As a teacher, I frequently hear people say, “I tried to meditate once, but I couldn’t do it right, so I stopped.”
In this article, I will explain why it’s so common for people to think that they are not on the right track (when they might very well be!), as well as very simple steps for giving meditation another real shot in your life. And if you haven’t started meditating yet, read on for tips to guide your very own first experience.
The reason that I often hear people share that they feel they are doing meditation “wrong” is that there are certain qualities of the mind that show themselves during meditation. Each one of these qualities, if you let them, can take you right out of meditating and into overthinking. The KEY is to observe what is happening… and then to return back to the practice.
3 Qualities of the Mind
1. The mind wanders. And wanders. And wanders.
Nope, it’s not just your mind. This is a natural part of the human condition, and it happens with most everyone. Humans have a mind that is designed to think, and that’s what it will do all the time, if you let it. You may notice that this same quality creates a fair amount of unwanted stress in your life, as your mind wanders to what you haven’t done, what you should have done, what you shouldn’t have said, and what hasn’t happened yet (but might). You get the picture.
Because of humans’ natural tendency to think negative or neutral thoughts more frequently than positive (known as the negativity bias), when your mind wanders, it will typically create a negative experience. (1)
The beauty of the meditation practice is that it offers the opportunity to bring your mind to a single point of focus (your breath, for example), and as you breathe, you are able to create space between those pesky thoughts… and ultimately peace. Meditation will help you to train your mind away from the wandering and toward the peace… and silence… underneath. This is exactly why meditation has been proven by science to enhance mood. (2) Ahhhh.
2. The mind overcomplicates things.
“If it seems simple, then it must be more complicated than that. I must be missing something!” Does this sound familiar? You may notice your mind reaching for something else, for something you must have missed. If you notice this as you meditate, you are actually observing the mind in action, in its reaching. There is actually nothing complicated about being in the present moment— except the mind that makes it that way.
In the transformational world, we say that “the way you do one thing is the way you do everything.” The way you show up in your meditation practice is the way that you show up in your life. So if you notice yourself trying to “figure it out” or “get it right,” you can also look into your life at where that might show up for you. This is another quality of the mind that can add stress to your life— and by practicing observing this tendency toward unnecessary complication, you will begin to create separation from the reaching or grasping not only in your practice, but also in your life. (Another sigh of relief, yes?)
3. The mind catastrophizes.
“Since I ‘failed’ at meditation before, I’m not good at meditation. I just can't meditate.” This is another line I hear often. Where else might you be giving up on something in your life just because it didn’t work the first or second or third time? We can never know what will happen in the next moment— every moment is a new moment to begin again. So before you believe that thought, allow yourself to be open to a new possibility. The possibility of you finding peace, clarity and positivity— naturally— through the practice of meditation.
Instead of resisting these tendencies of the mind, simply acknowledge these qualities when they show up, and then return to your meditation— again and again. It’s ok if your mind wanders dozens of times. It's ok if you have to bring your mind back dozens of times. The real practice is IN the returning. Training your mind to return attention to your breath, regardless of how many times it wanders or makes up stories, is where the real practice of meditation happens and where your attention muscle strengthens!
Wondering what meditation to practice? Here’s a simple mindfulness meditation for you:
Simple Mindfulness Meditation:
Bring your awareness to your breath. Notice your breath moving in and out of your body. When a thought comes up, notice it. You can even label the thought: “planning,” “worrying,” “regretting,” etc., and then come back to the breath. In this way, you can acknowledge what is coming up without allowing it to carry you away.
In-joy, and look out for the next weekly article,
Studies referenced in article:
1. Rozin, P., & Royzman, E. B. (2001). Negativity Bias, Negativity Dominance, and Contagion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5(4), 296-320. doi:10.1207/s15327957pspr0504_2
2. Edwards J., Peres J., Monti D.A., Newberg A.B. (2012) The Neurobiological Correlates of Meditation and Mindfulness. In: Moreira-Almeida A., Santana Santos F. (eds) Exploring Frontiers of the Mind-Brain Relationship. Mindfulness in Behavioral Health. Springer, New York, NY