Who has time to meditate?
You do! As long as it doesn’t take 8 hrs a day! Avoid these mistakes to make your practice more effective, leaving you more time for the enlightened life.
1. Spiritual Bypassing
Spiritual bypassing is when we use spirituality to distract us from feelings we’re going to have to come back to. Bypassing makes our practice less effective, and slows our spiritual growth even though it can feel good in the short term. How to avoid bypassing? Make sure you are centered and grounded in your body when you practice. Connect to your emotions and allow your practice to include them, not avoid them. If you’re having too much of an ‘up and out’ of body experience, you may not be grounded enough and are in possible bypass territory. To learn more about spiritual bypassing, read Flint Sparks fine article and Ingrid Mathieu’s piece in Psychology Today.
Although meditation can include time in the car, washing dishes and gardening, time spent in formal practice is important to activating the other times you practice. It is often during these more formal sitting times that the practice deepens the most. Don’t rush your practice during these times. To get the full deepening effect, set aside at least one hour to sit in meditation without distractions. You can set a clock in front of you to discourage shortening the practice. Formal practice, like a vision quest, deepens in phases over time. You need enough time to shed the busyness of the world, your thoughts, and move through emotions into the essence of who you are. You may notice a shift at each 15 minute increment of your practice, which can supply extra motivation to keep going.
3. Not starting
Obviously, meditation works better if you do it. The best practice is the one you actually do. We may have the best intentions to set aside time for our practice, but how often do we get to it? Here’s a trick for ‘getting in the boat,’ so to speak, which will then feel so good you’ll want to keep going. Tell yourself you’re only going to sit for two minutes and then get up. The two minutes will feel good, even if you do get up. But what tends to happen is once you’re in practice, your nervous system feels the effects of it and you want to continue. Meditation is often more relaxing and restful than sleep. Take advantage of this trick to stay connected to your practice daily.
4. Gimmicky versions
There are many modern variations on traditional meditation. Many of them can dilute the practice. I’m not saying only old-school meditation works, but that’s kind of what I’m saying. Many modern gimmicky systems are developed by teachers who do not have in-depth spiritual training and think their re-invention of the wheel is better than what’s out there. Keep in mind that traditional schools of training have many hundreds if not thousands of years of experience teaching meditation and watching students grow through the practice. Two hundred years of modern science has a lot to contribute, but spiritual growth is an ancient pursuit. Gimmicky versions are sometimes nice to capture our attention and bring our focus back to the importance of training the mind, but as a serious practitioner, beware of these modern variations on an ancient science.
5. Being your own teacher
Some people are sensitive to this one. OK fine, be your own teacher. While you’re at it, teach yourself physics, advanced math, how to dance Salsa and a pro-level sport. We all benefit from great teachers in the areas we want to excel in. Spirituality is no different. A meditation instructor can smooth out any rough areas in your practice, make if more powerful and effective, and help you avoid common errors. Over time, as you and your practice change, a good teacher can help adapt the practice to best fit your current stage of growth, just like a good golf teacher uses slightly different methods at varying points in a player’s development. Of course, watch out for folks masquerading as teachers who are more interested in benefits to themselves. But don’t let charlatans stop you from seeking a qualified and worthy instructor. It can make a big difference.
6. Day vs. night
Meditating during the day is good. Meditating in the early morning and evening times can be better. Meditating in the middle of the night can be best. There’s a reason so many monks wake up in the night to practice. It’s quiet. There’s nothing going on. There’s nothing else to do. You can go deep without distractions. Meditating at 3 am has a different feel than practicing during the day. You’ll notice how your system picks up the energy of the world and of activity around you. Early morning and before-bed times are quieter and can facilitate going deeper than meditating in the middle of the day. The dead of night, however, is a particularly magical time to practice.
7. Using too many props
Some props can help practitioners focus, but beware of relying on them too much. The point of meditation is to become comfortable with yourself, to become satisfied with your own internal experience of life. Toward that end, it can be helpful to sit with yourself and have to face yourself just as you are, as you came into this world, with nothing. Too many props can distract from the experience of your core nature. For example, some people have their pillow, their beads, their sacred water, their altar, a candle, lighting just right, another person, etc. Then, practice becomes difficult if they don’t have those things. A couple things to help you stay awake or focused may be supportive to your practice, but if you don’t need them, consider keeping props to a minimum. Try meditating in the dark, with no props, no music, just you. It’s a worthwhile experiment.
8. Relying on guided meditations
Guided meditations can help some get in touch with their inner selves and access the quiet space within, but you may not want to rely on them every time you practice. Meditation helps you get in touch with yourself. If we rely on someone else to walk us through the experience too much, it can become a crutch. There’s a time to have an experienced co-pilot showing you the ropes, a time to have that person there with you while you try the controls, and a time to fly the plane on your own. A combination of guided and solo meditations can offer the best of both worlds.
9. Not expanding your practice
In #2 above we explored the importance of full-length formal practice. Assuming that’s a part of the routine, broadening meditation to include other parts of the day is important. Meditation is an all-weather practice, meaning it is designed as an anytime/anywhere event. In fact, the point of meditation is to eventually live the meditation, to erase the line between practice and non-practice. Try practicing eyes open at times, while in conversation, or while working. It’s a mistake to keep your spiritual connection only for the times you sit down in practice.
Now go get ’em!
Meditation is a great way to process feelings, expand resilience, further integrate parts of us, and train our mind to focus on what matters most to us. A daily practice can sharpen our mind to help us with our career goals, relationships, and personal lives. Avoiding these common mistakes can make your practice more effective and powerful, concentrating it toward the fruits of meditation: To know ourselves fully, to reign in the monkey mind, to realize the oneness of all things and to feel peace and love in our hearts.
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