Mindfulness and meditation are everywhere these days. With that popularity comes the popularity of meditation myths and misunderstandings. Misconceptions about meditation can act as barriers, and may prevent you from beginning a meditation practice. Those who have a meditation practice may think they are doing it wrong if they aren’t achieving certain fairy-tale results. We address 25 of the most common meditation myths. May the facts invite you to find your own truth, by inspiring a meditation practice of your own.
Myths About Meditation and Your Mind
The mind is infinitely mysterious. As humans, we’ve been gifted with curiosity and a mind that’s potentially self-reflective. Meditation is the process of getting to know our minds better through the practice of observation. When it comes to meditation and the mind, there are several myths we need to overcome.
1. Meditation is Learning to Control Your Mind
Meditation is not about controlling the mind, but observing it. Through meditation, we learn to recognize our thought patterns, and our habitual reactions to our thoughts. Over time, this process can change the way in which we relate to our thoughts, and the way we react. To control the mind is to be at war with the mind. In meditation, we learn to befriend the mind.
2. Meditation Will Stop Your Thoughts
Our mind is a complex network of energetic impulses, and the goal is certainly not to squelch this activity and enter a zombie like state. Our thoughts are much needed for problem solving and success in daily life. We can, however, learn to relate to our thoughts differently. We don’t stop our thoughts with meditation, but we learn to cease attaching to the thoughts that cause us suffering and pain.
3. Those Who Think too Much Can’t Meditate
Meditation is a perfect activity for thinkers. Through meditation, we build a new relationship with our thoughts. When people say they think too much to meditate, what they really mean is they cannot let go of their thoughts. When we identify with our thoughts, who would we be if we let them go? Through meditation, we learn that we are not our thoughts, but the infinite awareness that observes them.
4. You’re Not Meditating if Your Mind is Wandering
A wandering mind is a human mind. The energy of the mind is always at play, and will continue to play even while we’re meditating. Meditation is not about blocking this energy, but learning to relate to it in a different way. When meditating, we recognize the mind has wandered without following it. We become grateful for the wandering mind, for it gifts us the opportunity to practice returning to the present moment. The successful return to the here and now is where meditation takes place.
5. Meditation Will Change Who You Are
Meditation might change how you think and how you react to your thoughts, but you’ll always be you. Meditation won’t erase your personality, stop you from thinking, nor will it give you control over all your emotions. What it will do is forever alter the pathways that force you into habitual, and often negative, reactions to that which you perceive. By teaching you to view your thoughts (and the world) from a new perspective, meditation will make you happier, more peaceful and kind.
Myths About Meditation and Your Emotions
Many of us turn to meditation when we’re experiencing difficult emotions. The process through which meditation heals our pain remains rife with myths and fallacies. Meditation does not cure us of the experience of emotion, but teaches us to relate to our emotions in a healthy, and human way.
6. Meditation Will Stop You From Feeling Emotions
The ability to experience a wide range of emotions is part of the human experience. Through meditation, we don’t stop feeling sad, angry or scared, and we wouldn’t want to. Both positive and negative emotions contribute to the fullness of our lives. Instead, we learn to welcome our emotions and in doing so, we relate to them differently. We are no longer consumed by our emotions, but can be present with each one as it arises.
7. Meditation Will Make You Happy All The Time
People who meditate report fewer feelings of anxiety and depression, but if you aren’t happy all the time, you’re not doing it wrong. Meditation puts us in touch with the entirety of our experience, and that includes the full spectrum of emotion. Even happy people can experience grief, anger and frustration. Meditation asks us to get curious about our feelings and mindfully learn from them.
8. Meditation Teaches You To Feel Nothing
In meditation, we learn about the concept of equanimity, the quality of remaining balanced, regardless of good or bad happenings around us. It’s a mistake to think that stability entails an absence of emotion. It’s possible to feel extremes such as joy or anger, and yet remain centered and aware. Equanimity is the result of loving each of our emotions equally, versus dulling ourselves to experience.
9. Meditation Always Makes You Feel Better
Meditation gives us an opportunity to turn towards our pain and learn more about it. Sometimes this process stirs up more difficult feelings, especially if we’ve been ignoring our suffering for a long time. When we leave a meditation session feeling sad, lonely, or confused, we’re not doing it wrong. In these moments, we must extend loving kindness to ourselves, and commit to continuing the work in a future session.
10. Meditation Will Make You Weak
We take pride in the emotions that give us our edge. We think anger or rage makes us strong. Through meditation, we learn these emotions keep us separated from others, and from ourselves. When we use our emotions as shields, we shield ourselves from self-reflection. Meditation builds resiliency through compassion and kindness. As we better understand the workings of our own mind, we understand the workings of all minds everywhere. We become better connected to others, and we become strong.
Myths About Who Can Meditate
It’s common to concede that meditation is beneficial for others, but not for us. Either we aren’t the right fit, or we don’t have the tools. The truth is, meditation is for everyone, and there are always solutions for a lack of time or resources.
11. You Must Be Religious to Meditate
Meditation dates back thousands of years and is associated in some form with each of the world’s authentic religions. This points to the universality of the effectiveness of meditation more than it points to any one religion. You don’t have to be religious to meditate, just curious about your mind, your self, and your place in this world
12. You Must Sit Still to Meditate
While sitting with a quiet body can often promote quietude in the mind, there’s no rule that says you must meditate while seated. Meditation can take place while walking, or while lying down. You can even practice mindfulness while brushing your teeth, going for a run, or driving in your car. You may be faced with greater distractions, but you can practice remaining present wherever you are.
