When I started teaching meditation, apps didn’t exist, mindfulness was a term you’d only be familiar with if you studied Buddhism, and nearly everyone coming to a class worried that they’d be expected to sit cross-legged on the floor and invited to chant Om.
Although meditation has been mainstreamed, not much has changed! The vast majority of people I talk to still hold outdated, incorrect or unhelpful assumptions about what meditation is and how best to practice.
For these reasons, I’ve decided to share with you some of the most common misconceptions people hold about meditation — and how a healthy, pragmatic, contemporary approach to meditation might look.
I’ll explore one common assumption over each of the coming months, starting with the biggest of all:
Lots of people still believe that meditation is all about making your mind quiet.
That’s a natural assumption to make because that’s what many meditation teachers, practitioners and traditions aim for. A quiet, peaceful mind is also what many of us crave.
Meditation however, does not have to be about making your mind go quiet — and there are a number of good reasons to adopt alternative goals.
Firstly, striving to stop yourself from thinking generally results in a great deal of frustration. By accepting, instead of battling your mind, you’ll usually find that a sense of peace, contentment — and relative quiet — arises naturally. In other words, the effort to stop thinking is usually counter-productive.
Secondly, if you adopt a more welcoming attitude towards thoughts you may find that you end up feeling relaxed and calm even as you continue to think. You discover that peace of mind is not dependent on the absence of thought. You may also find yourself thinking with unusual clarity and creativity.
It’s worth mentioning that you don’t have to strive to observe or witness your thoughts either. Being able to detach (to some degree) from your thoughts is a useful skill, as is being able to question them. But getting caught up in thoughts is not something you can stop. You are bound to get caught up in various trains of thought from time to time as you meditate. Many people assume that this is problematic. It can be. But it’s often not, especially during meditation. Some of our most valuable mental processing goes on during these bouts of unconscious rumination.
For a more thorough analysis of this topic see my article 12 Good Reasons To Let Yourself Think In Meditation. And tune in next month when we’ll explore the second major misconception you might hold about meditation.