“I don’t meditate,” says yet another person after I mention that I lead a meditation group. “I’m bad at meditation.”
“There is no bad,” I respond. “There is only awareness.”
The Primary Goal of Meditation
Self-awareness is a primary aim of meditation. Awareness of what we’re doing, thinking, feeling, and sensing allows us to be more available in the moment. We notice the patterns of our attention and inattention. We track when we look at the computer screen, when we look out the window, when our energy lags, and what thoughts and emotions greet us. Where attention goes, the mind, body, and energy follow, so it’s beneficial to be intentional and understand what contributes to being aware or getting lost along the way.
Awareness helps us recognize which of our habitual patterns are helpful and which go against our best interests. The stuck places come into view along with routes for greater flow. Rather than us reacting to conditions, awareness provides options for responding. Awareness provides choice.
What Stops Us From Being Self-Aware?
Frequently, what gets in the way of awareness is an overreliance on or preoccupation with thinking, which distances us from the felt, immediate experience of a situation. A focus on the senses heightens our awareness about what is seen, smelled, felt, heard, or touched, and can deliver us away from the maze of thinking into alignment with the current moment. A focus on the senses reinforces embodiment which brings us home to our individual body in connection to our surroundings.
Mindful awareness is the ability to be present in the moment, and reveals the quality of our attention. Mindfulness results from meditation, a central mindful technique that provides an intimate glimpse into how we move through the day. Despite the popularity of meditation, there are many misunderstandings about the practice. Below are several.
Myth 1: “I’m Not Good At Meditation”
Reality: The key word omitted here is practice. As with any activity, you don’t master it after a single session, or even several sessions. That said, the aim of meditation is not about mastery. Meditation is about the process. It’s a practice that emphasizes an ongoing activity. A meditation practice is an opportunity to purposefully focus your attention on the present and witness without judgment what shows up.
There is no doing meditation wrong. If you think so, it means that your judgmental mind is active, and your witness mislaid its neutrality. A judgment also hints toward having a pattern of criticalness.
Myth 2: I’ll Never Be Able to Quiet My Inner Chatter
Reality: Most of us have an ongoing narrative, some comprised of multiple competing voices. There’s no need to quiet them. Recognize that chatter is taking place. Be curious. Is it a commentary on work? A habitual response to uncomfortable situations? Notice if it’s an isolated event or pattern; notice with compassion. Every mind wanders, some more than others. When chatter takes place, gently return your attention to your chosen mindful activity.
Myth 3: I Can’t Sit Still on a Meditation Cushion or Chair
Reality: Consider several minutes of stretching before sitting to loosen tension and muscular knots. Sitting practice—commonly done with a focus on breath—is only one type of meditation. Consider focusing on a candle, chanting, or practicing loving-kindness. Or take up yoga, tai chi, or another practice that emphasizes movement.
There is not a one-size-fits-all for any mindfulness practice. Meditation is one among many mindfulness practices. Mindfulness can be applied to doing laundry, climbing a mountain, or talking with a friend. In fact, that’s the objective of these practices. We practice intensively on the cushion or in the yoga studio to learn mindfulness and apply it to other situations.
Myth 4: I’m Not a Calm Person; Meditation Isn’t for Me
Reality: A singular definition of yourself is a limiting perspective. Throughout the day, we likely experience some calm as well as anxiety, excitement, confusion, curiosity, weariness, hunger, attraction, and so much more, lasting a few seconds, hours, or days. The awareness that comes with meditation reveals our changing emotional, physical, and mental state.
Calm is not a prerequisite for meditating nor is it the goal—although calm is among the results. If the body is nervous, recognize the nervousness. If confused, notice the confusion. Noticing leads to acceptance of what the body is experiencing. Noticing shows that situations and our reactions to them continually change.
Myth 5: I Get Sleepy During Meditation, So I Must Be Practicing Wrong
Reality: If you’re getting sleepy, it suggests you’re tired and need sleep, and this may be the first time that you’ve slowed down enough for the body’s need to be revealed. The same holds true for any other emotion. Meditation and other mindfulness activities invite the body to reveal truths that may be overlooked because our attention is elsewhere. Meditation settles the nervous system enough to provide space for other states to emerge, sometimes arising from the hidden recesses of our awareness.
Myth 6: I Need a Teacher and There Are None Around
Reality: A teacher is helpful for starting and furthering a practice. Many are accessible online. You are also a valuable teacher. Give yourself permission, patience, and compassion to find out who you are in the moment. Feel what you’re feeling and sense what you’re sensing. Uncover the body’s wisdom. Attend to its experiences, illusions, and insights.
Read the essay by Rabbi Rami that inspired this article.