Need to get out of your head? Meditation myths and overcoming common blocks to getting started.
Do you find your mind is constantly flooded with thoughts? Do you have the same stories on repeat whirling around in your head? Often it feels like we can get lost in our thoughts, go around in circles, and aren’t able to switch off from the rumination of the to-do-lists, the situations and conversations, the anticipation of what we need to do or what’s going to happen tomorrow, next week or in the future. It can seem like we won’t ever escape the constant stream of thoughts, and even if we do want to take time out to ourselves to get a break from it all, how are we to make these thoughts stop so we can actually relax and enjoy that time, when all that seems to happen when we sit alone with ourselves is even more thinking, and even a sense of anxiety of having wasted out time trying to relax?
Often when we’re trapped in this way of thinking, we know we need to take time out, but it seems impossible - far too difficult for us to relax and let go of all the thoughts and stories in our head. And besides, we’ve got too much going on to suddenly hit pause.
Today, we’ll cover how to get past this, shed some light on new facts and alternative insights which will make things seem clearer and not so overwhelming, and dispel some common blocks, stories and myths that prevent us from taking time out to ourselves for self-care, getting out of our heads through meditating – yeah, that thing we all know we “should” do.
You may never have meditated, you may meditate once in a while, you may have been practicing regularly at one stage but not stuck to it. Or you may be well into your regular practice. Whatever the case is for you, it’s often beneficial to unpack these things so we can past the stories we tell ourselves and simply get into that space where all the transformation, relaxation and magic happens, and remind ourselves of just how important this is – far from a guilty luxury, a necessity for our health, happiness and success.
Now, let’s go through each common block that is hidden in stories we tell ourselves and dispel each one of these myths one-by-one.
Block number one: “I can’t switch off.”
Yeah, I get it. You’re flooded with thoughts and things to do and the thought of switching off seems like an impossible feat. But I’ve got news for you – meditation isn’t actually about switching off. It’s about becoming more present, grounded and centred. It’s about connecting with that part of you that gets out of your head, out of the stories, and into the state of being where all the magic happens, effortlessly.
Meditation, or being present and mindful in your daily self-care practice does NOT involve stopping the thoughts or trying not to think. It is a myth that when you sit down to meditate you try to push the thoughts out of your head.
Meditation is the anti-try.
Instead of “trying” not to think, which involves pressure and effort, instead, the practice of meditation, or mindfulness, is becoming aware of the thoughts, emotions, stories and everything else going on around you as simply things you are experiencing.
It’s kind of like sitting on the side of the street, and watching all the cars go by. Some cars will be racing past and be loud, some will be pleasant to look at and slow. The cars represent everything going on inside and outside of your head. If watching the cars drive by you is meditating, running and jumping into one of the cars and going for the ride is getting lost in a thought.
It’s not trying to stop the cars – as that would be impossible – it’s about watching them go by, just observing them but not getting involved. So it’s not buying into the thoughts, it’s noticing that you’re thinking, and returning to centre.
This process is effortless. The less you do, the better. There’s no trying, there’s no getting rid of anything, there’s just observing. Dealing with your thoughts in this way is like watching clouds float by you, letting them come and go. Within this space is where you reap the benefits – physical, mental, emotional, and transformational.
So, you don’t need to know how to switch off to start today. That’s why it’s called a practice. The first time you might think, did I do it? But after a while, it becomes second nature. You realise you never try to switch off, and it just starts to happen itself over time. Like magic.
Block number 2: “I don’t know how to do meditate.”
You’re in luck – there’s no good or bad, right or wrong. Just like in yoga practice, it’s not about getting the perfect pose, it’s about doing what you feel, going with it, and you experience the benefits no matter what.
Think about the first time you learned something or practiced it for the first time. There was a bit of unknown, and you thought “I’ve got no idea what I’m doing.” But you simply learn a little basic information and just get into it by practicing. After a while, as with any skill, practice, sport – whatever – you learn by the doing. The more you do it, the easier it becomes and the more naturally it comes to you. Someone doesn’t just wake up and become an Olympic champion – they had to start somewhere, and they learned through the practice of it. Even if you can’t think of any analogy in your own life, you’ve already done it by learning to walk. Do you think as a baby you had any idea of how to walk? It’s something you’ve never done before. But look at you now!
There’s no right or wrong. There’s no good or bad. There’s only doing it, and that’s all that matters. To get your head in the game though, and to avoid overthinking, top-line, this is how it works:
Meditation is simply the formal practice of mindfulness. Technically, practicing mindfulness during your self-care by connecting with the breath and the senses, paying attention to all the subtleties of the sensations and experiences while you do it and being 100% in the moment – is actually meditating. That’s it. It’s that simple. It’s so simple in fact that we don’t get around to doing it! You could be practicing mindfulness through a moving meditation (yoga, stretching or a mindful walk), simply checking in with your senses during a sauna, massage or other relaxation treatment and truly being present in it, or simply breathing and bringing your attention to the breath.
When it comes to meditation, because it is the formal practice, it really benefits us by getting us used to practicing mindfulness so it becomes easier to bring mindfulness into our daily lives, mastering the subtle art.
