Frequently Asked Questions about Meditation
I can't empty my mind; can I still meditate?
Absolutely! Contrary to the popular misconception that meditation is all about trying to empty the mind of all thoughts, feelings, emotions, and other events, meditation is in fact a very different process to this. The process in meditation involves developing a better understanding of the events in the mind and the body and teaches us to practice some important skills such as acceptance, concentration, non-judgement, compassion, discernment, and self-awareness when observing our thoughts and emotions. By attempting to stop the process of thinking or supressing thoughts or feelings altogether, this can be quite harmful to our wellbeing, particularly in the long run, and so meditation creates a safe space for us to take a step back from getting tangled up in the process of thoughts and helps us to learn how to view them in a new way, a way that helps us take a step back and just allow them to pass more naturally.
This is often illustrated as being like someone taking a step back from a busy road, a road where each car represents a thought. We can try and create a roadblock, control the cars, or even try to dodge the traffic, but this might cause us to feel more anxious, frustrated, or perhaps a little swept off our feet from reality. So, meditation provides us the opportunity to take a step back and allow the traffic to pass more freely without getting too attached, and so allowing each thought to rise and pass more freely. In this process, this helps us to not only become more accepting of our thoughts, but also allows us to practice letting them go, recognising that we are not defined by our thoughts; we are much more than our thoughts. In the long run, this helps us to become more resilient to some of the internal and external challenges in daily life.
This process of allowing thoughts to flow a little more freely not only provides us with a deeper sense of clarity and understanding of ourselves, but over time notches down the volume of thoughts in our practice, and this is where the shift of focus takes place, and allows us to be more present with the experience of reality. Thoughts are useful, and allow us to live our life and be in control of what do and who we are, however meditation offers us the opportunity to discern between which thoughts are useful and supportive, and which thoughts are harmful, unrealistic, or just background noise.
How do I know if meditation is for me?
I would say the most straightforward answer to this would be that meditation is indeed for everyone, it is simply a case of recognising which benefits of a meditation practice, and which meditation and mindfulness technique(s), relate to your situation the most, and something you would like to see improve out of committing to a regular practice.
You may be thinking about starting meditation for a variety of reasons such as feeling calmer and more in control, stress or anxiety relief, working with difficult thoughts or feelings, pain management, improving focus and productivity, improving your overall sense of wellbeing, or whatever the reason... The most important part is finding your 'why' in how this practice can work for you.
The best way to work out what's in it for you is to just get started, give it a go and see what works for you best. The important advice I will add to this is to always seek guidance from Qualified Meditation Teachers only, and this includes Meditation and Mindfulness Apps such as 'Calm' or 'Headspace' Not only does this mean that you are in good hands and with people who are experienced and knowledgeable in the practice, but also having a qualified teacher at hand means that you will be provided with accurate and trustworthy meditation and mindfulness exercises that target your needs. This also can offer you peace of mind that having a qualified teacher around, you can safely navigate some of the personal difficulties or challenges you might face in working through your meditation practice. Keep your expectations realistic; meditation isn't the answer to everything, it is a practice that can be an alternative or additional method to improving wellbeing, but it should never be a direct replacement of any ongoing treatment or medication, and because of this, you should consult a GP or medical professional if you have any questions about how to introduce meditation into your lifestyle, particularly if you have a history of mental health conditions or any such difficulties.
Over the years, meditation has grown to become more popular as a method for self-help, personal development, and a growing area of research in psychology and mental health. As a result of this, there are many studies and publications out there that highlight the 'how' and the 'why' in the benefits of meditation, and this can be a really interesting area to look into if you're curious as to how it works and what benefits you may be able to experience (see 'How can I learn more about meditation?' below for more advice)
What's the difference between Mindfulness and Meditation?
