We’ve all heard that meditation is an essential part of any healthy, conscious lifestyle.
Wisdom traditions have long taught meditation as a path to spiritual transformation and modern science is now showing how this ancient practice can improve our health and well being across dozens of life areas.
As research on meditation continues to deepen, the evidence suggests that meditation may be the most powerful tool we have available to us to transform not only our own lives—but human consciousness as a whole.
Whether you’re a seasoned meditator or simply curious to give it a try, you probably sense that meditation holds the power to both unlock your higher potentials and awaken you to the mystery of who you are beyond the mind.
But if you’re like most of us, you’ve probably also found that your actual experience of meditation rarely lives up to the lofty potentials you’ve heard about and sensed.
Over the past decade, I’ve taught tens of thousands of people how to meditate. Working with so many dedicated and inspired people from all over the world has been a tremendous honor and has blessed my life in extraordinary ways. It has also given me a unique opportunity to see firsthand how people meditate—and how they think about meditation.
People in my meditation courses run the gamut. Some have been meditating since before I was born (in 1965!) and have tried every “brand” of meditation on offer. Others come into my programs with very little or no meditation experience. Most fall somewhere in between those two extremes.
But wherever we are on that spectrum, one thing I’ve observed through my interactions with thousands of meditators is that the vast majority of us are making the same handful of meditation mistakes.
Now, when I say “meditation mistakes,” I don’t mean small things like we’re sitting in the wrong position, or breathing incorrectly. I mean that the way we’re approaching the inner game of meditation is actually preventing us from discovering its extraordinary life-transforming potential.
The mistakes I’m speaking about aren’t the fault of the individual meditator. They all have their roots in a common set of misunderstandings about how meditation works and what the true goal of the practice is.
These misunderstandings are so widespread in today’s spiritual marketplace that many of them will probably be instantly recognizable and may even feel like unquestioned truths to some readers.
Below, I’ve provided a brief overview of the 5 most common meditation mistakes that people tend to make. At the end of each description, you’ll also find a link to a longer article that explores each mistake in more depth.
Meditation Mistake #1: The Myth of the Quiet Mind
Many of us have been taught that meditation is about having a still mind; it’s possibly the most common assumption about meditation. Countless people have conceded “failure” or “not being good at meditation” because they were unable to quiet their minds.
A still mind is something we may experience in moments of meditation, but it’s not the ultimate goal, and it doesn’t necessarily give you better results outside the meditation.
Practically speaking, having a quiet mind in meditation does you little good once you’re back out in life where you need to think and engage. What’s far more valuable is achieving a deep inner stillness that’s present regardless of how unruly your mind is.
You can read a more detailed exploration of The Myth of the Quiet Mind and how to avoid it, here.
Meditation Mistake #2: Why You Can’t Find Inner Peace by Looking for It
Peace and relaxation are often promoted as the primary purpose of meditation. Meditating can produce positive, relaxed feelings and sensations, and many related benefits. It just won’t always do that—nothing always does that! Yet many people end up believing they’ve “failed” at meditation because their practice doesn’t feel calm, peaceful and good every time, every minute—and they miss the greater opportunity that a regular practice offers to their life.
Something much bigger and more powerful—and useful—is possible through meditation. It’s a cultivation of steadiness in the face of every changing life experience. That’s a calm that is deeper and more enduring—superior to the superficial and fleeting “peace” that may or may not occur in meditation. It’s real liberation, and the best kind of feeling better.
You can read a more detailed exploration of Why You Can’t Find Inner Peace by Looking for It here.
Meditation Mistake #3: The Misguided Quest for Peak Experiences
Many of us take up meditation in search of a powerful “peak experience” of enlightenment or spiritual illumination. However, achieving a specific, exciting or “ideal” state of consciousness is not the point of authentic meditation, nor are flashy “spiritual fireworks.” In fact, chasing these kinds of experiences is actually counterproductive to meditation’s real purpose. So is trying to “hold on” to powerful experiences when they occur. It’s not possible to reach a fixed or static state of consciousness, because all states naturally come and go, and always will.
Meditation is about the practice of liberation from all states—an equal relationship to everything that arises or ever could arise.
You can read a more detailed exploration of The Misguided Quest for Peak Experiences and how to avoid it, here.
Meditation Mistake #4: Falling Into a Meditation Rut
Even regular, experienced meditators make mistakes. Rote repetition of a single approach can drive you deep into a “meditation rut,” where the practice has lost any vitality and dynamism it once had.
If you’ve been meditating for years but aren’t even sure why you’re doing it any more, can’t name a benefit you’re experiencing, dread the practice, or simply treat it like a habit, this is probably your issue.
Meditation for your mind and spirit is in some ways like exercise for the body. If you perform the same exercise repeatedly at the same level, it will cease to challenge you or produce results. This robs you of the benefits you could gain from stretching yourself.
While in essence all forms of meditation are like spokes on a wheel, “pointing to the same place,” it is only by incorporating a variety of different approaches that you can cultivate a range of capacities that strengthen your ability to open to meditative depth.
Using a variety of approaches requires you to use your awareness in different ways. It’s, in effect, “cross-training” for the mind and spirit. This eliminates the potential for getting “stuck in a rut”—and turns your meditation practice into an ongoing journey of deepening awareness and curiosity. There is literally no end to where you can go with this kind of meditation.
You can read more about how to avoid Falling Into a Meditation Rut here.
Meditation Mistake #5: The Trap of Practicing with a Future Goal in Mind
We often think about meditation practice as a process that occurs over a period of time. We take up a practice that we imagine will gradually move us closer to some kind of a future goal, whether it be lower stress or spiritual awakening.
But this future orientation is actually a major hindrance on the path and it will likely prevent you from discovering the true magic of meditation and the mystery of awakened consciousness.
Anyone who has even a glimpse of awakening realizes that it is only about discovering the sacredness and wholeness of this moment right now, and that any investment in a future moment of enlightenment is missing the entire point.
The simple, paradigm-shattering truth of enlightenment is that it can only ever be discovered right now in this moment. Any belief that we could do something now to prepare us for a future awakening will always be an obstacle to the immediate realization of enlightenment here and now.
You can read more about The Trap of Practicing with a Future Goal in Mind and how to avoid it, here.