There are a lot of misconceptions about meditation that would be better off dead.
Today I'm putting the top three to rest. This ends now.
1. I have to stop my mind from thinking.
The biggest misconception about meditation is that you are supposed to sit and think of nothing. "Clear your mind" they say...
If you've ever tried this approach you may have noticed that the mind does not quiet so easily.
If I tell you not to think of a flying monkey wearing a tie die scarf. What do you think of?
In his new book, The Code of The Extraordinary Mind, Vishen Lakhiani quotes Emily Fletcher (the founder of Ziva mediation School in New York City). Emily says that trying to give your mind the command to stop is as effective as giving your heart a command to stop beating-it doesn't work.
She suggests shifting our perspective regarding the goal of meditation. Most people think that practicing meditation is about getting good at meditation. But if we go into it thinking the point is to get good at life, while accepting the fact that nobody can command their mind to stop, then it becomes a much more "innocent, fun, and playful" experience.
I like to think of it like this. Rather than emptying your mind of thought, you're filling it with presence. That's why it's called mind-ful-ness.
You're mind is full of presence and consciousness. So much presence (that is: attention to the present moment) that there is no more space left for thought to creep in.
Meditation is really about paying attention. Paying attention to you breath. Paying attention to your body. Paying attention to a mantra or visualization. Or even paying attention to an object or movement (think yoga or thai chi).
There are tons of different forms of meditation, but they all involve focusing the mind, not emptying it.
In a perfect world we could stay so mindful that when we did meditate no thoughts would occur, but as we have already established, that's nearly impossible.
Here is a great trick that will help you when thoughts do arise. Because they will.
Imagine this mental image. There is a little tiny seat inside the back of your head for your highest self to sit.
Your highest self is basically just your soul. The real you. The truth of who you are. It's not your name or identity. It's not your body. And it's not even your thoughts or emotions. It's the consciousness behind all of that. It's you.
Your higher self sits calmly and peacefully on this throne simply observing... It watches the thoughts go in and out of your brain. It notices any feelings and current surroundings.
It doesn't try to fix or solve anything. It doesn't engage in the thoughts. It just sits and watches. Noticing all. Acting on nothing.
Your thoughts become like clouds passing by. Distant, coming and going. They are there, but they are not you. And you can choose to let them go as quickly as they came.
You are the presence behind it all. The space behind the thought. Find this place of observation and you're meditating!
2. Meditation takes too much time.
A lot of people think that there just isn't enough time in the day to meditate when really meditation improves your productivity so much that it actually buys you more time!
Meditation saves time because it makes the mind sharp and efficient. Not to mention it helps you keep your emotions in check, which also saves a lot of time. And let's not forget about the ridiculous health benefits like extended life span!
Even if you sit for 15-30 minutes a day you'll still be adding more free time to your day and life than you are using for the actual meditation. It's definitely worth doing.
3. I simply suck at it.
It's hard to know if you're doing meditation"right". Especially when you're probably getting bored, having thoughts, falling asleep, getting distracted or just impatiently waiting for it to be over. But the good news is that there is no wrong way to meditate.
The only wrong way to do it is not to do it.
Just like how the teacher in middle school used to always say that the only dumb question is the one you never ask. (Except everybody knows there are dumb questions, so that's probably not the best analogy. But you get the idea.)
You don't have to be a monk to be able to reap the benefits of meditation. You just have to be willing to practice. It's called a meditation practice for a reason. Nobody's perfect at it.
Hopefully I've softened a few of your meditation reservations so you can put your fears aside and get started. If you're ready to begin you can learn how in my article How To Meditate the Easy Way where I'll help you get started!