Mindfulness Meditation FAQs: Busting through 9 Misconceptions
#1. If meditation is “good” for us, so what?
Rock solid science has proven the many benefits of meditation. The question is, so what? We’ve all heard of things that are “good” for us, but we don’t do them. There may be many reasons for this. We may roll our eyes because we think meditation will be another “chore” like everything else in our busy lives. We may think it won’t work for us, it’s too difficult, there’s not enough time, we’re too cerebral or restless, we’re too damaged, we don’t need anything, or we don’t see a big enough reward to expend the effort. We may have tried it and didn’t get the experience we expected, so no more. We may also think it goes against our religious beliefs. If you’ve had any of these thoughts, you’re not alone.
Most of us live from the “head up,” racing to the next task, getting lost in a jumble of thoughts, being bombarded with the difficulties in our lives and the world situation, and then analyzing everything until we’re exhausted. It takes away from the joy that could be present in our lives. And that’s where meditation can help. We reconnect with who we truly are to live a more fulfilled happy life in joy and ease without the constant “noise” in our head getting in the way. So, before you make a final judgment, I invite you to explore with me a little further for just a few minutes. I will bust through the common misconceptions about meditation. You can then reevaluate and decide for yourself.
#2. What is mindfulness meditation?
There are different types of meditation. I will specifically be discussing mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is focusing or paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It’s being aware of awareness. What do I mean by “without judgment?” Most of us are judging all the time. We are right and the other person is wrong, or vice versa. This is or isn’t good. We should or shouldn’t have felt or behaved in a certain way. And we’re constantly judging whether we are better or worse than someone else, or if we’re good enough. So, we probably judge many times a day, even if we think we’re not judgmental. Ugh – exhausting!
What do I mean by “aware of awareness?” Studies have shown that we act consciously only about 5% of the time; 95% of the time we act from subconscious beliefs and patterns formed by our past experience. What if we could be more aware and allow what is in the “now” to just “be” without getting caught in the past, believing the stories our mind tell us, or from unconscious motivations that drive us? That’s being aware of awareness – a deep, ever present wisdom that all of us can tap into. We would be able to see, think, and act more clearly in our lives. We could stop the suffering, even if our circumstances are difficult or less than perfect.
Our mind is like a little puppy going here and there. Meditation is a technique to train the mind and body to pay attention and “stay” so that we can be mindful, or aware of awareness. We can then take this awareness into our daily lives to live with more ease. There are many different forms of meditation, and one isn’t better than the other. Be curious and explore to find out which one works best for you. It doesn’t have to be sitting on a cushion or chair with your eyes closed and not moving. It could take the form of mindful movement, such as tai chi or qi gong, or prayer where you listen to the inner voice rather than supplicate. It could be walking in the woods or along the ocean shore, or something else.
Meditation has 2 wings that help you take flight, just like birds fly free: (1) Awareness; and (2) Compassion. The key is that it is inwardly focused. You’re aware of what’s inside your body and mind, and how it affects your interpretation of your internal and external environments. It gives you more “space” to take a “pause,” hear your internal wisdom regardless of what’s going on in your life, act rather than react, and then be liberated to fly free. The compassion piece comes from not judging or blaming yourself for whatever presents or doesn’t present itself. We are the hardest on ourselves, so the trick is to learn to become our own best friend.
#3. Is meditation just for relaxation and stress reduction?
The answer is no if you’re practicing mindfulness meditation. It’s about reconnecting your mind, body, and spirit, and then reclaiming your true nature to fully engage the world around you. The benefits are that you can feel calmer, more peaceful and less stressed by being aware of what’s really going on rather than letting your thoughts and emotions drive you into the black hole of never being satisfied. Meditation facilitates an open heart-space where you can relate to yourself and others with kindness and ease.
#4. Am I supposed to stop all thoughts?
Absolutely not! The brain is built to think, and that’s one of the things that makes us so beautifully human. In mindfulness meditation, we become aware of our thoughts, emotions and sensations in our body. Try this experiment. Sit quietly with your eyes closed for 1 minute and count your thoughts. It could be 50, 100, or more! When we are mindful, we consciously allow these thoughts to pass by like clouds in the sky. We don’t “grab” onto them but allow them to pass while observing with awareness and non-judgment. The mind naturally settles down into a quieter state the more we practice this. So, we don’t have to “try” not to think. What a relief! But don’t be fooled. Long-time practitioners still have thoughts during meditation. The key is to notice them quicker, let them be, and then let them naturally pass by.
