How to Meditate Effectively: 5 Signs You’re Doing it Wrong
Meditation can enrich your life. It completely changed mine when I went on a 10-day meditation retreat. But to get benefits, you have to do it right. You need to know how to meditate effectively.
You might have heard that there’s no such thing as “bad meditation”. I disagree. If you just sit down and ruminate negative thoughts for 20 minutes, you might as well not meditate.
Meditation is subjective. You’re the only witness of your practice. It’s easy to get lost, especially when you begin. It’s simple to meditate effectively, but common to get it wrong.
Here are 5 sure signs that you’re not approaching meditation properly.
1. You don’t know why you meditate
Why do you meditate?
To get anywhere in meditation, you have to know why you do it. It doesn’t matter what’s your reason, but it must mean something to you. Without a compelling reason to practice, you’ll meditate halfheartedly. You’ll skip it when you’re busy and after a while, you’ll stop meditating completely.
To meditate effectively, your brain needs to cooperate ; it needs to be convinced that meditating is a great idea. Otherwise, you’ll sit on the cushion and wander off.
I start every meditation session by reminding myself of why I meditate. I like to keep it fresh by changing it once in a while, but I always do it. It keeps me in tune with what I’m doing and helps me focus.
I meditate to open up to reality, to understand myself and to improve my relationship with the present moment. Meditating will help me see life clearly and be less reactive. It’s been very beneficial before and still is now.
You have to come up with your own answer. Be specific. Get personal. Go for something empowering:
I often get angry, and this causes suffering for me and others. Meditating will help me reduce the intensity and frequency of my anger.
This statement is effective because it clearly identifies the problem and its solution. It’s simple and neat, yet powerful. It’s stronger than laziness, because it rings truth: you can’t fool around because you know what the problem is. The mind is out of tricks. You have to sit down and meditate.
Don’t go vague and empty statements like:
I want to be less emotional.
This is weak. It’s too general and doesn’t offer a solution. It lacks power.
People who know why they meditate practice lucidly. They are motivated and don’t get thrown off track so easily. They meditate effectively.
2. You hate meditating
If you always feel like meditation is a pain in the ass, you’re doing it wrong.
It’s a good idea to include meditation in your schedule, but don’t approach it like other tasks. Don’t reduce it to a chore. Meditating is a great idea, but mechanically forcing yourself to wait 20 minutes on a cushion is not.
Meditating can be fun. It should be fun. When I sit on the cushion, my worries are far away. I’m simply meditating. Nothing more. Reality unfolds constantly, it’s fascinating. No experience is ever the same. Everything is fresh. Sometimes I even wonder how I’ll get up from the cushion.
Meditate for YOU. Take this time to add some space in your life. Let your thoughts calmly settle down. Stop worrying. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t try to be anything else than what you are. Experience the freedom of not having to care, and see the benefits you get from it. Enjoy yourself!
3. You can’t stick to a meditation technique
There are many great meditation techniques to choose from. It can be hard to pick one. You may be tempted to “try a little bit of everything”. Testing the waters before you commit to a meditation technique is smart, but at some point you have to dive in.
Don’t let the fear of missing something throw you off track. This is a trick of the mind. It convinces you that the grass is greener on the other side, so you try a new technique. Soon enough, the freshness of the technique wears off ; you’re back where you started. The mind recommends something else. There you go, off trying out the grass of another pasture.
Stop hesitating. The perfect meditation technique doesn’t exist. Pick the one that gave you the best results so far and stick to it. Be lucid, but don’t over think it. If you can’t choose, pick at random. Meditation techniques are just vehicles. Don’t get distracted by their superficial differences.
If you dug 50 wells, each only 1 meter deep, you’d never reach water. To meditate effectively, stay committed to a technique. You’ll see results.
4. You think meditating makes you superior
You’ve probably met a fair share of annoying “spiritual people”. They can’t wait to tell you about their recent “insights”, or about how fabulous they are since they began a new practice. They might try to convince that you should buy freaking crystals or other new-age pseudo-spiritual junk. They might even brag that they’re enlightened.
There’s a reason most meditation retreats are silent. Meditation and other spiritual practices have a frustrating tendency. They can make you feel superior. Seduced by the richness of some experiences, you may literally feel superhuman. You may want to tell everyone about it, but that usually isn’t a good idea. They inevitably won’t respond well, and you might rationalize this by deciding that they’re not “spiritual” enough for you.
I’m all for open communication on these subjects, but the goal of spirituality is not the growth of ego. The mind loves to feel superior, and it will try to convince you of many things. If you buy into them, the results can be disastrous. For you and for others.
Ego can creep in from the backdoor. It might disguise as Buddha. Remember that you can’t be free if you judge people. Spiritual practice shouldn’t close you down. Always keep sight of the bigger picture. Meditation is not an escape from reality. It’s an opportunity to see it clearly, to jump right into it without distractions.
The easy way to deal with this is to respond by meditating. You catch yourself proudly thinking that you’re SO spiritual? Fine, just notice it: “Oh! Another thought about how good I am. How surprising!”. See how quick it vanishes. Thoughts have no power unless you believe in them.
Kind of like God.
5. You read more about meditation than you practice
Meditation is not about knowledge, it’s about wisdom. Just like reading about the color red will never help you see it ; meditation needs to be practiced and experienced, not read about.
Some of you are reading this article because you don’t feel like practicing. You rationalize that reading about meditation is better than nothing, so here you come.
Don’t get me wrong, I recommend reading. But it has to be included in your meditative practice. Otherwise you’ll get lost. Teachings are just pointers, they are maps. If you use 50 different maps to go somewhere, you’ll get confused.
For example, some teachers speak of progress on the path, while others proclaim that you’re already enlightened.
You may also read that meditation is about “not doing anything”. Meditation is different from any other “doing”, because you’re simply witnessing the “doings”. In that sense, it’s effortless. Yet, you could take this advice and resolve to become a couch potato. An enlightened couch potato.
Don’t try to get your head around these teachings by thinking alone. They’re an intellectually unsolvable problem.
Limit the amount of theory. Put it into practice! Meditate!
You’ll figure it out.
Time to stop reading.
Learn to meditate today with our free meditation resources. Our technique is simple and effective: you'll see benefits after the first sit!