If you’re starting out with meditation, you’ve likely heard lots of misleading advice on how you can’t get meditation wrong.
You just have to sit through your thoughts and keep your attention on your breath right? In theory, yes, but there are moving components to this that makes the meditation harder, even if the hardest part about meditation is getting started and staying consistent with it.
But can meditation have the opposite intended impact on you and make you lazy, instead of recharged?
And your mind could fool you into thinking you are meditating, when in fact, you are just sitting, without ever entering a flow state, and not getting to know what actual meditation feels like.
For this reason, many novices are directed to a mentor since the more clear and straightforward your path is, the less likely you are to fall from it.
But it’s also an easier path, which is a great introduction to meditation, where some choose to transition to doing it on their own once they’ve gotten a good idea of what meditation feels like whereas others continue on the guided line.
If you think of it, it makes no logical sense to not do what’s already working for you.
At the same, reaching a meditative state is something you’re capable of doing to yourself completely, and it’s understandable to feel strange about letting something we naturally can do in the hands of someone else.
Relaxing vs. Meditating
Feeling relaxed is great, but it isn’t enough to meet the threshold for it to qualify as meditation.
So in a way, meditating is having the mind and body at the same place, while retaining full awareness, without giving in to certain thoughts and emotions that may arise.
Many confuse meditation for relaxation, in fact, that was me when I started to do meditation on my own.
If you constantly feel relaxed, but your mind still wanders into the future or back to the past, but you somehow still feel relaxed, you aren’t meditating. You are just sitting or lying there while allowing your thoughts to drive you.
However, you’re not that far from turning it into a real meditation by bringing your attention to those thoughts you are having, then channeling that attention to the present and staying there.
Even if it costs your peace of mind, it will only be temporary. Ideal peace of mind is when it can coexist despite any unfavorable circumstance that would normally warrant the absence of such peace of mind. Not letting anything get the best of you and choosing what state you want to be in.
It’s impossible to choose how you will feel one hundred percent of the time, but wiring our thinking to see whatever we get as temporal helps us observe things from a third-person view, rather than attaching to a thought or emotion.
We merely are there, almost taming the mind while keeping our attention on the now.
This will in turn manifest a genuine sense of relaxation where we are still in a meditative state, as opposed to just feeling relaxed and fooling ourselves that we are meditating.
However, novices that go at this on their own will often reach this stage as a stepping stone to mastering meditation since it can take a lot of trial and error.
Relaxation, unlike meditation, is a feeling we all are too acquainted with. Meditation, however, is taking that a step forward and for the mind, it’s a paradigm shift. Fortunately, if you’re already relaxed, you’re always there.
Finding The Balance
Short meditations are usually more optimal for novices that seek to learn how the practice is actually done.
If you get a taste of what meditation feels like, it’s easier to identify when you are meditating and when you’re just sitting there.
For that reason, if a beginner meditates for 40 minutes, maybe only 10 of those were of genuine meditation, but the remaining 30 minutes are what the beginner takes away with them from the experience.
Therefore, a qualitative 10-minute meditation is preferable, and if it’s what’s all you can bear before your mind gets lazy and wanders off to another place, cut the practice short there. But it’s even more important to stay consistent, so short meditations are optimal for creating a micro commitment which later on leads to bigger commitments.
In turn, this will lead to quality. If you are capable of bearing short meditations, you set yourself up for success with longer meditations, longer periods of deep relaxation, and thus, deep concentration.
When To Cut It Short
Whether you are able to do 10 minutes, 15 minutes, or 20 minutes as a novice depends on many facts. But you’ll generally want to stick to a consistent time, even if that means sacrificing or adding a certain minute count to the meditation.
It’s normal for the mind to slip off and get distracted during meditation. But if you’ve done it for 15 minutes and you notice it happening at an abnormally higher frequency than when you started, you know it’s a sight to cut it short.
On the contrary. This can also be a way to test your limit and see if you can bear a longer meditation.
For many, what I’m describing is the opposite of what they experience. They only find it hard to keep their focus and laziness at bay from the start, but after meditating for 10 minutes, they learn to sustain their focus and the laziness presented by the mind fades away.
This is one of the variables that make meditation seem harder than just focusing on the breath while acknowledging thoughts.
Generally, we can’t approach meditation in the scientific sense purely, but we have to apply some intuition to the equation. If you notice your mind slipping or getting lazy, don’t bring yourself down over it, as you’d be pushing back against the progress you’re making with meditation.
It’s okay to get things wrong, and negative self-talk hurts your practice and your continuation of it.
Deliberate vs. Shallow Attention
Understand it’s normal and you’re prone to be distracted. Simply, bring your deliberate attention back to what was keeping you present.
That’s right, it’s important that this attention isn’t shallow but deliberate. Since the subconscious has gotten so good at autopiloting our daily life that changing a mantra in the mind during the span of the meditation practice can make us feel as if we’re actually meditating.
In reality, we’re multitasking with the inner chanting and having the mind go on a trip away from the present. This is critical to get the meditation right.
To keep the attention on the present moment, no matter if you get a false sensation of meditation. If focus is absent during the meditation, it’s hardly a meditation practice. But you’re close. The mind is really good at getting lazy.
Laziness doesn’t just have to be present during the meditation. It can manifest outside the meditation as well. This is a strong indication that you need to reexamine the meditation practice you just did.
You can fool yourself into thinking you have mastered meditation when you have in fact just mastered relaxation because the line between the two is thin. And in theory, while unlikely, you could be doing it wrong for months without realizing it and making no progress.
In fact, it’s what happens to many that abandon the practice. It’s no wonder they don’t see the proclaimed gains from meditation and it’s no wonder they give up. It’s an aspect that’s less talked about with meditation but is crucial to stay on the right path from day one.
The idea that meditation has to be boring doesn’t sound like something most would sign up for on purpose. But the lower our expectations are with meditation the more likely it is to work for us.
The less likely it is to bring disappointments and the less likely people are to give up. Normalize the idea of sitting still with your thoughts and focusing on your breath, while staying in the present moment as much as you normalize having your daily dose of coffee or anything you do routinely every morning without expecting much in return.
Meditation should feel good over the long haul, but not at the expense of your attention span, as it’s critical to keeping the meditation a genuine experience where you actually attain growth from the practice and can see progress materializing over the span of months, if not sooner.
Laziness is a mere part of the equation that should first be treated with acknowledgment, after all, the presence of mindfulness is the bread and butter for most high-quality meditations.