13. You Must be Stressed Out to Meditate
The best time to build the ark is before it starts to rain. While meditation can certainly help a stressed or suffering mind, meditating while healthy and happy is an excellent way to get started. Strengthening the mind during periods of fair weather gives you a strong and stable practice to fall back on when the storms roll in.
14. You Must be Calm to Meditate
While some think meditation is only for those who are stressed, others think they cannot meditate unless they are already calm. Neither is true. There’s no one personality type that’s more conducive to meditation than another, and none of us are stressed, nor calm, all the time. Through meditation, we recognize that we are not fixed, but forever changing. Meditation couldn’t work without this potential for change.
15. You Must be Given a Mantra to Meditate
The myth that you need a mantra to meditate arises from transcendental meditation practices in which you repeat a mantra that’s been given to you by a teacher. You can choose your own mantra to meditate on, or you can go without. There are infinite ways to meditate. Most simply, you can meditate by observing your breath.
Myths About How to Meditate
Myths about how to meditate typically arise from the excuses we tell ourselves about why we’re not meditating. As long as you are breathing, you have something to meditate on. And you can do it anywhere, at any time.
16. You Need to Meditate for At Least One Hour
There’s no minimum, or maximum, meditation time that functions as a magic number. Studies show that meditating for just 5 minutes per day, consistently, creates changes in the neural networks of the brain. To reap the results of meditation it’s more important to do a little bit daily, than to sit for an hour or more once per week.
17. You Don’t Have Time to Meditate
This popular myth gets negated along with the last one. If all you need is five minutes per day, you have the time to meditate. Successfully create a 5-minute meditation habit, and you’ll soon find yourself prioritizing it more. We all spend leisure time doing things that are of no benefit to our minds. Begin to notice, and then see if you can switch out some of these mindless habits for meditation instead.
18. You Need to Meditate for Years to See An Effect
It’s true that the brains of long-term meditators are different, but research shows that long-term change can occur after just eight weeks of a consistent meditation practice. Meditation increases gray matter in the brain, breaks down the barriers between the right and left side of the brain, strengthens regions of the brain that keep us calm and decreases activity in regions of the brain that respond to stress. These benefits are available in far less time than you think.
19. Meditation Requires Great Effort
Beginning a meditation practice is hard in the same way that learning a new skill or building any new habit is challenging. We often label meditation as hard when we have mistaken expectations of what meditation should look like. We judge and self-criticise for becoming distracted. But meditation itself is surprisingly simple. Once we notice we’ve become distracted, we turn the mind around. It’s as simple as that. The more often we meditate, our effort transforms into ease.
20. You Need a Guru to Meditate
While it’s very important to have a meditation teacher, there are several ways to fill that role. Your meditation teacher need not wear robes or speak a foreign language. Guided meditations on audio or video or written meditation scripts can help you get started. Joining a community of fellow meditators can help you learn from your peers. There are hundreds of free courses, retreats and workshops available in person or online.
Myths About Meditation’s Results
There are myths that meditation results in greater self-centeredness and avoidance. On the other hand, there are myths we should expect enlightenment in just a few sessions. But meditation practiced wisely teaches us about reality, versus taking us away. The meditation journey is also deeply personal and each of us will progress on our own timeline
21. Meditation Is Escapism
Meditation is not about turning away from the world outside, nor is it about turning away from our internal experience. We meditate not to escape what we’re thinking or feeling, but rather, to get deeply in touch with what we are thinking and feeling. Meditation is about moving towards sensation, and then dissecting and transforming our experience from the inside out.
22. Meditation Is Self-indulgent
Meditation may seem like a luxury. It’s the chance to close your eyes to the outside world and spend time thinking only about yourself. But meditation is less thinking about ourselves, and more getting to know ‘the Self.’ The Self with a capital S is the universal self, our authentic self, true self, or true nature. This is the Self that’s absent of ego, not separate from others, but intimately connected to all things. Through meditation, we drop attachment to the separate, ego-based small self and connect to the Self instead.
23. Meditation Leads To Magical Experiences
Meditation isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. If you’re not seeing colors or receiving downloads from interstellar beings, you’re not doing it wrong. Seeking or grasping to mystical experiences is counter to the goals of meditation. In meditation, the goal is to be present with everything as it is and to clearly see the reality at hand. Mystical experiences can happen, but they must be allowed to come and go, as all things do.
24. Meditation Is Always Profound
Meditation can lead to spiritual experiences, which come and go, and it can also lead to profound spiritual insight, which permanently changes you. It happens gradually, and it can happen all at once. If it doesn’t happen in your next meditation session, it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. A consistent practice develops faith. Through faith we learn to trust that our meditation practice unfolds exactly as it’s meant to, on its own timeline, not ours
25. Meditation Will Solve All Your Problems
Meditation can be a healthy and important part of a holistic wellness program, but meditation is not a replacement for therapy and cannot always solve our problems on its own. If you’re struggling with past trauma, mental illness or challenging relationships, meditation may be most helpful if integrated alongside a healing modality led by a professional therapist, counselor or trauma-informed guide