The Misconception of Meditation (and a few guidelines to help you get there)

More than a few people have asked me to teach them ‘how to mediate.’ I often respond by telling them that this is not possible. What I say instead is that I can teach them how to breathe. No one can teach you how to meditate. They can guide you into a space where you might be most likely to disconnect from the stimulus outside the borders of your skin and turn within.  Over the years, I’ve found that my response is met with relief; often people think that their (in)ability to meditate means that something is wrong with them. This of course is not true. Everyone reaches a meditative state on their own time and sometimes the most unexpected ways. And the hilarious twist about meditation is – the second you become aware that you are ‘meditating’ – you no longer are.


There is no right or wrong way to meditate. Some people go all out to create a ‘space’ for meditation. That means a quiet little oasis with the right color scheme, candles, incense or the like. While that’s wonderful, it may leave many people thinking that meditation is not possible without such external trappings. Mediation involves the shedding of all external trappings (even the trappings of your mind), so it’s certainly not necessary to set the scene to meditate. The truth is that you can meditate anywhere. When I first learned in detail about it during yogic training, my guide joked that you could meditate while doing regular tasks around the house (but added that maybe it’s not such a good idea while handling cutlery). It took me years to actually understand the concept of moving mediation, even though that’s a rudimentary part of physical yoga (breath to movement). And when it happened, I was so surprised that I snapped right out of it. That brings me back to my point: you get it when you get it… and not a second before.

outdoor tea meditation space

So how does one teach oneself to meditate?

Step 1: Breathe.

Sound rudimentary? It is. The act of breathing can be both conscious and unconscious. And because we breathe to live, it’s easy to take this act for granted. What happens when you become aware of breathing? When you focus on it? When each inhale and each exhale takes on a texture, a life of its own? What happens when that texture makes its way through your body, clearing the cobwebs and making space?

Such a small thing, the breath. Such a big thing, the breath. Maybe one day you focus on the breath and think it’s the dumbest thing ever. Maybe one day you focus on the breath and for just a few moments, everything falls away. There are no worries, no concern for what has happened or what will happen, no checklist of things that need to be handled or concern about how you might look to others … or how you might look to yourself. We are often our harshest critics, and the reason that we can’t disengage into a state of meditation.

You’ll hear any manner of guides instructing you to ‘let go.’ If you’ve ever mentally responded to that instruction by yelling in your head (HOW??????????), now you know.


-Shahada Karim


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