Meditation is subtle. Without guidance, it’s easy to get lost. Sometimes, when you’re starting out, it can feel like you’re adrift in a foreign city without a friend, a map, or a GPS.
Suddenly you feel like cars are flying by, horns are blaring, and everything is unfamiliar. You don’t know anyone and there’s nobody around to ask directions. Yikes!
But truth is, this is more common than you might think.
Know Your Stuff
Sure, you’re just sitting there trying to relax and be still, but if you’re unaccustomed to the noise that your mind can generate when you attempt to be still and silent, it can be overwhelming.
That’s why, at the beginning of your meditation practice, it’s important to know some of the common pitfalls. If you understand the territory associated with meditation, it will help you from getting lost and giving up.
Thankfully, most of us make the same kinds of mistakes. After twenty years of consistent meditation, I still make them! But that’s not a problem, as long as you know what they are. If you do, then they can’t bog you down and you can keep moving forward in your practice.
Here are a few of the common mistakes in meditation. Are you making them?
1. Are You Making a Problem?
Our brains have evolved to solve problems. You and I are problem-solving machines. That’s how the human race got to the moon, mapped the genome, and will someday beat cancer. It’s an awesome power that we each possess.
However, the problem-solving orientation of our minds can be a real obstacle in meditation. It’s very easy to make a problem out of something in meditation because your mind is always looking for problems.
Meditation is the opposite. In meditation, we don’t judge anything as good or bad. At most, we simply observe it and let it go — nothing more and nothing less.
If you find yourself making any sort of problem in meditation — like thinking that this is a bad meditation — that’s a common mistake and a common way that people get lost. Instead, in that moment, just recognize that your mind loves to make problems and return to your meditation practice.
2. Are You Listening to What Your Mind Tells You?
In meditation, we practice the art of letting go. Whether you are concentrating on your breath, reciting a mantra, or practicing loving-kindness, the same rule applies. You have to let go of your wandering mind over and over again to come back to your meditation technique.
For the period of time that you are meditating, it’s important to not listen to your mind in any way. Your mind can find a thousand ways to capture your attention and distract you from your goal of meditating. If you find yourself listening to your mind drone on about this or that, rest assured, you aren’t meditating.
Instead, let go of your mind and remember that during meditation, it doesn’t matter what your mind or thoughts are telling you. Try to see it all as a big distraction from the main event, which is your practice.
3. Are You Judging Yourself for Drifting Off?
This is huge. A lot of people judge themselves harshly for drifting off during meditation. But you know what? This is what meditation is all about. You are engaged in a simple process of noticing, again and again, how your mind drifts away from the focus of your attention.
Not only is this not a problem, it’s the whole point. There’s no need to judge yourself if you find that you’re a million miles from home with no idea how you get there. Just observe that you were drifting off. The moment you do that, you’re not lost. It’s that simple.
And for the record, in any given meditation sitting, you may catch your mind drifting out of focus one hundred or one thousand times. Instead of punishing yourself, remember that every time you bring your attention back, it’s like pumping iron for the muscles of your attention. You’re building your capacity for meditation.
Notice These “Mistakes” And Keep Going
If you find yourself getting lost in response to any of these meditation mistakes, don’t worry about it. Simply observe them and come back home to your chosen practice. It’s really that simple.