In beginning a meditation practice, there are common (almost universal) challenges that arise. Some of these have to do with common “myths” of meditation. Others are common negative habit patterns of the mind – “mind traps.” If we are not aware of these – we may become easily discouraged and feel like quitting. Once we “normalize” these tendencies, realizing they affect nearly everyone, we can learn how to work with them and even use them as support in our practice.
Let’s start with the 5 BIGGEST MYTHS OF MEDITATION:
1. “In Meditation, My Mind Should Be Calm and Quiet”
One of the most common myths of meditation is that it’s about “getting rid of thoughts” and experiencing a calm, quiet mind. Meditation is actually about noticing how our mind works, observing the rapid-fire thoughts neutrally and not getting caught up in them. Meditation is a training of the mind. We train our mind to notice when we get caught up and come back to the present moment. We can still be meditating while we are in the presence of thought.
2. “I Don’t Have Enough Time to Meditate”
Remember, mindfulness is a kind of meditation – simply being aware of what we are doing in any moment (walking the dog, doing the dishes, talking on the phone). It is building awareness in the present moment – simply being aware of the sensations, thoughts and emotions that arise. We can do this anytime, anywhere. While the most effective way to build momentum is to sit for a regularly designated sitting meditation, however, even five minutes a day or pausing for ten deep breaths is extremely helpful. If Oprah can find time to meditate, so can you!
3. “It Feels Like My Mind is More ‘Crazy’ During Meditation”
Once we pause and start paying attention to our mind, we begin to see how erratic and addictive it is and how little control we actually have over it. It can be disturbing to realize how unruly our mind is but, remember, meditation is a practice of paying attention. So, making this observation is a sign of progress, not failure. Even having this awareness is a sign that you are building the “witness mind,” which will come in handy when you can begin to notice the repetitive thought patterns holding you back (see the 5 Mind Traps below).
4. “Meditation Should Be Blissful, But It Feels Like Such Hard Work”
The mind is a mirror. When we begin to meditate, we are faced with thoughts and emotions that may be painful or difficult to experience.
Meditation can be difficult, tiring and even frightening. It is not easy to sit still and watch unpleasant patterns arising. We usually see pictures and images of people meditating – sitting in a serene, blissful state. Over time, by bringing our thought and emotional patterns into awareness, we begin to learn how to work with them and release them. Meditation is like doing bicep curls for your mind. Just like working out, starting a new job, getting a Masters’ Degree is challenging….it means you are building new skills and riding the learning curve. Practice makes perfect. Well…perfectly imperfect. Eventually, meditation will become easier and more blissful.
5. “I Don’t Think Meditation is Working for Me….I’m Not Seeing Any Results Yet”
Like life, our meditation practice will unfold in its own time and at its own pace. Meditation can help heal emotions, change thought patterns and create more responsive, less impulsive behavior….but, it doesn’t happen overnight. Studies show that positive neurological changes and neural integration can occur even within the first few meditation sessions. Consistent, even small effort is more effective than sporadic, longer, enduring sitting meditation. When we don’t notice life-changing, blissful experiences…we may get discouraged or even feel like quitting. Instead of focusing on how blissful you feel during meditation or how long you can sit, focus on any small changes in your daily life:
- Are you sleeping better?
- Are you feeling a bit more positive, motivated and upbeat about life?
- Are you more able to ‘let go’ of stressful thoughts or impulsive reactions?
These are signs that your meditation practice is working.
And now…on to: THE 5 MIND TRAPS OF MEDITATION:
6. Negative Self Talk (“Self–Beat”)
Negative self–talk is one of the greatest traps of the mind. For most of us, the greatest battles we will ever face is in our heads. We say things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to others. We can be downright abusive and cruel: “You’re no good.” “You’ll never succeed.” “You’re not good enough.” As with all the mind traps, noticing the self-beat is the first step to overcoming it. Honestly inquire, “Is this thought absolutely true?” We can always find examples of the contrary.
We can begin to “flip the switch” and turn these statements into positive self–talk. When we recognize these are just passing, uncomfortable thoughts and not reality, they will begin to pass on their own and hold less influence.
7. Exaggerating the Negative + Discounting the Positive
The mind tends towards the negative. This is a more generalized version of Negative Self Talk. We habitually criticize people, events, places – either in our minds or out loud to others. Or, we may say something positive, and then follow it with, “but…” twisting the truth to discount the positive and emphasize the negative. Putting the world or others down, is a false attempt to make ourselves feel better in comparison. In reality, this mind trap reinforces our feelings of insecurity, anxiety and depression.
Blaming keeps us perpetually disempowered. It stems from a mind that is so insecure it can never admit it makes mistakes. This mind trap always looks to place the blame for our circumstances and even feelings on another. It arises out of other mind traps such as “The Need to Be Right,” or “The Should’s.” Until we take full responsibility for every experience in our lives, we will remain insecure and dis-empowered.
When we realize we have the power to affect change and create our lives, we gain courage and confidence.
When the mind focuses on the future and assumes the worst possible outcomes, it slips into it’s self-imposed, somewhat narcissistic, drama queen. Catastrophizing fuels our anxiety, fear and panic. This style of thinking is a type of self–entertainment. It is a habit to avoid the discomfort, boredom or uncertainty of simply being present and waiting to see what unfolds. This can often (like all the mind traps) be heavily influenced, learned and reinforced by parents or a culture that emphasizes drama, excitement and negativity.
10. The “Should’s”
My priestess, Ariel Spilsbury tells a story of the “Should Bird,” who sits on our shoulder, nastily chirping all the “Should’s” in our ear….and “Should-ing”all over us. Meditation helps us reduce this bird “sh*t.” We identify the inner voices that hold us back, limit our options and constantly keep us bound in comparison to others. When we break the rules we set for ourselves by internalized voices of parents, teachers and society, We feel guilt and shame. When others break these rules, we tend to judge them, feel anger or resentment.
Taking five to ten minutes a day to get to know and befriend your mind is perhaps the most lucrative exercise you can do. After all, your thoughts create your reality. Understanding your particular mental constitution helps take things less personally and have a greater sense of humor about this wild ride of life. This is what it feels like to have a human mind. Busy. Judgmental. Unsatisfied.
When we meditate, we practice forging new neural pathways and the more often we think these new thoughts, the more likely we are to think them again next time. Habit governs behavior.
Think again. Think smarter.
Join Ashley’s FREE ONLINE WORKSHOP: How to Breakthrough the 7 Most Fatal Mindtraps Holding You Back. She is the creator of the wildly popular MEDITATION 101 Virtual Conference (over 25,000 participants in 2014!) and 7 best-selling yoga dvd’s. Practice with her at MyYoga by Gaiam. DETAILS magazine named Ashley “The top 6 personal trainers in 2014″. She is also a mind-body psychotherapy intern, works with clients worldwide via Skype and leads transformative events to power points around the globe. Ashley lives by the ocean in Marina Del Rey, CA and in the mountains of Aspen, CO. www.AshleyTurner.org For more on her and her events, visit her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.