When I had my first panic attack I started taking meditation seriously.
After hyperventilating on an overpass in San Francisco and getting the strong urge to abandon my car, run down the overpass, and vomit — I knew I could make time for meditation.
Seven years later, I’ve tried dozens of meditation techniques. Books, blog posts, apps, even private guided meditations with a shrink.
I ended up picking up the practice best with the Headspace app and presently have some 147 hours and 791 sessions in the app.
And what I’ve learned is most of the things I expected to gain from meditation never materialized. Not because I failed but because our beliefs about what meditation is have been warped by listicles (the irony is not lost), 24 fitness classes, and movies.
Here are the meditation myths you should stop believing.
Meditation is hard
Meditation doesn’t require a guru, a $2500 mantra, or reading a big book. Meditation is, in its most basic form, noting thoughts and feelings.
I’ve found the Headspace app to be the most effective approach to meditation.
Meditation will bliss you out
This was a myth I had difficulty overcoming. Meditation will not turn you into a blissed-out monk. As a psychologist once told me during a meditation session, we are “house owners” not monks.
In other words, you probably don’t live in a monastery with no possessions, have no family, and no financial obligations. Most likely, you are an active participant in capitalism. You own a home or pay rent, have a job, and have friends and family who depend on you.
My personal experience has been that meditation very, very slowly made me more aware of my own thoughts and has helped me catch myself before my thoughts and emotions take control of me.
Meditation means emptying your mind
Far from it. Meditation is the practice of noting your thoughts and letting them go. More on this below.
I tried meditation and it didn’t work
I suppose that depends on what you mean by “it didn’t work”. If you expected to feel a sense of euphoria or a quiet sense on consistent peace throughout the day then, yeah, it didn’t work.
But that’s not what it looks like when meditation works.
Curiously, meditation is working when you feel like your screwing it up.
A frequent frustration when I started meditating was that I would forget that I was meditating.
30 seconds into the meditation I was thinking about work, Netflix, my kids, and just about anything except meditation.
But distraction is essential to mediation. Meditation is noticing that your mind is distracted and gently, without judgment, bringing it back to the practice. Not becoming distracted when meditating is like resistance training without dumbbells.
Meditation requires quiet, uninterrupted, time
I used to feel frustrated when I was interrupted while meditating. If my 5-year-old daughter came into the room while I was meditating and kept talking to me I would feel like the session was lost.
Eventually, I realized the absurdity in feeling like an interruption messed up my meditation.
Interruptions are an opportunity to put your meditation into practice. If someone interrupts me while meditating, if it takes less than a minute to help them I will do so. If not, I let them know I’ll be available in a few minutes and occasionally I’ll even invite them to meditate with me.
What I’ve found to be true about meditation
The benefits of meditation are not what I expected. They were much better. Rather than feeling a euphoric calm, I find that I notice individual thoughts more clearly, can catch myself before I get upset more often, and that I’m able to gently bring my mind back to the present in my better moments.