4 Common Thoughts of Beginners in Mindfulness Meditation Practice ( and How to Overcome Them)
Mindfulness is all about paying attention and being aware in the present moment. As Jon Kabat-Zinn supports, “Mindfulness encompasses attitudes of non-judgment, a beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, letting go and patience”.
A couple of weeks ago, I suggested a close relative to start a Mindfulness Meditation Program here in Athens. Initially thinking of how mindfulness would be able to reduce her stress and ameliorate her sleep quality. But more importantly, I knew for sure that incorporating mindfulness practice in her everyday life would have numerous additional benefits and improve her overall sense of wellbeing.
Personaly, after experiencing burnout in 2016, I had to reconsider my priorities in life. This physical, emotional and physical exhaustion was clearly an awakening moment for me, and this is when I started to practice Mindfulness Meditation. Since then, I have been practicing daily and observing its benefits in various sectors of my life. I also had the chance to participate in numerous workshops and trainings, most memorable at the Osho Meditation Resort in India and during a 10-day Silent Vipassana Meditation Retreat in Thailand. Last year I also completed an MBSR Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Teacher Training Certification.
But today, this person, expressed some thoughts which are very typical for a beginner in mindfulness meditation. I would not characterize them as blocks, barriers or obstacles because they are not. It is our mind trying to control us because our mind is used, for so many years, to control us. That is the “job” of the mind. So this is why I’m using the word “thoughts” in this context. Whenever a soul tries to pursue a higher goal, its lower nature will usually rebel against that. Let’s review these thoughts that are very common for people who start practicing:
“Nothing is happening”
It is absolutely normal to have this thought. We might think “nothing is happening”, but indeed something happens. It is normal and typical in this process, even for advanced practitioners. The practice of Mindfulness Meditation is a learning process so the mind will wander and we need to be compassionate. We have to stop trying so hard to attain something specific. Just relax and be the observer of this process. I often use the example of the sky: think of thoughts and feelings like clouds in the sky and think of the mind like the sky, endless without limits. Don’t judge these “clouds”, just let them pass by the “sky” (mind). These “clouds’ (thoughts and feelings) just come and go. This can occur with non-judgemental awareness of sensations, feelings, and state of mind.
Through Mindfulness Meditation we can learn how to stop reacting and start responding. For example, in the busy streets of Athens, usually, most people would be angry or even yelling to a car driver that behaved inappropriately. This is a reactive, automated behavior that we are conditioned to. Instead of this automated, non-mindful reaction, one could respond with compassion and empathy, without negative feelings, not feeling agitated and angry and just letting go.
“My mind is traveling away”
Our mind reacts. As practice develops, paying attention in a more conscious way, maybe for the first time, can highlight emotions. We might discover interesting things about us, but also things that we might not like. Of course, it is challenging to face the unknown. Our minds are used to either be in the past or in the future. Usually, the mind plans, predicts, remembers, regrets and worries. But with mindfulness meditation practice, being in the present seems unusual and challenging.
The goal is not exactly to empty the mind, but rather to quiet the mind of all these random thoughts that are popping up. Instead of our minds to control us, we learn to control our mind. We should not try and stop our thoughts or empty our mind. It is absolutely normal for the mind to wander. When we become aware that our attention has drifted away to thoughts or other distractions while meditating, we just need to simply return to the present.
“I dont know what to do with these thoughts”
It might be helpful to just notice them first. Just notice what’s happening inside you, check the feeling in the body and don’t judge it. Let it be and breath with it. We have to learn to notice with kind attention and stay with it. We should not identify with these thoughts. We have to rather see them with openness and curiosity with a non-judgemental attitude and no self-criticism. We have to accept it and experience whatever is happening. We shouldn’t force ourselves, but just be in the moment. “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf” says Jon Kabat-Zinn. Don’t try to stop the waves of thoughts, just notice them, and don’t identify with them. Accept what is, bring your awareness to the present, and act out of a place of grounded intention, instead of reactivity.
“What is the goal?”
This is a very classic reaction. We already have it within us, we just need to remember this quality. At first, increased awareness and concentration. Through Mindfulness Meditation, we can explore our habitual patterns, automatic behaviors, physical, emotional and cognitive patterns. Then we can investigate more effectively our responses to challenges and demands of everyday life. We become more aware of the body from moment to moment and in everyday situations. We also learn how to optimize our self-care, how to relate to ourselves and to others more effectively and cultivate behaviors and activities that increase our wellbeing. We experience stress reduction and fewer mood disorders. It can help our creativity, our intuition and our connection to our inner self. Mindfulness can strengthen our sense of peacefulness, better regulate our emotions and help us rest in a deeper state. Mindfulness also help us cultivate empathy and compassion towards others.
Mindfulness Meditation is a form of mental training. Most people seek to train their body, but forget, or postpone to train the mind. The essence is that the body and mind are interconnected and we need to take control of the conditioned mind, that mostly lives in the past. If we want to increase our wellbeing, we need to practice, integrate and apply mindfulness to our everyday lives, in order to be more fully connected with ourselves.
There is an old Zen proverb: “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy. Then, you should sit for an hour.”
Happy sitting! 🙂
P.S. 1. If you speak Greek, then you might find interesting this episode of The SomaPnevma Show Podcast in Greek, where we discuss all things related to Mindfulness, with leading Mindfulness Instructor Myrto Legaki.
P.S.2 If you live in Athens, there is a nice opportunity to learn to meditate, in this one day workshop, on Sunday June 9th. Learn more info and book your spot online via BookPanda, the website that can help you discover and book the best activities in Athens.
Learn more about Stefi Vasilopoulou on her website StefiVasilopoulou.com, get inspired with her inspirational podcast in Greek “The SomaPnevma Show“, see her latest venture “BookPanda“, read her latest thinking on Entrepreneurship, Branding, and Wellness, or see how you can work together on Marketing Consultancy Opportunities.