Meditation is a highly subjective experience. Depending on who you are, your aims, and so the reasons for your meditation, the way you go about it is going to vary. In Tai Chi meditation is even performed when moving and the art is often referred to as meditation in movement. However despite these variations in style, aim and technique there are certainly key elements that remain the same. Whatever the purpose of your meditation or your goals, concentration remains key to being successful in meditation and you need to be undisturbed in order to be able to direct your thoughts or to empty your mind of distractions. Essentially that’s what meditation is – the practice of trying to control your own thoughts whether that means turning them off, reflecting on them, or directing them to a particular task or function. Here are some mistakes people make when trying to do that.
Thinking you have to be perfectly still: Many people trying out meditation make the mistake of believing they have to remain perfectly still while they do. They will thus try to lie there statically without moving even when they start to itch or twitch. Lying perfectly still while trying to push the sensation of having an itchy face out of your mid is very difficult and they will not go away until you deal with them. At the same time you can rest assured that as soon as you tell yourself you cannot scratch an itch they will start cropping up all over. The same is true of needing the toilet, getting a drink, and moving because you are uncomfortable. Allow yourself to move whenever you need to and to get up to go to the toilet either. Being allowed to move will greatly help you to relax and you will also find that it does not break your concentration too much if you start scratching.
Thinking you have to meditate in a certain way: You get a book and you read how to meditate. It says that you should sit in the lotus position (legs crossed over one another) and your back straight and that you should ‘hum’ while you have your eyes closed. In some cases it will tell you even to repeat a certain word (a mantra) or to even have your tongue in a certain position (normally this will mean that it is touching the roof of your mouth). All these things are fine and they are not wrong, but if you cannot do them or find them distracting then they are more disruptive than helpful. It is important then that when you meditate you do it the way that you find most comfortable. It is a very subjective experience and different people do it in different ways so do not feel forced to do it in a certain way. If you find just crossing your legs more comfortable then do that, if you find you want to meditate with your eyes open then that is fine too. A mantra is simply designed to take your mind off of everything else, so if you want it to it could be the word ‘filangee’ and it would be just as effective. Likewise it is fine to not have a mantra at all and to instead use visualisation or to just concentrate on your own breathing.
Expecting effects immediately: We’ve all heard how some people can use meditation in order to achieve higher states of consciousness or to reach epiphanies, and for many that is a motivation for starting meditating in the first place. However it is important to recognise that these things, particularly the former, take an awful lot of time and you are unlikely to achieve them very quickly. When you meditate it might simply just be sitting quietly for a while, and you might even find you are unable to shut out the ‘background’ chatter at all. That does not mean you’ve failed, this will still prove to be highly beneficial for your mental health – it will help you to de-stress, it will improve your ability to focus when necessary, and it will have other profound effects on your body over time. And as you keep practicing so you will also become better and better at achieving the states you want to achieve. Do not give up and do not expect miracles right away!
Getting too comfortable: You do not have to be sitting down in order to meditate, and it is just as fine to lie down on the floor or on the bed. However there’s a very obvious danger inherent in lying on the bed that you need to be aware of and this is of course that it could cause you to fall to sleep. If you are sleeping then you are not meditating; you are sleeping. So in order to prevent this happening try and leave the light on or make yourself a little less comfortable by lying on the floor as opposed to the bed etc.
Limiting yourself: Too many people who practice meditating think that it is something that requires a certain amount of time, a quiet room, candles maybe… And all that means that they are less likely to try meditating because the circumstances are not perfect for it. As mentioned though, in Tai Chi practitioners actually meditate during the movements. At the same time it is also possible to meditate for just a couple of seconds – it does not necessarily have to be a long drawn out process. In order to practice meditation you do not need any special arrangements, you can even practice it while standing in a queue – and in fact that ability to focus and concentrate even when there are noises and distractions around you is something that will come in very useful while meditating generally.
Not trying new things: Meditation in itself is a very broad term, and it simply means directing your thoughts for a specific end – to solve a problem, to prayer in some religions, to reflection – or stopping them all together. There are hundreds of different ‘types’ of meditation for example, many of which rely on no specific beliefs and that can have a range of benefits for the practitioner, apart from which they can also be fascinating and highly enjoyable. For example some forms of meditation involve focussing on your feelings or emotions, or on feeling you body in space – things that we never normally devote time to and that we can all get something from. Some forms of meditation even encourage their practitioners to focus entirely on pleasure – which can’t be all bad…