Meditation usually consists of sitting comfortably, starting with focusing on your breath, and a process which guides your mind to a relaxed but alert state where you connect with yourself, and where your mind drifts back into thought, noticing this and returning to the breath or centre. That’s kinda it. It’s so simple, and so effortless, but at the same time a subtle art that only gets better with practice.
There are many different forms of meditation – Mindfulness, Transcendental or Mantra, Guided, Vipassana, Zen, Loving kindness, Chakra, Sound, Yoga…. – but essentially the common goal is training your awareness and attention, allowing you to connect with the part of yourself that gets you out of your head.
It’s about finding what resonates with you. Beginners sometimes prefer guided meditations as it takes them through the process, to the point which they’re familiar with the technique and feel comfortable doing it themselves. I’d recommend trying a few different ones to get into the flow and see what you prefer.
Block Number 3: “I don’t have time.”
Another common story we tell ourselves is that we don’t have time. We cover this in more detail in the “I’m too busy” blog article, but essentially it comes down to a mindset shift through checking our priorities, and realising the irony of how by spending only a little time on this type of thing we actually gain SO much more time.
Of course, not having available time to commit to something can be a legitimate challenge, but it’s really not a time issue, it’s probably more of a priority issue.
When we say we don’t have time to take care of ourselves, take time out to meditate or get centred, to do the things that light us up and make us smile, to spend time with friends and family, to exercise, to eat quality food to take care of our health - what we really mean is that all the other stuff we’re busy doing is taking priority over that. There’s a choice that has been made, and our self-care isn’t it. The truth is that once we view something as a priority, we make time for it – and what could be more important than our wellbeing? If we don’t have that, what do we have?
Today’s modern busy lifestyle means we tend to feel time-poor and end up putting things we do for ourselves last. But what if we told you that you actually gained time back from giving time to practices like these? It’s ironic, we know, and seems not to make sense. But think about it like this – the time you spent checking in with and grounding yourself once a day will give you more clarity, make you feel more relaxed, and allow you to be more efficient and effective with your time, ironically saving you more time in this way.
Recall the last time you tried to make an important decision, get perspective or do some creative thinking when you were feeling rushed, stressed and like your thoughts were all over the place or destructive.
When we take time to check in with ourselves and practice things regularly that uplift, ground and centre us, we’re in a much better position to think more clearly and positively, make better judgements and decisions, and navigate challenges and stressful situations better.
The irony is that when we invest time in daily practices like these, we gain time that we would have otherwise lost to not being a productive state of mind. We become more efficient and effective. We shift our perspective from feeling like it’s all too much, to feeling like it’s not so bad after all, and the solution becomes clearer.
So we say - just make the decision to create time for some form of daily practice or self-care ritual, no matter how small, to set the habit in motion. No one is asking you to sit on the top of a mountain with your legs crossed for two hours each morning. Even if this is ten minutes a day, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the compounding transformative benefits.
Block number 4: But I’m chill, do I really need to meditate?
You may say, “I’m actually pretty good and things are ok right now. I’m not that stressed. Meditation is for people that need to relax and I’m chill.
Ok – I hear you. Sure, it can seem like, I’m already great, what gain would I have from meditating? Fair point, but really this comes down to the misconception of what meditation really is and what it’s really for. A common understanding of meditation is that it is something we do to relax, chill and zone out. Yes, this is a huge bonus side-effect which can help with a load of things. But the real purpose of meditation is this: training our mind’s awareness.
What is that though? By training your awareness, you are able to bring this objective and centred approach more readily to what goes on in your life, you’re able to tap into who you are and your centre of creativity and intuition, and your perspective on the world begins to shift. Most people start to meditate because of the appeal of relaxation and health benefits for stress reduction, and with regular practice are surprised with the true benefit and gift they experience over time – which is a transformation in awareness. The level of awareness you develop through meditation allows you to bring a fresh and grounded perspective to things, dealing with things in a completely different way than you used to. Intrigued? Well you’ll just have to take the red pill and get started, wont you?!
And also imagine if you learned to meditate, so that when your life becomes not-so-chill and you experience a period of change, challenges and adversity, you’ve already armed yourself with the training of your mind and have this tool to help you through things SO much more effectively – who wouldn’t want that? Why wait until a crisis happens to seek help, why not arm yourself with the right habits and skills now so that you can knock anything out of the park that comes your way? Sure, things are great now, but you know what life is like – life is deeply intertwined with change, and it loves to through things at us to keep us on our toes.
And if you’re still not convinced and not really sure why, here’s a long list of evidence-based benefits from meditation aka mindfulness and checking in with yourself that touch all areas of life:
- Reduces stress, anxiety and depression
- Improves sleep
- Reduces pain
- Promotes emotional health
- Enhances self-awareness
- Lengthens attention span
- Enhances memory
- Enhances kindness and compassion
- Improves relationships
- Decreases blood pressure
So yeah, I could go on and one but you get it. It’s good for you. As there are so many benefits do you really have an excuse not to? And can you imagine the impact on your productivity, health, state of mind, relationships and general wellbeing?
Hope you’ve enjoyed this food for thought, and encourage you to try it out starting today, you won’t know until you prioritize making time for yourself. You deserve it!