In my late 20s and having heard about meditation from a TV programme, I thought it would be cool – the whole essence of becoming a calmer person had massive appeal to me.
I made myself comfortable, settled down for my planned 30 minutes and told myself I wasn’t going to move, not even to scratch if I had an itch. Well, three minutes in, I decided it was a load of rubbish. There was no hope – my mind was racing more than ever before. I gave up!
In my mind I was clearly someone who had irrepressibly strong thoughts, was too intelligent, a supreme multi-tasker… or just not designed to ‘sit and do nothing’.
If I had known these 3 things that I’m going to share with you before I first attempted meditation, my experience would have been completely different. I may have stuck at it for at least another three minutes!
Here are the 3 things you really need to know before you start any kind of meditative practice. They will save you time and immediately eliminate some of the excuses that might stop you making any progress.
This is the big one, and the irony is that we need meditation in order to realise the truthfulness in this statement. The reason I put this as the number one thing you need to know, is because not understanding this is the main reason you will stop meditating.
Many people think, just like I myself did for many years, that every thought that comes into their head is actively them – “I am doing the thinking, therefore whatever I think must be me”. The reality is very different. To prove it; if it is really you doing the thinking, stop thinking. You will quickly realise you cannot do that. Just the same as you cannot block sound from entering your ears.
You know you are not the sound, because that comes from outside somewhere. The same applies to thinking, just because it comes from somewhere within your body does not mean you can control it. The correct terminology would be: I have thoughts but I am not those thoughts. Just like you have a foot, it is part of you but it is not entirely you.
The more you meditate the more you will understand this.
One of the main reasons people think they cannot meditate, especially after trying it for a few minutes, is that their mind always continues to think. Even if there is a gap of a few seconds, eventually the thoughts will come rolling in. People think they have failed at meditating because their mind isn’t perfectly blank. But the truth is, you are never going to stop those thoughts coming in.
The best you can hope for is longer gaps between thoughts.
The point of meditation is not to stop thinking. It is to gain more control and awareness over your thinking, so the thoughts do not control you, and then you can take control of your life and your habits.
Your mind does what it’s always done; it continually guesses what you want to do or think about in any given moment based on past experiences. That’s okay, it’s served you well and will continue to do so. Remember, we are not stopping the thinking, we are controlling the thinking.
Everybody has time to do some meditation every day. Go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. We spend so much time sitting on the sofa in the evening saying ‘I must go to bed in a moment’, then 30 minutes later we are still sat there. We’ve all hit the snooze button alarm in the morning a few times before getting up. Make a little time.
Just 10 minutes twice a day sitting down and observing your thoughts, peacefully bringing your attention back to your breath, and gaining some control will have profound effects on your life.
We Westerners especially think we’re amazing multitaskers, incredible thinkers or just believe we think too much to be able to meditate in any way. Normally this misconception is ‘confirmed’ when we first try meditation. When we become aware, sitting in silence, of our thoughts we start to realise quite how much we think! Therefore we misunderstand what it means to meditate, and quite often give up because we have this perception that our minds race while sitting quietly.
These are just three things you need to know before starting meditation, the deeper more important things than just posture and finding a quiet area.
We should aim to practice our meditation with a mentor so we do not get confused by what we are meant to be doing, as well as so they can help with interpreting what can happen during some meditations. A mentor will also hold us to account to make sure we are keeping up the practice for our benefit.
Here is a link to a guided meditation video if you find meditation hard. Guided Meditation
Updated for 2023