13 Meditation Mistakes You May Be Making and How You Can Avoid Them

Photo by Indian Yogi (Yogi Madhav) on Unsplash

When I started learning how to meditate I was probably making all the mistakes that I’ve written below. After 2 years of meditating, I realize some of the mistakes that were holding me back, and sadly, still see some new meditators making them.

I hope you can avoid them in your practice.

Running Away from Distractions

When you’re meditating, you can either focus on the distractions or expand the peace, calmness, and joy that you feel in your heart. The choice is yours. Sadly, we choose the former.

these distractions cause us to place conditions on our practices.

“If only there wasn’t any construction work going on,” “If only my spouse could talk softly,” “If only my kids could learn not to shout,” etc. There will always be external distractions when you’re trying to meditate.

By all means, try to minimize them by getting earplugs for instance, or using cushions to minimize any physical discomfort. However, also realize that you can’t control everything. Situations will never be “perfect” to meditate.

When you start embracing distractions as a part of life, you can be much more relaxed. Don’t fight them if you can’t. Let them do their thing, while you do yours.

Relying on ‘External Aids’ to Meditate

Ever since meditation has become extremely popular, many apps, YouTube channels, and teachers have come up. Each of them offers a unique set of guided meditations and music that you can keep using if you pay for them.

While these external aids may be good to get you started, if you rely only on them, you’ll never be able to make meditation a habit. Eventually, you must learn to meditate on your own.

Meditation is about withdrawing your attention from the outside world and diving within. That can only be done once you cultivate the habit of sitting alone.

You don’t have to leave guided meditation forever, however.

Ideally, your practice should be a mix of both. But at any point in time, you shouldn’t need these external aids. You should learn meditation so as to meditate anytime, anywhere without any distractions or electronic devices.

True wisdom and spiritual progress are never attained only through external guidance. One has to dive within and explore the depths of one’s own being.

Using Meditation To Escape

Many people believe that meditation is about emptying your mind and stop thinking. They think of it as a tool of suppression that will help them get rid of negative thoughts they want to escape.

Well, I have both bad and good news. The bad news is, you can never escape your problems. When you come out of your meditation, your problems will still be there.

The good news is meditation does a great job of bringing those problems to the fore of your mind and putting you in a state of heightened awareness to solve them.

Don’t think, therefore, that meditation is a way to suppress or deny your emotions and thoughts. If anything, it gives you the strength to face and process your thoughts so you can transcend them.

Jumping Between Techniques

During the initial stages of your meditation journey, you may find yourself trying out many different meditation techniques to find what works for you. Once, however, you choose one, give it all your attention.

To check if a technique is working, practice it at least for a month or two before you decide to switch.

In the results-oriented world, we live in, it’s easy to think of a particular technique as “ineffective” too soon and jump to another. Hopping from one teaching to another too frequently, will only create chaos and make you quit meditation altogether.

When I started on my journey I tried 2–3 different types of meditation, but when I came across the path of Kriya Yoga, I stuck with it wholeheartedly and still do so. When someone talks about other techniques I shut my ears.

No, this does not make me dogmatic. Rather, I realize that everything I’m looking for can be achieved through the techniques I already know. I just have to go deeper and deeper into them over the course of my life. Without that kind of commitment and focus, it’s hard to make any spiritual progress.

Expecting Too Much Too Soon

As I mentioned above, our result-oriented, transactional nature dismisses anything that fails to give instant results. Meditation, however, is very different.

Yes, it’s understandable to hope for peace, calmness, and other health benefits like reduces stress, better physical well-being, etc. But it all depends on the individual. What one person experiences in years of practice, you can experience in days; and vice-versa.

Not only will unrealistic expectations disappoint you but take your focus away from what really matters — the practice of meditation. When you find yourself in this loop, try to not “get” anything from mediation. Try, instead, to just “be.” When you focus on the process more than the result, things start improving automatically.

Further, you might just be looking for the benefits in the wrong place. The truth is, the benefits don’t show up in your practice but in daily life. So look for shifts in other areas of your life. These can include improved quality of sleep, less stress, ability to stay present, reduced anger, and so on.

You can grow spiritually very fast and still feel like your meditations are not going well. In fact, the benefits are simply showing up somewhere else.

At any rate, it’s best to continue with an attitude of detachment and start enjoying the practice itself rather than waiting for the results. Focus on how centered you feel after every session and let that be your motivation to continue.

Trying to Be Your Own Teacher

With the advent of the Internet, we all feel there’s nothing we can not learn online. And while that’s true in most areas of your life, it doesn’t necessarily hold true when it comes to meditation.

The changes in meditation are subtle and take place within, not without. This makes it difficult for us to assess our own progress and self-correct. We may go down the wrong road and realize it only after years of wasted effort.

Thus, a teacher can help you avoid common errors and save you tons of time. Plus, your teacher can adjust your practice according to your stage of development and temperament which no app can ever do.

