I believe that the (many) misconceptions when it comes to meditation are what turns most people off to meditation. The “idea of meditation” and the meditation misconceptions have painted a false façade about what meditation, and the purpose of meditation, really is. I believe that the false façade is what keeps most people from adopting a meditation practice – even though so many of us can benefit from adding a bit of meditation into our lives. The truth is: meditation looks different for everyone. And just because meditation looks a certain way for someone one day – doesn’t mean that it must look that same way for them the next day. Here are some of the most common meditation misconceptions as well as what my meditation practice looks like.
What is The Purpose of Meditation?
One of the most common meditation misconceptions is that the purpose of meditation is to turn off the mind. This misconception portrays meditation as a new-age, holistic, “woo-woo” concept and in that misconception discourages the average person from picking up meditation.
The initial purpose of meditation is to bring awareness to the mind and thoughts. Not to silence them. When we meditate, we become a witness to our mind, as opposed to a participant in it. Witnessing our thoughts is the first step to cultivating and controlling our thoughts. Because of this notion I find that meditation is the first step towards mindfulness.
The longer-term purpose, in my opinion, of meditation is to make our lives easier through inviting mindfulness into our lives, via meditation.
Bringing mindfulness, and awareness of our thoughts, into our lives can help to:
-regulate our emotions in a healthier manner
-enhance focus and clarity
-improve our relationships with others
-elevate overall well being
While mindfulness can enhance one’s life, it’s not the only “purpose” of meditation. There are also heaps of other benefits to meditation, any of which can be someone’s “purpose” of meditation. Forbes notes 10 Science-Backed Benefits of Meditation as:
-reduction of blood pressure
-strengthened immune system
-addiction management assistance
I want to also note that these are my interpretations of the purpose of meditation. The benefits, both mental and physical, to mediation are so vast that it would be impossible for me to pinpoint the purpose of meditation for everyone in their own individualistic lives. Each person’s purpose for meditation can, and likely will, be different.
There’s Only One form of Meditation
I don’t need to go deeper into explaining what this means because this meditation misconception goes so far that you’re already envisioning what I mean. This idea of meditation has us envisioning a person sitting upright, cross legged with their arms out over their knees and their hands forming a mudra with their thumb and index finger pressed together and their remaining fingers straight out.
While this picture we all have painted in our minds about meditation is a form of meditation – it’s not the only form of meditation. Some meditations require movement such as yoga, Tai Chi or Qigong.
Additionally, there are also less formal forms of mediation such as dancing or walking. Even unloading the dishwasher or doing laundry can become a meditative experience.
Any activity can be a form of meditation – if you invite mindfulness into that activity.
You Have to Sit Still to Meditate
Expanding on the misconception that there is only one form of meditation, which looks like a person sitting, is the misconception that you must sit still to meditate. As I debunked above, you can meditate while moving: walking, dancing or doing your chores.
Inviting meditation into your everyday activities such as washing the dishes might look like bringing your full attention to the chore. Pushing away any other thoughts about your day and focusing on the sensations of the chore: the temperature of the water, the texture of the soap, the composition of the sponge, etc.
Meditation Requires Silence
This is one of the funniest meditation misconceptions to me because so many various meditations require the participant to be guided through the meditation through listening. In fact, one of my favorite forms of meditation is tuning in to a guided meditation on the (free!) app Insight Timer.
Other forms of sound supported meditations may look like singing along to your favorite song or playing music without lyrics. A mediation through sound might look like tuning into instrumentals (classical, jazz or frequencies, for example) and focusing on the different sounds, vibrations. Another form of meditation supported by sound might be sitting outside with your eyes closed, focusing on the sounds of nature – the birds chirping, a bee buzzing by, wind rustling through the leaves of a tree or water flowing nearby.
The Purpose of Meditation is to Turn off the Mind
This misconception is also a funny one to me because the only way to turn off your mind is to be dead. And, dead people can’t meditate. As I mentioned above, the purpose of meditation isn’t to turn off the mind but rather to be a witness to it and to cultivate control over it.
When we become a witness to our mind and begin to learn how to control our thoughts, we can create a more mindful relationship with those thoughts as well as with our feelings and emotions.
When we have a mindful relationship with our thoughts, feelings, and emotions we can develop stronger mental clarity and emotional resilience.
When we have stronger mental clarity and emotional resilience – our relationships, with everything around us, improve. Our relationship with ourselves improves. Our relationships with others improve. Our relationship to our work, our hobbies and our education improves. Our relationship with money, with food, with nature, with everything improves.
Meditation Can Solve Your Problems
I’m not sure where the misconception that meditation solves your problems was formed. I hate to break it to you, but nothing and no one can solve your problems except yourself.