Mindfulness is something we all have the seed of already; those moments that greet us from time to time during the day where our attention is on the "here and now" and we are focused on the present, where the volume of thoughts seem to ease off a little bit, or altogether. This may be in the form of drawing or playing an instrument, exercising, walking, driving, even brushing our teeth or having a conversation with someone. So, essentially, mindfulness is an experience; the experience of being with the present, being with what matters here and now. These moments of mindfulness can feel rather therapeutic, offer us a sense of ease, clarity, or just a breath of fresh air and coming back to the present moment.
Meditation is where we are watering the seed of mindfulness and providing it the right foundations to be developed and become more applicable to a range of different situations in our daily life. Meditation is a practice that involves putting aside a portion of our time each day, starting from even just 10 minutes, and through various techniques and methods, learning how to cultivate some of the powerful benefits associated with a regular practice. What's important to note is that our meditation practice doesn't stop when we finish our meditation session and open our eyes, but it reaches out into other areas of our daily lives, and it is when we start to notice this arising, that we can really connect to the meaning of meditation and what's really in it for us and how we can apply some of those qualities we practice in that 10 minutes in to different life situations.
Do you have any advice for a beginner in meditation?
When beginning your daily meditations, start off nice and small; even just 5 to 10 minutes to begin with can start to introduce you to some of the benefits that arise as a result of a regular practice. If you would like to increase the length of time in which you meditate, try bumping up your session time by 5 minutes every week or so, and bearing in mind that you are going at a pace that works for you. A meditation practice should be personal to you, and not a race or a competition of any kind. The quality of your meditation sessions and the regularity of those sessions hugely outweighs the length of time in which you meditate - quality over quantity! 10 minutes a day will take you further than 50 minutes once a week, so bear in mind that this is a process that involves some patience too, but also it doesn't have to be very time consuming.
Like with starting any lifestyle habit or hobby, the best way to keep up with it is to not overdo it, but also find a way to best fit in that new practice into your daily life. Thankfully, meditation doesn't require any equipment (unless you have a particular cushion) or anywhere in particular to practice it, so it can be really flexible when trying to squeeze in those all-important moments of mindfulness into a busier lifestyle.
Stay curious and open-minded; you are always in control. Don't be afraid to try new techniques, reach out to a teacher or other meditators, or even attend a retreat - try to connect with the things that keep you motivated, like finding friends with the same interest or writing a journal. Your practice should be enjoyable and something you look forward to, at least most of the time, so don't make it feel like a chore and don't be too rigid in your practice; be open to exploring the world of meditation and the many practices out there.
How can I learn more about meditation?
There is a wealth of information out there which will look into each and every technique in meditation, the philosophies and history behind various practices, the science and research behind it, and much more. A simple internet search can bring up many different sources of information such as articles, videos and publications. As with anything on the internet, you have the accurate and reliable information and their sources on a topic, but closely following that are the sources of information that may not accurately reflect the topic, so wherever possible, reach out to well-known and reliable websites and channels of information that have experienced and qualified individuals in the field of meditation and mindfulness. Personally, I would say you can never go wrong with a good book on meditation, and it helps you navigate away from a seemingly endless chain of internet sources which can be very time-consuming. Books on the topic of meditation and mindfulness are mostly written by experts in their field, provide straight-to-the point and interesting information, advice and guidance.
Here are some of my favoured sources of information:
'A Monk's Guide to Happiness' - Gelong Thubten
'The Miracle of Mindfulness' - Thich Nhat Hanh
What can I expect from a meditation class?
My classes are designed to focus on the two core areas of meditation: learning how to practice meditation, and developing the knowledge of what meditation is, including the scientific benefits, the different techniques that can be practiced and exploring some of the philosophy and meaning behind the many different practices. I like to cover these two main areas as I feel they are just as important as each other over time, as this not only helps you understand how to meditate in a way that works for you and your lifestyle, but provides you the tools and knowledge to take you further beyond the classes.
The classes also have opportunities for sharing experiences, questions, and some discussion. I make a huge emphasis on developing community and creating a space for people to feel safe, accepted and confident in their practice, and with sharing their ideas and experiences. Not only does this provide you with the opportunity to connect with like-minded people, but also a space where you can feel accepted and can flourish in your practice and who you are.