Updated: Oct 28, 2019
“My mind won’t shut off. I can’t do it, my mind just won’t be quiet.”
Let’s get this fact straight right away: The goal of meditation isn’t to stop the mind. In fact, if we try to stop it, our thoughts will only increase with lightning quickness - I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. It becomes nearly impossible to sit still and endure the pain of rapid thoughts after telling the mind to be quiet. So what are we trying to do? What is the goal of meditation?
To observe the mind.
Through observation we can recognize when we have strayed from our focal point and are lost in thought. Once we become aware of this, we let go of the thought and return to the present moment. This is meditation. Yes, I’m serious. You have been doing it right the whole time! You are not failing. You are not broken. Your mind is simply doing what it’s meant to do: Think. However, just like anything else, too much isn’t always a good thing.
When our mind is addicted to thinking, we can find ourselves in constant thought, stress and worry. We miss the experiences happening in the present moment and begin to feel less and less connected to and nourished from our life. How can we enjoy it when we are in constant thought, chattering and chattering?! This is one of the many, many reasons a meditation practice is so important. As we train our mind to stay present, we become more present in our life.
Meditation trains the mind to stay present and focused.
Thoughts come and go - that is what they do. They also like to entice us with their magnetic pull. The thought wants to grow and it does this by gaining more and more of our consciousness. Our job is to not fall for the trickery.
“My hip hurts. I should stretch more. I need to take care of myself. Man, my job sucks. I need a raise. I wonder if Becky makes more me than me. She went to Hawaii. I want to go on a vacation. A picnic on the beach. I’m hungry...” and this can go on and on and on, unless we stop giving it energy. We must stop giving it our attention.
Meditation is literally training the mind to be able to easily release thoughts. Soon, we find that it becomes easier and easier to stay in the present.
Here are some tips to help clear common misconceptions about meditation and bring light to the truth:
1. Accept That Meditation is a Process.
It takes time to train our mind. A person wouldn’t go to the gym and pick up the heaviest weight on their first day, right? Think of meditation as a muscle that needs to be trained. Start out small and work up to longer periods of time. We must train our brain to relax. We train it to find more and more silence each time. It’s a process, so don’t give up.
2. Consistency is Key.
As we build our ability to focus, day by day, it becomes easier and easier. Doing it on occasion can feel like we are starting new each time - because we are! Moreover, if we do it at the same time each day, our mind will drop into the practice faster because it knows what to do.
3. We Can’t Force It.
Forcing our mind to shut off means that we are resisting thoughts. As soon as we resist something, we create more of it. We will never defeat our mind through force so there’s no point in trying! We must surrender. The key is to allow our thoughts to come and go without getting lost in them. Observe them and return to the breath.
4. It’s Natural to Think... and Think Some More
You’re not doing anything wrong. Stop berating yourself or you’ll fall back into the trap of #3 - resistance. Let go of the expectation to be perfect and embrace the process.
5. Not Every Thought Deserves Our Attention.
You’ll start noticing this amazing truth the more you meditate.
6. Our Mind Will Become Silent All By Itself.
In between each thought is a gap of silence. This means if we are not holding onto a thought, the mind will fall back into silence until another thought arises. There’s no reason to force something that happens naturally. We simply let go of the thought and return to our breath.
7. We Mustn’t Strive for Relaxation.
Trying to relax only creates the “chase.” Chase energy is when we want something so desperately that we grasp for it, only to have it run further away. Again, we must surrender; allowing relaxation to happen is how we create it. With our mind focused on our breath, the body naturally releases.
So there it is. Myths BUSTED. We can no longer tell ourselves that meditation is too hard because our mind just won’t turn off. The truth is, our judgment of the process is what makes meditation feel challenging and unattainable. Assuming we are supposed to sit down, be relaxed, and experience mental silence right away, and then judging ourselves for not achieving it all - this is the real problem! Judgments keep us from relaxing and they increase the discomfort in our physical body.
Judgments make us feel like we are failing. It’s simply not true.
The beautiful part - when we accept the true process of meditation, returning to the present moment over and over again as we train our mind, and recognize that this is exactly what we are supposed to be doing, we will release some, if not all, of our resistance and begin embracing our meditation practice.
Katie Z Robinson is a long time meditator and meditation teacher, among other trades and titles. Spira is honored to collaborate with Katie in offering a Meditation CE & Workshop as a part of our 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training and open to other yoga teachers and students. To read more about Katie, visit her website.