If you’ve said the words, “I can’t meditate” or “There’s no way I could clear my mind” – it’s time to listen up.
Meditation is the latest big thing in health but there are still lots of us resisting it, and that’s because there’s a big fat myth surrounding meditation: that it requires us to remove all thoughts from our minds. Let’s bust that myth, shall we?
Meditation teacher Clarissa Hughes from NEN Consulting says, “Meditation isn’t about having a blank mind. It’s natural to think.”
(Phew. It’s estimated that humans have about 70,000 thoughts every day; it’s no wonder so many of us are worried about clearing them all.)
So if we’re not sitting down to get rid our thoughts, what is the aim of meditation? Hughes says it’s about quietening the mind and bringing mindfulness to your life. “What we’re allowing ourselves in meditation to be is in the present moment and allowing our thoughts to come and go,” she explains. “This helps us realise that thoughts aren’t facts, but a stream of mental events that are always with us and we can choose to engage with them or not.”
At its core, meditation is about increasing consciousness so having thoughts and noticing them is actually pretty great.
Ultimately, though, there isn’t a definition of successful and unsuccessful meditation; it’s an individual experience. “There is no right and wrong in meditation,” says Hughes. “It’s about learning to allow whatever’s going on to happen, but because we don’t spend very long doing that it feels unnatural at first.”
“What we’re allowing ourselves in meditation to be is in the present moment and allowing our thoughts to come and go”.
Even the master of meditation, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, encourages thoughts during meditation. He suggests people find a way of meditating that suits them, and says he gets the most benefit from what he calls “analytical meditation”.
"In this type of meditation one uses reasoning," the Dalai Lama is quoted. "Reasoning can enhance positive states of mind and overcome the attitudes, thoughts and emotions that lead to suffering and dissatisfaction. In analytic meditation, one brings about inner change through systematic investigation and analysis. In this way we can properly use our human intelligence, our capacity for reason and analysis, to contribute to our happiness and satisfaction."
In other words, you examine your thoughts and feelings and how they fit into your life. Even better, you can take this skill with you in every aspect of your day.
It’s the ultimate in self-care, really.
Meditation for beginners
- Guided meditation is best when you’re starting out. You can enlist some help in the form of a meditation class or an app. Try: Smiling Mind (also great for kids), 1 Giant Mind, Buddhify or Headspace.
- If you’re going to a retreat or class, ask what type of meditation will be practised. The Dalai Lama refers to two types: analytical (as discussed above) and single-point focus; the latter may be more challenging if you’re unsure about clearing your mind.
- To help you quieten your mind, your teacher or app will often encourage you to focus on something like your breath or a sound. This helps you stay in the present moment.
- 10 minutes is sufficient for a beginner; some people increase this over time, while others consider that time frame a good fit in their day.
- There’s no right and wrong, and every time you meditate will be a different experience. Just roll with it, even if the thoughts are racing in and out of your mind.