There are so many things I wish I knew before I started meditating.
Remember when meditation used to bring about images of Buddhist monks in robes, sitting in a cave high up in the mountains, thinking about nothing for hours and hours on end?
To be honest, a lot of people STILL likely visualize that when someone mentions meditation.
I didn’t quite think it was necessary to incorporate all of that, but I do admit I had some pre-conceived notions about meditation in the past. I put off doing it for so long because I thought it was “too hard” or “took too long” for me to bother.
In hindsight I am a little bummed out that I didn’t try it sooner because it has been so important in my battle against anxiety and panic attacks that it would have been amazing to start years before I did. But! There’s no point in using hindsight to wish for the impossible. I’m just grateful that I DID finally try it several years ago.
In the time that I have been meditating I have learned that so many of the things we tend to think are true just aren’t. Unlike a board game, there are no actual hard and set rules to meditation. You can find some zen a lot more easily than you might think.
Here are the eight things I wish I had known BEFORE I started meditating – hopefully they will help to inspire you to try it and start benefiting right away!
1. You don’t need to spend years learning meditation.
Meditation is really learning in progress. You will always be learning how to do it. That doesn’t mean that it will take years to learn. All you need to do is get started. Commit to meditating and that’s honestly it! People who have been meditating for a week, for six months, and for six years tend to feel like they’re in the exact same place.
2. Meditation is NOT about completely clearing your mind.
If you have the magical ability to clear your mind, fantastic. Most people can not do that however. Meditation is not so much about clearing your mind of all thoughts and just not thinking about anything at all. It’s much more about observing and guiding your thoughts. Your brain is happy to jump and wander all over the place – ever tried to sleep only to think about every single thing you did that day that seems dumb in hindsight? Meditation is really about acknowledging the train of thought that your brain WANTS to take, but instead you just wave at the train going by and direct your thoughts back towards something you’d rather focus on; for instance your breath.
3. You don’t need to meditate for a specific amount of time to reap the benefits.
It would be fabulous if we all had the time to sit and meditate for several hours every single day. It is really unrealistic for most of us though, especially in our busy and fast-paced world. Instead of deciding that you can’t possibly meditate because you don’t have an hour or two to dedicate to the practice, decide to commit to a handful of minutes per day. I often spend a few minutes meditating on the bus on the way to work and then I spend a few minutes meditating again right before I go to bed. It may not fit the picture of the Buddhist monk on the mountain but it’s been working beautifully for me!
4. Meditation is for hippies/spiritual people, it’s not for religious folks.
There is a common misconception that meditation is a spiritual path that is separate and incompatible from practicing religion. Meditation is not a religion and in fact it can go hand in hand with your faith. I have heard people sum it up like this: prayer is when you talk to God; meditation is when you listen to God. If you believe in a particular God you can use meditation to help focus your mind to listen to what that God is trying to communicate to you without the usual buzz of the busy everyday life. If you are not religious then you can see meditation as an opportunity to listen to The Universe or to yourself to find the answers buried within your subconscious. It isn’t tied to any faith and doesn’t exclude any faith either.
5. You don’t need to sit still in silence in a sacred space.
It is definitely useful to be in a quiet space to meditate. There are fewer distractions so you can focus on what you’re doing without being interrupted by honking horns or coughing neighbors. However, again, it is not always realistic to expect to find that silence every day. I often meditate while on the bus. The bus is in motion, cars are driving by, people are talking, and there is noise all around me. I can still choose to focus on my inhales and exhales. The noise becomes part of the meditation and I carry on. Noise does not have to be a deterrent. (And if it really does get in the way, you can use a meditation app with earphones to block out the noise. I have used Insight Timer, Calm, and Headspace with great success, as well as a variety of downloadable meditation tracks. It works!)
6. Meditation does NOT equal running from your problems.
Meditation does not equal avoidance. Believe me, sitting down and drawing inwards to focus on your thoughts and your breath is absolutely going to bring up whatever you are trying to run away from. Instead of allowing you to ignore what is bothering you, meditation will actually allow you to go deeper and examine your situation without other distractions or opinions and will often help you to zero in on the solutions that you need.
7. You don’t have to feel a huge shift for meditation to work.
When you read about how powerful meditation is, it’s easy to let yourself believe that if you sit on a pillow with your eyes closed and just breathe, you will feel some enormous power that suddenly makes your life a million times better. Sadly, it’s not really that big of a shift. Other than a sense of peace or calm after a meditation session, you probably won’t notice much of a big difference in your day. On the other hand, if you note where your brain space is on day one and then note it again a few weeks or months later, you will see the difference in small added-up increments. I didn’t just make my anxiety disappear in one session, but after a fairly regular practice I did notice that my anxiety had lessened and that when it did hit me, it was much more easily defeated.
8. Meditation is not just about stress reduction.
Meditation is often touted as a stress reliever. And it is! You can meditate and relieve stress, anxiety, fear, and more. But it’s so much more than that! Meditation can help you find answers to questions that have been sitting in the back of your mind for awhile, and it can help you focus on the solutions you need for the challenges you are facing. It’s a great way to find out what is really going on inside of you and how to best deal with it. Meditation is not a single service product – it is great for so many things!
In the years since I first developed my practice, I have found it beneficial to meditate whether I do it periodically or daily. My best results have always been when I carve out five minutes or so every day but even if I only get around to it every few days or once a week, it still brings me a sense of peace, calm, and the ability to figure myself out.
If you’ve been avoiding meditation for the reasons mentioned above, then I strongly urge you to take a moment to sit down wherever you are, and go inside. Knock on your own door, focus on your breathing, and give meditation a chance.
You may be very pleasantly surprised by the results.
Have you tried meditating yet? What has your experience been like? Leave me a comment below and then go find out the SEVEN reasons you are STILL stressed out.
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