Often when people begin their meditation journey it’s loaded with a lifetime-sized bag full of expectations. The most common trip-up to cultivating a regular practice is when people feel like they should be doing it differently. Or, well, better.
If you’ve attempted to meditate and tried to ‘still your mind’ with little to no success, it might be because you were falling prey to one of the 5 most common meditation saboteurs …
# 1 Your mind wanders and you think it shouldn’t
Sharon Salzberg has been practising and teaching meditation for over 45 years and her podcast Metta Hour provides weekly insights about meditation from a Buddhist perspective. She says meditation is “not about trying to wipe your head of thoughts, it’s about developing a different relationship to [them] so they’re not so haunting or pressured.” What that means is, the fact that many of us believe we shouldn’t have any thoughts when we’re meditating just isn’t true. We all come to meditation with a busy mind; it’s usually what leads us there. Learning how to deal with that is key.
Paul Bedson, Meditation Trainer at the Gawler Foundation, VIC, says this: “The nature of the thinking mind is that it is always active. Don’t try to stop it, [that’s] impossible.” A more useful solution is to “step back from your thoughts, accept them and just observe them,” he adds. “Accept the busy mind, watch the thoughts but also watch your feelings, your breathing and your body sensations. This just takes a little practice.” Overall, his advice for a busy mind that ‘cannot’ meditate? “Be patient.”
# 2 You think it ends when you get off the cushion
There are many forms of meditation, and mindfulness is one of them. Just as with most other practice styles, there is a suggestion that spending time sitting in stillness is of great value. But any experienced meditator will tell you, it’s really working when you can bring your practice into your everyday life.
One way of doing that is to be fully present and focused. Such as when you’re washing the dishes, says Samantha Corrie, a Sydney-based Shamanic Healer who has been facilitating Sacred Circle meditations for over 20 years. “[Meditation] is more than the breath. It is the space beyond the heartbeat, the silence in the room,” she says.
“When we get stuck on one part of the process we criticise ourselves and think less of ourselves. When we are allowed to get into meditation via other means, then we can open our hearts and minds to more.” She adds, “Meditation is more than sitting in a particular position … daily tasks, if done with an awareness of gratitude and openness [can be] in and of itself a meditation.”
#3 You think you have to be sitting upright with a straight spine
The Buddha taught us that you can sit, stand or lie down to meditate, and yet we have this idea that we must be sitting upright, in the lotus position with a pin-straight spine. “Posture in meditation is important,” says Andy Amos, co-founder of This Moment. “When you sit with your spine in alignment it provides a clear passage for your breath and energy to flow. And there is less strain on the body.”
However, Amos suggests that sitting that way isn’t always possible, and that comfort can sometimes take priority. “Choosing the best posture for you may mean sitting in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, it may mean needing to lie down. If you are more flexible, sitting cross-legged on the floor or on some sort of sitting cushion may be possible.” Amos’ advice? “It may take some time to develop the ability to sit unsupported with your spine fully aligned. Just do your best each time. Be patient with this.”
#4 You’re doing it at the wrong time
The ancient Ayurvedic tradition teaches us that Brahma Muhurtha – precisely 96 minutes before sunrise – is the most auspicious time of day to meditate. It’s true that there is a stillness at this time of day that makes meditation feel more congruent. But getting up pre-dawn isn’t for everyone.
Amos suggests “any time you can schedule in to stop, you will benefit. To begin with, it's all about making it fit into your current lifestyle. That gives you a better chance to integrate it.” Corrie doesn’t advocate a specific time to her students either, but she does recognise that “Dawn and dusk are the Magic Hours. The times when the veils between the two worlds (the world of spirit and the world of man) are thin. It is the time when messages are easily accessed and deep healing can occur.”
#5 Your back, hips or knees hurt when you meditate
For the ardent meditator, pain becomes a tool that can actually deepen your practice. It’s not about chasing away our pain – be that physical or emotional. If we are only comfortable being still, happy and pain-free then it will leave little time for us to reap the benefits of this incredible spiritual practice.
Bedson says, “Mindfulness-based meditation styles involve observing your body sensations, feelings, perceptions and thoughts with non-judgemental attention. Non-judgemental attention means simply being present to your present moment experience without any expectations or preferences.” In fact, if you can master the art of noticing what is there (aka reality) your practice can begin to flourish.
“Many meditators are practising with subtle hopes, dreams or expectations that something should happen,” says Bedson. “The only thing that should happen when you are meditating is that you stop waiting for something to happen. Mindfulness meditation is just watching without any agenda. Nothing to fix [or] change. Nothing to achieve or become – just this!”
So it seems, there really is no barrier to meditation, only our ideas about what it <should> be. Your options then, are many: do the dishes mindfully, go for a run and focus on nothing but that. Or, head back to your cushion and just get curious about what happens, allowing yourself to fully experience whatever that is.