeping, and then I would eventually pass out from physical and mental exhaustion. This was my normal (as it is with many people): to cram the day with as many things as possible. Not to mention my personality was becoming infused with rigidness, aggressiveness, and competitiveness.
When I was first seeking meditation, I was unaware that it can be anything that reduces the amount of cyclical mind chatter. I initially thought it was only sitting cross-legged peacefully, on the floor in silence, and hopefully reaching some sort of enlightened state of nirvana—or something like that. With this understanding, I did just that; I sat on the floor in silence. I felt uncomfortable trying to sit still with no outer stimulants like music, phone, TV, or conversation.
It was a chore. My body was restless, moving and readjusting every few seconds. My brain was tirelessly computing the endless stream of random thoughts. My mind was throwing a temper tantrum, convincing myself I was a victim, and I didn’t deserve this punishment.
Then another voice would say, “See, you are thinking, shame! I am supposed to be at peace! I am supposed to be calm and without thoughts, so then why I am still thinking? Ok, try not to think. Focus on the breath. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. My back hurts; I should get a massage. Ah, I am thinking again. How did I lose focus after two breaths. Clearly I am not good at this. Why can’t I just learn how to sit here peacefully?!”
Making a mistake in meditation; is there such a thing?
Of course when you start a meditation for the first time, a bunch of questions are running through your mind. Am I doing this right? Am I supposed to be experiencing something else? At least they did for me, and I believe these are normal questions when we start anything new. As I started learning more about meditation and the different kinds, my confidence quickly grew as I learned there is no wrong way to meditate.
If we are just talking about the type of meditation, I have found “there is no wrong way” to be true. However, when we start discussing awareness in each meditation practice, this is where we can be making a mistake that can send us in a frustrating cycle in our meditation routine.
I have journeyed into meditation through various readings, books, gatherings, drop in classes, and Yoga Teacher Training in India, and, also, a Buddhist, 10 day Vipassana (silent meditation) retreat in Nepal to develop my own practice. After cultivating the knowledge that was passed on to me, I have narrowed down some common mistakes I have found that people often make.
Mistake #1: Believing that I don’t need meditation.
We play out and enact different roles every day depending on how we view our sense of self. This is usually the part of us that gives us the feeling of belonging, being involved in something, and our sense of importance. Some might call this the ego, and it does not want less stage time. The ego is the star of the show in most of our day; it will justify to no end why we are not someone who could benefit from this.
Tip: Whether it is starting a meditation practice, or anything else, start it as a challenge. In this case, for one month take a meditation challenge and commit to sitting for a few minutes everyday. After the 30 days are up, decide if it is an asset in your life or not. Taking on this approach has helped me discover so many wonderful things. Most of the things I have adopted into my way of living, and others I just gently let go and felt grateful to have learned something new.
Mistake #2: You don’t have time.
Meaning, you have intellectually come to terms that meditation would be beneficial in your life, but you have not created the space in your schedule to explore it. We always have time; it’s up to each of us to prioritize it. Meditation can help to create discipline with other healthy habits as well.
Tip: Meditation is best practiced at the same time and place every day. Start with a goal of two minutes, and gradually increase the time each day, or week, if you choose. Two minutes is still a very beneficial beginning.
Mistake #3: Trying to quiet the mind.
When we tell the mind to be quiet, we are essentially giving the brain a task. When the brain has been assigned a task, it is actively working, and never truly able to rest. So then you may ask, “If I am not trying to quiet the mind, then what am I doing?” The answer: Being. Just being right there in that moment and accepting it for what it is.
Tip: Do not get upset at yourself when you discover that you have been off somewhere else. Develop compassion for yourself during this process, and this also helps us to also have compassion for others.
Mistake #4: Making judgements between good and bad.
When we try to compare one thought over another, we are analyzing. Not only is that creating more brain work, but we are also making judgments as if one thought is “better” than another. All thoughts are equal, and there is no qualitative difference between them. A thought is a thought. It is only our conceptual mind that creates judgments—which then creates attachment to what we have classified as good or bad.
Tip: Bring awareness to whether you are wanting more of a certain thought, or pushing away certain other thoughts. We shouldn’t be trying to do either. Allow them to flow with equanimity and without judgment. With this understanding alone, we can gain a level of peace even when thoughts are flowing.
Mistake #5: Misconception of the real self.
When I lead meditation, I always start with teaching the understanding of the mind-body problem, or philosophically, “Who are you?” The problem is that we are always identifying with our thoughts, as “I” am the one who is thinking the thoughts which lead “me” to have emotions and “me” to do the action. So, all day long our mind is thinking thoughts, creating emotions, and our body is reacting and following along.
The solution to this problem is first understanding that “I” am not my mind, and “I” am not my body. The mind and body are tools that we can use to facilitate our journey and our experiences, but they do not define us exclusively. This is how one can feel as if they are on auto-pilot. There is someone else steering the ship.
Through my own practice I have come to believe that the key to a successful, healthy meditation practice, whichever style is chosen, is to practice this concept: I am not my mind; I am not my body.
When the thoughts do come—and they do—this allows us to understand that we are just observers of these thoughts. We take a back seat to what our mind is doing, what thoughts are coming, and what direction they take us. Then, when we have that moment when we become aware that we are thinking, gently let the thought go with no attachment. Letting go allows us to practice creating space between our thoughts.
When we practice this in our meditation, this is also preparing us for our day. We’re bringing awareness to our thoughts and how those thoughts affect our reality. Again, the thought leads to the feeling, and then a reaction follows that feeling. Creating space allows the small gap of reflection time to challenge the rising thought, becoming aware of the small details of an activity, and the totality of the situation. It’s like when someone brings an issue or drama to you, and they are trying to pull you into it. Taking at least a few conscious breaths before we respond to the situation is a good start. We’re allowing initial thoughts to come and pass, which allows us to respond more appropriately instead of reacting.
The essence of who we are can decide what thoughts will serve us and which ones will not. We can create balance and align to the best versions of ourselves every day. We can manifest our realities.
This is very empowering!
Author: Samantha Scott
Editor: Travis May