Mistaken assumptions about meditation, how it works, and what the outcomes should be can prevent us from starting a practice or may interfere with our current practice by creating unreasonable expectations. By debunking the myths of mediation we open ourselves to the possibility that meditation can benefit us in unexpected ways.
Let’s take a closer look at some common meditation myths to reveal the truth behind them.
Meditation Myths and Facts
- You Can’t Meditate with a Busy Mind
Among the most common myths of meditation is the idea one needs to be calm, centered, and at peace to do it. Like saying you can’t exercise if you’re not physically fit, this misunderstanding confuses the benefits of meditation with the prerequisites. Fortunately, the only thing needed to begin meditating is the desire to do so.
That said, during meditation it can seem like the mind becomes busier than ever. The act of slowing down lets us notice the frantic pace we’ve been keeping. Staying present and observing the movement in our minds helps it slow down over time. The very experience of observing the busyness of mind is in fact a sign of progress.
Related Myth: My Body is Too Restless for Meditation
The sense you’re too restless to meditate arises in both body and mind. While it’s true there are several forms of walking or moving meditation, it’s certainly worth giving physical stillness a try.
Stand, sit in a chair, or lie down. Observe sensation in your body, and reaction or discomfort in your mind. For 3-5 minutes, stay present with this sensation as you breathe slowly and deeply. Notice what changes.
2. The Goal of Meditation is to Empty the Mind of Thoughts
When faced with a busy mind, it’s common to think we’re meditating wrong. We envision advanced meditators as having the ability to turn off their thoughts or empty the mind at will. But even the world’s most practiced meditators still have thoughts. It’s how they relate to those thoughts that’s different.
Meditation teaches us we are not our thoughts by creating distance between ‘me’ and ‘my thoughts.’ No longer consumed by thoughts, we realize we have agency over how we react to them. Thoughts will always arise, but when we’re unattached to them, they lose their seductive power and dissipate more quickly.
Related Myth: Meditation Empties Us of Emotions
We might fear that if we meditate we’ll lose our personality, our opinions, or even our desire to act in the world. On the other hand, some of us approach meditation hoping to never again experience a negative emotion. But just as we don’t stop thinking, healthy humans don’t stop emoting.
Instead, meditation increases our ability to remain present and engaged with the full range of human emotions. When we act in the world as someone in touch with (versus controlled by) emotion, we find ourselves acting with greater clarity and ease.
3. Meditation Takes Years of Daily Practice to Master
Claiming meditation requires too great of a commitment is just one way of saying, ‘I don’t have time to meditate.’ Thankfully, there’s no need for hours of daily practice, a month-long retreat, or decades of experience to reap the benefits of meditation. Studies show meditation can change the brain after just two months of consistent practice.
Even 5 minutes daily isn’t always easy but it’s possible if we make it a priority. Review your day in 5-minute increments and see if you can’t find a slot in which to meditate. By committing to daily practice, even if just a short one, we actually find we have more time. Meditation not only alters the way we perceive time, but puts us in a more spacious state of mind.
Related Myth: Meditation Should Make Me Feel Better Right Away
The inverse of the above myth is that meditation should benefit us immediately. But sometimes, meditation can make our pain seem worse. Turning our awareness inward toward long-ignored pain can be uncomfortable at best.
Our meditations may invite us to work through feelings of sadness, loss or hardship. It’s not always easy, but over time and with loving kindness, we can transform our relationship to even our greatest challenges.
4. Meditation is Only for Those Who Are Anxious or Depressed
Evidence shows meditation indeed reduces anxiety and depression and can increase feelings of happiness, joy and contentment. But the best time to prepare for a storm is before it starts to rain. Anyone can benefit from meditation, even those who are already happy.
Meditation triggers structural changes in the brain that help us become more resilient to stress, less inclined to reactivity or anger, and more kind and compassionate. We get to know our own mind, how it works, and how it colors our perception of the way things are. It’s easiest to meditate and access these benefits when we’re already feeling good. We can then carry these outcomes with us as support for the rainy days.
Related Myth: I Should be Happy All The Time Because I Meditate
The expectation that meditation is a cure-all often becomes an excuse to give it up. As meditators, when faced with pain or sadness, we might think we’re doing it wrong or that it’s not working. After all, the mythical promise of meditation is that our lives become perfect.
In truth, meditation is a process. We remember what we’ve learned, we forget, then we remember again. And it’s true our lives are already perfect, when viewed from the right perspective. Everything we experience is an opportunity for further growth should we choose to accept it.