by Rhonda Jones
There are a lot of different methods that Christians employ when they attempt meditation, just like there are a lot of different little ways that different people manage their relationship with the Lord. As loving and accepting as we are, we might be prone to saying things like, “There’s no wrong way to use meditation to foster a relationship with God!”, but this is misguided. While there are a lot of different paths you can take to utilize meditation, each path has some commonalities. So there is no single, all-encompassing “right way” to meditate, but there are several “wrong ways!”
The following is a list of common mistakes that can take meditation from a relaxing spiritual experience to an agonizing chore. You shouldn’t want to wash dishes or do laundry to put off meditating! Look at what you’re doing, check to see if you’ve made any of these mistakes, and adjust your meditation methods. You should be feeling more at peace in no time!
1. Sitting in an awkward, forced position.
If you don’t know much about meditation, your only mental picture of it might come from cartoons and sketches. If when someone mentions meditation, you only picture a baboon sitting with his legs tightly crossed, back straight as a board, and hands shaped into an OK symbol, you need to get that image out of your mind! Forcing yourself into a rigid position is not going to help you relax and center your mind, much in the same way that practicing your faith the same way that someone else does might only serve to strain your relationship with God. You can’t grow if you’re in pain!
After sitting like this for a little while, the discomfort won’t clear your mind– it’ll only distract you from what you’re trying to do. Sit in a way that feels comfortable to you. Whether that’s with your back supported, your feet on the floor, or perched on the edge of the bed, it will work better. It’s hard to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit when all you can think about is your aching back!
2. Trying to find the ‘off’ switch on your thoughts.
If you’re sitting with your eyes shut, mentally repeating, “Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think,” I hate to break it to you, but: you’re thinking. As anyone who’s ever dealt with nagging, persistent stress knows, you can’t turn off your thoughts at will! Your mind always has to be somewhere, so don’t waste your time thinking about not thinking. If you try to hollow out your mind like a Jack-o-Lantern, you’re just going to get frustrated, which is the quickest way to kill your ability to be at peace and feel God’s presence.
Instead of trying to tug your mind to and fro on the end of a too-tight leash, be gentle with yourself. When your mind wanders, acknowledge the thought, then gently guide your mind back to your faith– a good way to achieve this is by anchoring your mind using your favorite prayer, Scripture or passage.
3. Lounging around.
The line between sitting comfortably and flopping over on the couch may be blurred for some! Meditation, like faith, is about being relaxed and at ease.. but not about being lazy. You are content, not asleep. Try not to slouch, and resist the urge to meditate lying down in bed! You are on a spiritual journey. No journey happens when you’ve got a pillow over your head and drool running down your chin.
4. Stiffening up like someone stopped time.
So many Christians who are new to meditation are terrified of moving. To them, coughing or scratching their nose or sneezing are needless distractions (or worse, disrespectful to the Lord), but this kind of thinking only gets in the way of your ability to receive His love. He understands that you are human! Humans are itchy, sneezy beings, and if your foot starts to fall asleep, you need to move it so that you can stay comfortable. Remember: the quickest way to get rid of distractions is to rectify them. You can either scratch your nose now and get on with it, or spend the next twenty minutes wishing you could!
5. You approach it as an on-again, off-again thing.
Again, meditation and faith are very similar things. Much like flowers, you can’t set them aside and then pick them up when you feel like you want to tend to them. Meditation, especially as a tool you are using to grow and strengthen your faith, requires regular attention and maintenance in order to be productive. Meditating without a schedule demonstrates a lack of discipline, which will make it that much harder to reap the benefits.
Meditate as regularly as possible– ideally every day. Frequency is more important than the length of meditation, especially when you’re first getting into it. It’s better to fit in five to ten minutes of meditation every day than to try to “make up for it” with an hour-long meditation session every Saturday. It’s kind of like sleep that way, as anyone who’s tried sleeping 14 hours after a sleepless week can tell you! Consistency trumps all else.
If you can avoid these five things when you begin your meditation journey, it will be that much easier to open yourself to God’s presence quickly, and you can begin strengthening your relationship with Him as soon as possible! Amen.