If you’re new to meditating, you may feel some fear or awkwardness – but there’s really no need…

I remember the first time I tried meditating… It was a distinctly unpleasant experience and I didn’t try it again for almost 3 years as a result. I’d been invited to a friend’s place to join him and a few of his Buddhist friends in a group meditation. The concept sounded interesting, so I went along.

During the session, which lasted about an hour (too long for a beginner in my opinion), I remember being full of questions, fears and uncertainties. What’s all this stuff about picturing coloured light emanating from the forehead of the dude in the painting in front of us? What will that achieve? What do I look like to everyone else here? Can they tell how uncomfortable I’m feeling right now? Am I doing these breathing techniques right? What will everyone think if I move to prevent my leg going completely numb and falling off? What’s meant to be so pleasant and relaxing about this anyway? Can I just get up and leave, or will that ruin it for the others? What if I need to sneeze? And so on…

I reckon there are a lot of people out there who would enjoy and benefit from meditating a lot more if they didn’t experience fear of failure, and this fear is brought about by unrealistic expectations of what meditation involves. There’s really no need to sit on a small hard cushion in the lotus position, and it’s completely normal to have thoughts rushing around in your mind at a million miles an hour. Nothing’s going to be ruined if you move, cough, scratch an itch or fall asleep. In fact, it’s impossible to get it wrong because each meditation is a personal experience from which you’ll take your own meaning. Getting my head around this has been part of my journey of exploring meditation as I’ve developed my practice over the years, constantly diving deeper into various approaches and their respective benefits.

Something I really like about apps like Headspace is the way they take a lot of that pressure away – they really guide the uninitiated through meditation from the start and make it an accessible, everyday activity rather than a fear-inducing, mystical ancient practice that’s reserved for the truly enlightened. I had to figure all of that out for myself though – and having done so, I truly believe that if we can release beginners from the idea that meditation involves lots of rules and expectations, this worthwhile practice will catch on much quicker and bring benefit to more lives.

Photo © 2015 Michael Coghlan

Sam Down
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