Meditation, however, can make it easier to handle your problems. As I mentioned before meditation helps us to control our mind and when we control our mind – our relationship with everything can improve. While meditation can’t solve your problems – it can change your relationship with your problems. Meditation might not single-handedly “fix your issues” but it can help you to tackle them from a less reactive, less emotional, more thoughtful space.
What Does Meditation Look Like for Me?
Physical, asana, yoga is one of my favorite forms of mediation. I find that for me, dropping into a meditative state is easiest for me in yin yoga, which is coined as a meditative, slow, practice. However, I can also channel that meditative state in a more active yoga practice such as Ashtanga or Flow yoga. I meditate during yoga by focusing on two things: my breath as well as the pose I’m in. By focusing on maintaining my breath (sometimes inhaling/exhaling to certain counts) as well as the pose I’m in – I don’t leave a ton of room for other thoughts to enter.
Reading was one of the first ways I started to practice mindful meditation. I also believe that reading is one of the easiest ways to notice where your mind goes. This is because if your mind shifts while you’re reading – you miss out on what you just read.
Meditation through reading is about being fully present with what you’re reading. Allowing yourself to be fully absorbed by what you’re reading and giving it your full attention can turn “reading” into “meditation”.
Going for a Drive & Singing
I love to sing and I also love to drive (I even drive a manual shift car simply because I find it to be fun). Putting these two together makes for one of my favorite forms of meditation. When we drive we need to be present with our car and the road – if we’re not, we crash. However, driving doesn’t require our full mental capacity and we can often slip into thoughts or even day dream while driving.
When I meditate while driving – I put on a playlist of songs I like to sing along to and BELT OUT THE TUNES 🗣🎶.
When I’m present with the song I’m singing along to, as well as the car I’m driving and the road I’m driving on, I don’t leave any space in my mind for other thoughts to creep in.
I started using painting as a form of meditation during the lockdowns and since then my relationship with painting as a form of meditation has only deepened. Painting is relaxing and stress reducing for me. It invites my inner child to shine and creates and environment where I can unwind, follow zero rules and just play.
Painting became meditative for me because it became a way for me to process emotions without using words, ideas or thoughts. In some instances, I choose to paint outside because I’m releasing angry, negative emotions and I literally throw the paint at the canvas. In other instances, I put on music that evokes certain emotions out of me to allow them to bubble up and I release them through the paintbrush. As such, my paintings are rarely paintings “of things” but more often blurs of colors, shapes and strokes.
When I paint in a mediative state I am fully engulfed in the painting and while I may be feeling things that I’m processing through the canvas – I’m not thinking about them. I don’t attach thoughts to the feeling or judgements to the way the paintings turn out. I let them be whatever they are or needed to be.
Playing with Flowers
Flowers bring me so much joy. I’ve noted in nearly all of my “Things I Loved” roundups (October, November, December, February, March some form of flowers that made me happy and “playing with flowers” is one of the Things that I’m doing this Spring to Support my Mind, Body and Soul.
Each week I buy a few different types of flowers and I use them to create three or four bouquets to place in different rooms in my home. Each bouquet has a different vase, each with different sizes and shapes, and thus filling them becomes an experiment of sorts. In that experimentation is where I found a form of meditation. I become so present with the flowers and the bouquets that I’m creating that there is no space in my mind for anything else beside the flowers. From the colors and scents of the flowers, to the texture of their stem and blooms, to whether they have thorns or not to the leaves that I may or may not have to remove – I do a mediative “dance” of sorts with the flowers each week.
Guided Meditations on Insight Timer
I mentioned above that many forms of meditation involve sound and that one of my favorite forms of meditation is guided meditations on the app Insight Timer. I like to turn to these guided meditations when I’m so engulfed in my mental chatter that I can’t achieve a meditative state. When I tune into the guided meditations on Insight Timer, I usually have a feeling or emotion that I’m working through that I feel I need assistance with. Whether that’s anger, fear, self-doubt or sadness – Insight Timer definitely has a meditation to help me move through those feelings.
While it’s great to be able to hold myself through various meditations – sometimes I just feel like I need support. Other times I feel that I can’t do it alone, which is okay! When I feel that need for support is when I tune into Insight Timer. I search for what I need such as “mediation for self-doubt” or “meditation to calm anxiety”.
At the end of the day, meditation is going to look different for everyone. For some people, it may look like the stereotype of meditation that we all have painted in our minds. For others, like myself, it may look like painting, driving, singing or reading. I hope that, at the very least, I’ve shed some light on the concept of meditation being way broader than we are led to believe. Hoping for more, I hope that I’ve inspired you to pick up a meditation practice!