Most people new to meditation (and many with quite a few years — or even decades — of practice under their belts), find themselves repeatedly struggling with certain aspects of the practice. With the right understanding, these struggles are largely avoidable.

Below, I’ll identify and offer solutions on how best to deal with the five most common mistakes meditators make.

policeBeing the Thought Police

Trying to stop yourself from thinking is a bit like trying to stop the sun from shining. Admitting shiny, happy thoughts and rejecting anything negative is a similarly futile and stressful endeavor.

As long as you’re alive, there will be thoughts running through your head — and probably more of them than you’d prefer. Peace comes not by banishing or fighting with your thoughts, but by establishing harmonious relationships with them. Be curious and permissive, and remember, if you don’t have a single thought during your meditation — you’re probably dead.

Unrealistic Expectations

Some people come to meditation hoping for out-of-body experiences and mystical revelations, or to have past lives revealed and to receive advice from spiritual guides. More often we have more subtle hopes and expectations. We want a ‘good’ meditation, a meditation like the one we had last week, or an effortless meditation.

These desires can get in the way of our experience in this moment. They prevent us from appreciating what’s happening now and keep us perpetually seeking something better.

A more useful strategy is to have the meditation you’re having. Allow everything — including aches and pains, discomfort, tension, unpleasant feelings and thoughts — to be a part of your meditation.

Beating up the self

At times, and particularly when learning something new, you may have the tendency to believe yourself incapable. You try something once, fail, and decide that you don’t have the necessary talent or ability to succeed. If this were the case then none of us would have learned to walk. Remember this when you take your first steps along the meditators path. Instead of trying to quiet your mind (or reach enlightenment) you may like to make your primary goal or intention in meditation simply to be kind, gentle and courteous to yourself. Instead of measuring yourself against unrealistic ideals, just be encouraging and supportive.

Failing to give pain a chance to resolve

Meditation is blissful – right? Well, it can be, but rarely at the snap a finger. Much of the pain you’ll experience during meditation is actually a sign that you are relaxing. If you ease gently into the pain it usually diminishes and fades away quite rapidly. If you fight it, however, you’ll add to the tension. It won’t go away if you ignore it either — in fact, ignored pain is likely to manifest later, in a more serious form.

This same dynamic plays out in our emotional worlds. You might find it helpful to think of meditation as a time when you can ’emote’ freely, without censoring your feelings. Instead of trying to manufacture some artificial sense of calm or quiet, respect and listen to the messages your emotions are trying to convey. For genuine calm to arise you’ll need to process and integrate emotions. Repressing, expressing or ignoring your emotions is unlikely to help.

Still being the thought police!

In every course I conduct I stress to participants that it is not the aim in meditation to block out thoughts, nor make the mind go blank. Many people however, will comment months later that their mind still gets distracted by thought. It seems they’d assumed thoughts would vanish with practice! Yes, our compulsion to think does weaken over time, however, thoughts rarely disappear entirely for more than a moment. The real skill then, comes in accepting your thoughts, and learning from them. You can’t do this unless you become aware of them.

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