Meditation can be a very loaded word in our western society. It can conjure images of mountain top monks, martial arts movies, or trendy yoga studios. Thanks to pop culture, the western world has been given a huge amount of misinformation regarding this practice and as a result, it can seem unapproachable or intimidating for a great many people. Even those of us who have studied Pa Kua for a while might have some incorrect assumptions about it. With this in mind, the following are some of the most common misconceptions surrounding meditation and some ideas on how to make this invaluable practice work for you.
- Meditation Means Sitting A Certain Way
The most common posture to take when meditating is achieved by sitting cross legged on the floor, with the spine erect and the body relaxed. It looks very pretty and originates from eastern cultures which had a tradition of sitting this way. While there are many benefits to this posture, for many western adults, the last time they sat cross legged on the floor was during elementary school. As a result, it can be both uncomfortable and frustrating to try and sit this way. Don’t let your ego get in the way! You can use a chair, bench, or even lie down if it helps. Your main goal should be to position your body in a way that allows your body to feel stable, but your mind to stay alert. In other words, lying down might be helpful, but maybe not in your bed. If you sit in a chair, sit away from the back of the chair and try to keep your back straight. You should never feel like you are fighting against your own body, find what works best for you.
2. Meditation Means Clearing Your Mind
This is such inaccurate advice that it is almost laughable. Meditation is NOT about clearing your mind or thinking about nothing. In point of fact, it is closer to the direct opposite. One of the most basic forms of meditation goes something like this: 1) Focus on your breathing. 2) Get distracted by the laundry you still have to do. 3) Realize you’re thinking about laundry. 4) Return to your breathing. 5) Start thinking about what you’re going to cook for dinner. 6) Realize you’re thinking about cooking. 7) Return to your breathing….ect. It’s not about suppressing or pushing away your thoughts and feelings, but about noticing them and not becoming attached to them. The breath is your reminder to come back to the present moment. This will allow you to get separation and perspective on these thoughts. A very famous metaphor is looking at your thoughts as if they were a weather pattern passing by above you. If it starts to rain, you simply notice it is raining. Barring superpowers, you have no way of stopping the rain, so you simply let the weather be what it is.
3. Meditation Is Something You can Succeed At
There are days when you will go to the gym, or go on a run, and feel great when you are done. At other times, it will be a struggle just to get yourself out the door and you might only run half as far as you planned. Likewise, there are days when you will meditate and feel great and others when you will not. There is no way to “succeed,” at meditating. No way to win it or beat it. Whatever comes up for you in the moment is what “success” looks like. That might mean you simply zone out and feel more relaxed, or you uncover some painful emotions. It might mean feeling sweaty, getting frustrated because you aren’t “doing it right,” and then giving up after thirty seconds. Each of these scenarios is what meditating can look like. The judgements we place upon ourselves do not have a place in this practice (though they will always fight to be there). There is no one way that meditation is supposed to feel or look. Just by sitting down and making the attempt, you have “succeeded,” because you’ve just learned something about yourself.
4. Meditation Is A Spiritual or Religious Practice
It can be. Though it doesn’t need to be. If you come from an upbringing, belief system, or culture that shies away from things like spirituality and religion, meditation is still for you. In fact, there are concrete scientific studies which show the positive effects of meditation on the brain. It reduces stress, relieves anxiety, helps with emotional regulation, and lengthens attention spans. There are plenty of books and videos on meditation that approach it from a modern and scientific perspective. In Pa Kua terminology, we would call meditation part of the “universal knowledge,” that is available to anyone regardless of culture, nationality, or belief.
5. Meditation Takes Time
Even ten minutes can feel like a lifetime if you’re waiting for your food to cook. In the same way, most people bite off more than they can chew when they first decide to try meditating. Not only that, but who has the time when work emails are coming in, the kids are screaming, and the cat is scratching the couch? If you’re totally new, instead of trying to meditate for any specific amount of time, give the following exercises a try. 1) Take three full and conscious breaths in and out. See if you can feel the air going all the way to your lunges and back out. You can do this in the car, on the walk between your desk and the water cooler, in the supermarket, or even on your thirty second elevator ride. The simple act of taking these three breaths will allow you to ground yourself and serve as a mini mediation. 2) When you’re eating, see if you can close your eyes, savor the food, and experience all of the sensations that come with it. Is it hot? Cold? Sour? Can you taste the separate elements of the dish? Congratulations you’ve just meditated and we got it down to three seconds!
The hardest part of meditating is having the patience to recognize your own judgements and biases towards yourself. Your ego tells you that you have to meditate a certain way, your fear tells you that it’s too difficult, society tells you that you should be working, and the longer you fight those things the farther away from yourself you will get. In its simplest form, meditation is about breathing, being in the present moment, and coming back to who you really are.