I was in a meditation class in Costa Rica in December, and the teacher prompted us to “Make clear your mind.” (This was her way of blending English with Spanish grammar in an attempt to tell us to clear our minds.)
You’ve probably heard this cue before. “Just clear your mind,” they say. “Let go of your thoughts,” you’re instructed. But as you sit for meditation, you’ve probably noticed that your mind rarely, if ever, completely clears of thoughts. So you start to think, “Am I doing it wrong?”
The goal of meditation is not to clear your mind.
It’s more accurate to say that the goal of meditation is to have clear focus. Even if your mind is jumping from thought to thought during meditation, you can still develop this clear focus.
Think about a time when you meditated and couldn’t get comfortable. Your back was achy, so you kept shifting your position. Then you developed an irresistible urge to itch your nose, but a voice in your head said, “Absolutely not. You can control this urge. Do. Not. Touch. Your. Nose.” Which prompted five minutes of struggle over whether or not to relieve the itch, leaving you feeling like you’re just not cut out for this meditation stuff.
A meditation experience like the one I just described is COMPLETELY normal. Expecting meditation to be a blissful experience every time will only leave you disappointed. Here are a few tips that will help you get over the need to meditate the “right” way.
Let Go of Expectations
Let got of the expectation that you will be able to have clear focus during meditation. Often, the pressure we place on ourselves to do things correctly is what creates our struggle when reality doesn’t match our expectations. Don’t worry about the goal of meditation. Set any expectations you have aside.
Just Show Up
The hardest part of meditation—and of most things in life—is showing up. Your meditation may be a couple minutes. It might be fidgety. You might even open your eyes and check the clock a couple times. It happens to the best of us. The most important thing is that you show up. Make an attempt to bring your attention to your breath, or your mantra, or to focus your attention on an object. And when you worry about the forty things on your to-do list instead, it’s okay.
What Do You Notice?
If your meditation practice IS uncomfortable, or distracted, or cut short, instead of getting caught up in your own judgments about how you’re doing it “wrong,” simply notice what happened instead. “Hmm. My body is uncomfortable today.” Or, “My mind is distracted today.” Or, “Well, it looks like today’s practice is a short one.” And leave it at that. No judgment. Just the facts. When you become a witness of your thoughts, emotions and experiences, you will be less likely to fall into the judgment trap, which is where you will struggle most.
I hope these simple tips help you get back to your mat without feeling pressured. They help me when I get caught up in my own judgments.
and the Mindful Life Team
P.S. If you’d like to discover how even a small meditation practice can radically help you at home and/or at work, add your name to the wait list for the next Foundations of Mindful Parenting course or the Mindfulness in the Workplace course. (People on the wait list get a sweet deal too!)