Common misconceptions of meditation – debunked!

For many people the idea of meditation might be a way for them to relax and destress. They’re right. The trouble is there are also many ideas around meditation that might prevent people from starting in the first place or to give up because it’s another thing that they “can’t do” or don’t have time for.

Here are some common meditation misconceptions debunked – it may help you reevaluate your current practice or encourage you to start your meditation practice!

Meditation is religious.

Sometimes it can be confusing as meditation forms part of many religions and of no religion at all. You often see people sitting with their hands in a prayer position and that may have a particular significance for you based on your background. You don’t have to meditate in this way at all if you don’t want to.

You are welcome to bring your religion into your meditation if it helps you or just leave religion out of it altogether. This is your personal choice. This means that meditation does not undermine your beliefs – whatever they happen to be. If you don’t have any religion and want to meditate you can. It’s not about religion at all.

You can only meditate when sitting on the floor.

This is a common one -when looking at typical photos of people meditating they are often sitting in the floor. True you can sit on the floor to meditate but you don’t have to. Meditation can be done anywhere at any time. You can sit on a chair, you can lie down, you can use any activity as a support for your meditation – a common example would be a walking meditation.

You need to sit cross legged to meditate.

There are lots of images of people sitting cross legged in meditation – what if you can’t do this?

For most Westerners this way of sitting can be a challenge. You’ve grown up sitting in a different way. That’s ok.

Maybe you can’t get up and down easily to the floor. Maybe sitting this way is really uncomfortable for you. Any pain in your knee should be listened to and don’t force it.

Some things that might make this position more accessible for you is to raise hips up on to a support like a cushion or bolster.

The pose should be sustainable. You shouldn’t feel sharp pain.

While this lady looks happy here – would you feel the same in 15 minutes sitting like this? Prepare your space to support your practice.

You need to sit on the floor to meditate.

Some people find kneeling a more sustainable pose to maintain when meditating sitting on the floor. Support under your seat to elevate your hips can make this more accessible and also think about padding for your knees, feet and ankles.

Remember if floor options don’t suit your body – you can meditate in a chair.

It is possible to meditate sitting in a chair and even standing. You can do a walking meditation. The meditation is not about the particular shape that you make with your body for it to work.

The goal of a seated meditation posture is one that is comfortable and sustainable for you to maintain – without being too rigid or slumping into sleep.

This is why some people don’t use chairs. If you do use a chair ensure that both of your feet can reach the ground fully and sit securely on the front third of the chair surface your are sitting away from the back of the chair. This way you are not leaning into the back of the chair and less likely to have poor posture or help prevent falling asleep. This allows you to maintain your spine in an upright position. Think soft and dignified, rather than sitting rigidly bolt up right. The intention is awareness with your spine rather than slumping unconsciously.

You can’t move – no matter what.

What is comfortable for 5 minutes might be completely different for longer periods of time. You will discover this as you sit for longer periods of time.

Whilst some schools of meditation are quite strict on this. This is not the case for every method of meditation.

The intention of coming to stillness is to allow you to quieten your mind and to see what arises.

If you constantly adjust, fidget and shuffle around never quite getting comfortable – you won’t get the opportunity to see what does arise.

At some point you need to bring your body to rest to observe what happens, to concentrate off your focal point.

If there is mild discomfort – you can sit with it. See what happens, generally it gets better, worse, stays the same or it changes in nature. Can you sit with all of this with compassion?

However if you are in a lot of pain – what is the intention of that? Pay attention to the nature of the pain – is it sharp, stinging and dramatic in nature? What is your body telling you?

Come to a point of rest and stillness in your meditation sitting. If discomfort arises and this is your whole experience, maybe the pain is intolerable – move to address this. This should be done slowly, mindfully and with purpose to take care of your body. Readjust your posture as necessary. Then come to a point of stillness in the new position. You will gain experience as you sit what your body will tolerate and what it won’t. Perhaps you need more supports or a different arrangement.

You should have no thoughts while meditating.

This is really common – people often associate thoughts in meditation as being a “bad meditator” and having no thoughts equals being succesful. This is simply not the case. You have a thinking mind – one that is designed to think.

The images that you see of people meditating might lead you to think that they have no thoughts at all. The experience is all bliss. To have any other experience – like racing thoughts, emotions or lack of bliss puts you in the failure category.

Success = no thoughts.

Thought = failure.

This is untrue and unkind to yourself.

You have a thinking brain – this is what it does. When you sit to meditate you often try to focus on something – it could be your breath, a mantra, sensations, a sound, an object.

Your focus might be fine for one or two seconds and then your mind wanders. This is normal.

In meditation you can see the thoughts but not get involved in them or the story of them. You try not judge or follow them.

Sometimes you will – this is called being human. At the moment of realisation that you have drifted into thoughts – this is a moment of awakening and feels different to being caught in thoughts. Don’t waste anytime berating yourself for drifting off but rejoice in the fact that you are aware now.

Part of the process of meditating is bringing your attention back to what you are focusing on.

The moment you realise that you have wandered is a moment of realisation. This is a good thing. This will happen many times.

Just like weight lifting at the gym – you are training your mind to come back again and again and again. You learn not to be so involved with your thoughts and not to always react to them.

This practice is what gives you peace and clarity of thought off the cushion as you have thoughts all day every day. You learn not to be driven by them.

You need a dedicated meditation room.

You can meditate anytime anywhere.

You can make in part of your commute to work. You can meditate while you walk or do other activities.

You can take time out to sit – in the park, on the beach – anywhere you like. The intention is to come to stillness or to bring mindful awareness to the activity you choose as a focal point.

One method is meditation method is better than the other.

There are many ways to meditate. Many methods are focus or concentration based. You can use anything as a focal point – objects, sounds, sensations, breath, mantra or metta meditation.

The whole point is not to be the “best concentrator” on the object but your reaction to the whole process and what you learn along the way. What you practice – you will cultivate.

If this is judgement and competition – you are missing the point. The focal supports are there to enable your practice, not to be the whole point of the practice. Are you building your awareness? Are you less reactive? What are you trying to “achieve” with your meditation?

It is called a practice for a reason – somedays you will be more or less able to focus than others. Don’t label it as a good or bad meditation. You practiced – that’s the point. To practice.

Some meditation methods practise a more open awareness style where you notice everything as it arises.

The intention of each one varies. Essentially to begin – find a meditation method that you feel drawn to. You could also try a few different styles. You should feel comfortable with the method and the teacher. Use your critical reasoning and logic.

In the same way that fidgeting a lot in meditation can essentially distract you – the same thing can happen with finding the “right method” or the “right teacher”.

At some point you just need to practise. You will learn from the method and by sticking with one over a period of time – you will see that things are not static in the practice.

The longer you can sit in meditation the better you are at it.

I think a quote from Ajahn Chah a Buddhist Monk will serve here.

Sitting for hours on end is not necessary.

Some people think that the longer you can sit the wiser you must be.

I have seen chickens sit on their nests for days on end. Wisdom comes from being mindful in all postures.

Ajahn Chah

What is your intention to practice meditation?

If you practice with a group – everyone’s intentions are different.

What are you trying to cultivate? What is your intention? What are you actually spending your time doing in your meditation? Are you being harsh and critical of your practice even as you practice? If so, this is what you will become better at.

Can you bring some kindness in to your meditation? If this was a friend how would you treat them? If you practice kindness to yourself you will become better at this too. Remember what you practice you cultivate. This is what your meditation will support.

May your meditation practice cultivate what you need.

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