It can be difficult to find a good teacher in a world where everyone claims to be one. But once you find them, your life will change for the better.

Fighting Your Thoughts

As long as you’re alive, you will have thoughts. You cannot ‘stop’ your thoughts. You can only direct your attention elsewhere. If you keep fighting, your meditation will be chaotic, not peaceful.

Learn instead to let go of your thoughts and focus on your object of concentration — a mantra or breath perhaps. Whenever the mind wanders gently bring it back to focus. Do this a thousand times if needed.

You can’t stop your thoughts by suppressing them. The only way to do it, is to not give them any attention. Slowly, as your mind becomes habitual to be more concentrated, it will be easier to meditate.

Alway Meditating Alone

It’s common knowledge that going to the gym with a friend can be much more beneficial as you push each other beyond your limits. Meditating in a group offers the same benefits.

It helps you dive deeper into your own practice and perhaps practice sitting for longer periods of time. Long meditations become easier when I meditate in a group rather than doing it alone.

Group meditations thus help me build the habit of going deep that further enhances my solo meditation sessions. When many people come together to meditate, whether physically or virtually, the combined energy so formed is more than just the sum of all individual energies.

It transforms into a powerful force that helps everyone involved go deeper within. To experience this for yourself, try to find a local or virtual meditation group, or just have a few friends over to meditate together. You’ll instantly feel the change in your consciousness.

Not Being Consistent

Some people view meditation as a bandaid — they only use it when they’re stressed or anxious. This, however, greatly undermines the benefits you can get out of the practice. Yes, something is better than nothing, but to get the real benefits you need to be doing it regularly. Treat it like an appointment you won’t miss.

There’s another trick to meditation that few people know about — the more you meditate, the more you want to meditate. And the less you meditate, the less you want to meditate. It’s a positive loop that will pull you forward with as much energy as you put into it.

Doing meditation at your own convenience can easily lead to not doing it at all. Consistency is even more important than length or quality, especially in the initial stages. Once you have a regular habit of meditation, only then can you think about deepening your practice.

Judging Yourself

“So what is a good meditator? The one who meditates.”- Allan Lokos

One thing that you should strictly avoid in your meditation practice is self-recrimination. Alas, it’s also one of the easiest traps to fall into.

When the results of meditation don’t accrue as soon as you’d like them to, it seems there’s something wrong with you. Maybe you’re not doing it correctly or you’re not good enough.

This doubt is highly destructive. You should realize, once and for all, that no one can “suck” at meditation. It’s called meditation “practice” for a reason. It’s an endless journey to the depths of your soul. It doesn’t end because every time you go deeper, you realize that growth awaits you even more.

Another principle that comes back is detachment. Focusing more on the process than on the results or progress. Self-criticism and judgment will only take you away from where you want to do.

If you’re not where you want to be, introspect and take steps to get there. But never do so in a spirit of self-loathing.

Not Having a “Transition Routine”

If you’re like most people, your mind doesn’t come with a switch. Meaning, you can’t suddenly jump from checking email to meditating, without any transition.

Preparing for meditation means calming your mind and withdrawing it from all concerns of the world. Some easy ways to do this are yoga, affirmations, prayer, mindful walking, stretching, and so on.

Experiment with one or more of the above and make your “transition routine,” even if it’s only 5 minutes long. This ensures your busy, hectic schedule does not carry into your meditation.

Having a Lifestyle That Doesn’t Support Meditation

Just like you can’t lose weight by eating a carrot in the morning and eating junk food throughout the day, your life will not improve if you meditate 10 minutes a day but spend the rest 23 hours and 50 minutes in distraction.

Your meditation should feed into your life and your life should feed into your meditation. They should go hand-in-hand. You need to set anchors during your day to bring your mind back to the meditative peace you felt in the morning and evening.

This means not wasting time on bad habits like consuming too much media, drinking, etc, and being more focused in general.

In that sense, meditation is essential, but definitely not enough. You need to make a constant effort to live a mindfully productive lifestyle. This way, when you sit on your cushion to meditate in the evening, it’s much easier to focus.

All we’re trying to do is living our life in the same meditative, peaceful vibrations we feel during our practice. Over time it will gain momentum and transform into a self-reinforcing loop.

Taking Shortcuts

This is one of my favorites. As meditation has become more widespread, people have adopted it to their own conveniences. People who lead busy lives find solace in the fact that they can meditate anytime, anywhere.

This means meditating for a minute in the car, being mindful while washing dishes, or walking around the park, are all considered mindful activities.

While these practices help the seeker maintain the meditative state of awareness throughout the day, they cannot and should not be considered as a replacement to formal practice.

Your regular practice of meditation, at least once a day, acts as the anchor on which your ability to be mindful, stands. While short periods of time are good to get our attention back, we need to learn to dive deep into meditation for longer periods of time without distractions.

Try to get your formal practice anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. If that’s not possible for you right now, work towards it. But don’t think that meditating for 5 minutes in the car is the same as meditating for an hour.

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Written on September 1, 2021