I started seeing a therapist and completed an assessment determining that I have depression. This is something I wish more people would talk openly about, but that could be its own post for another day. Anyway, I am very lucky that the random counsellor I chose (solely because I have a fear of the phone, and with her I could book my appointments online) is into alternative treatments. She asked me if I had ever heard of mindfulness or tried meditation, which I had not.
It always seemed like a frustrating and impossible feat to sit and think of nothing. As I’ve since learned that is an inaccurate way of thinking about mindfulness and meditation. It has now become a part of my daily life, and I believe in it’s benefits, so I’d like to bring clarity to three misconceptions about meditation I had prior to beginning my own practice.
1. Meditation is thinking about nothing/controlling my thoughts.
We cannot force our thoughts. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned through this process. Thoughts will come and go like waves. While meditating we focus on our breath. When another thought comes, we acknowledge the thought then redirect our mind back to the breath. I like to use a visualization of a grassy hill with a clear blue sky. Each thought I have is envisioned as a cloud floating overhead. I recognize it and then allow it to drift away out of my field of vision.
This happens over and over again during my practice, and that’s okay. We are not trying to turn our mind off; we’re cultivating an awareness of it. There is no judgement or shaming even when a thought takes over and leads down a windy road of attention. Each breath, each moment is a fresh beginning.
2. I don’t have the time to meditate/I’ll have to meditate for hours.
My first time meditating was for 5 minutes. I carried on that way until I upped it to 10 minutes, which is how long I meditate for most often. One time I meditated for 20 minutes, and that’s the longest I’ve gone. What is far more important than the length, is the consistency. As I engage in a formal practice everyday, the quality improves, and when I see the benefits in my life, it’s a motivation to make sure I’m making the time.
Aside from formal practice, focusing on the breath is something you can do any time of day – driving in traffic, doing the dishes, on lunch break at work – even for just 1 minute. A method I’ve learned called “The Breathing Space” takes just 3 minutes, and it one of the most useful, practical applications I’ve discovered. Also, meditation brings awareness into all aspects of your life which just might free up more time through your increased effectiveness throughout the day.
3. Meditation is only for Buddhists or other religious people.
Meditation is an ancient practice that has been used historically by people of Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Christian faiths and more. However, modern scientific techniques have been used to show how meditation effects people’s bodies and minds, and the results are encouraging.
People have seen improvements in areas ranging from high blood pressure to inflammation to anxiety and, like myself, depression. Meditation itself is non-religious and non-theistic, and thus a powerful tool available to anyone.
We rely on our minds all day everyday to monitor and control and process everything we experience. It only makes sense that our mind needs intentional down time, and meditation achieves that. Some days it comes easily, and other days it doesn’t, but there’s no judgement in it, and I find that so liberating. Meditation has become beneficial to my life, and I hope that it will gain more understanding and popularity in our wider culture.
Do you meditate? What benefits do you find? If not, what are your thoughts about meditation?