#5. What if I’m restless or I fall asleep during meditation?
There are no “shoulds” or hard and fast rules in mindfulness meditation about being totally still no matter what. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel, think or be during meditation. However, many times when we get still, the ego wants to sabotage us from getting in touch with our true calm nature. A result is that we may feel restless, sleepy (or bored) as an avoidance mechanism to what’s really happening in the present moment. The practice then becomes noticing the restlessness or sleepiness without judging ourselves for “not doing it right” or being “deficient” in some way. It’s also okay to convert to “standing” or “walking” meditation at these times. And sometimes, we just need to move or take a nap! That’s the body talking to us, too. Just be curious and honest about the real motivation.
#6. Is it normal to feel a flood of emotions or, alternatively, feel nothing?
Yes, this is very common. Most of us are so busy that we don’t have time to stop and notice our feelings, or we keep moving to shove them down and get through the day. This eventually disconnects us from our body, mind, and soul. When we start to become aware uncomfortable emotions can arise, and we want them to stop. See if you can stay with it for a while just beyond your comfort zone and see what happens. It’s not uncommon for the intensity of the emotion(s) to dissipate. If you feel like you’re becoming overwhelmed, stop and do something else for a while. It’s okay; be easy with yourself. You can take a walk, reach out to a friend, read a book, listen to music, or whatever source you tap into for calmness and peace. You can always come back to meditation later. Alternatively, you can feel numb or an “absence” of feeling. This may be due to feelings being stuffed down and stuck for so long that you’re not used to the cues the body is giving you. In either case, be patient with yourself. Seek the guidance of an experienced teacher or mindfulness mentor. They may have tools to help you through it. Some of us may have also experienced trauma in our lives, making meditation more difficult. Trauma is not always a contraindication to meditation per se. However, it’s very important to seek the guidance of a trauma specialist and/or a trauma informed mindfulness meditation teacher before proceeding further if you’re feeling too overwhelmed.
#7. Am I supposed to feel blissful?
Sometimes there is a feeling of bliss. Please realize this is a passing feeling or emotion, just like worry, anxiety, sadness, fear, or anger. Enjoy the bliss while it’s there, but don’t get caught in it or “cling” to it. We all secretly want bliss to last forever, but just like everything else, this feeling will come and go. What is timeless and never ending is the awareness that’s always in the background, no matter what we are feeling or thinking. When we tap into this limitless awareness, we return from getting lost in thought and unconsciousness. We don’t want to get so absorbed in the bliss or “other worldliness” that we forget who and where we are. That’s a form of losing touch with awareness, too.
Some spiritual seekers may only want to feel the bliss without ever experiencing uncomfortable emotions. This is called “spiritual bypass” because it’s hard to get in touch with our true nature of wisdom, love, and compassion, especially in the face of worldly difficulties “off the cushion.”
#8. Is mindfulness meditation a religion?
No, mindfulness meditation is not a religion. Some of the teachings draw on the Buddhist philosophy. But all traditions and religions have components of meditation and mindfulness, so these concepts are universal. All people want to be happy, belong, love and be loved. Mindfulness is another tool to get closer to these aspirations, whether it be through intimacy with God, a higher power, “that which is greater,” and/or accessing our own internal wisdom. Mindfulness meditation is one tool to help us get in touch with this wisdom and use it in every-day life.
#9. If I am peaceful, how do I address social injustice, climate change, war, or other injustices in the world?
This is a big question that could take up many pages. In brief, mindfulness meditation allows us to practice taking a “pause” so we can act rather than react in any given situation. The result is we come from a very different perspective. All beings were born with goodness, but environment has a huge influence on what we think, feel, believe and how we act. When we remember this, we can still have compassion for those who we believe are the victims and the perpetrators without condoning their behaviors and actions. This allows us to think and act clearly and purposefully to address the terrible things that happen in the world. We become part of the solution rather than an addition to the problem.
As we’ve now learned, there are several misconceptions about mindfulness meditation and many ways we can get sidetracked. An experienced, trauma informed mindfulness meditation teacher or mentor can help you unblock and open to your human wholeness, stop the suffering, and experience a joyful, satisfied life. I will be providing you with some of these meditation techniques through excerpts from my book “Somatic Energy Medicine,” subsequent blogs, and my newsletters. So, sign up for my newsletter and experience the benefits of mindfulness meditation for yourself. You can also schedule mindfulness mentoring sessions and/or register for mindfulness meditation classes.