Meditation Facts: Why You Don't Have to Clear Your Mind

Meditation myths

Verywell / Nez Riaz

Meditating is a beneficial and healthful activity. It aids in helping people deal with stress, difficult periods of time, medical conditions, and emotional wellness. But there is a lot of popular dogma around the subject of meditation that can discourage people from trying it, or from feeling successful at it when they do give it a shot.

Whether you've been afraid to try meditation, worried you aren't doing it correctly, or just want reassurance that it's OK to have a complex experience with it, you can benefit from learning why some beliefs about meditation aren't true.

Let's break down 10 facts behind common misconceptions that may have given you the wrong idea about meditation.

You Don't Have to Clear Your Mind of Thoughts

If you've ever tried to not think, you know that that's an impossible task. When we're awake, our minds are active. Some may claim that you need to empty your mind of thoughts in order to meditate, but this isn't exactly true.

In meditation, your goal doesn't need to be to not think. Instead, a more practical goal is to witness and observe your thoughts, and specifically, to do that without a strong emotional charge.

When you think a thought, rather than delving right into your feelings about it, in meditation you can gradually learn to evaluate it objectively and then let it go.

The goal isn't to not think, it's to not be so attached to your thoughts.

You May Not Always Feel Peaceful

There are many ways that meditation can lead to a calmer mind. That said, it isn't always the case. Sometimes, a person's life is simply in too stressful or exciting a place for them to feel completely calm and peaceful easily—and that's OK!

If meditation leads you to have a sense of inner peace, that's wonderful. If it doesn't, that's fine too.

Embrace whatever feelings meditation gives you, whether that is inner peace or even more excitement about a life event.

Meditation Doesn't Have to Lead to Inaction

There's an idea, particularly with Zen meditation, that meditating encourages you to accept everything in the world as it is, and that long-term meditating will lead you to taking no action in life. This isn't true.

Meditation does encourage you to step back and witness life through a more objective lens, but no forms of meditation recommend that you stop caring about any important causes.

Instead, you can use meditation to choose your actions more wisely, making sure they're coming from a place of rational thought instead of rash emotions.

You Don't Need a Lot Of Spare Time

Sure, there are monks who spend the bulk of their days meditating, but you don't need hours of meditation to benefit from the practice.

You can reap the benefits of meditation in a matter of minutes. If you're short on time, try a meditation app that can guide you into a meditative zone quickly.

Even just a few moments spent breathing in a slow and intentional way can be meditative. You don't need to invest all your spare time in practicing meditation in order to benefit from it, by any means.

Even If You Run Into Issues, It Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Meditate

Sometimes, a person tries to meditate and doesn't feel they were successful at it. Maybe they couldn't calm their minds enough to be able to observe their thoughts, or the act of doing "nothing" felt anxiety-provoking, or the whole affair simply felt boring.

It's important to recognize that being met with challenges while meditations doesn't mean that person isn't able to meditate.

Even people who meditate regularly have times where it doesn't "work," and they don't feel they got into a meditative space. It happens, and it's OK! That's no reason to not try again.

If you feel like you can't meditate, try a different way of doing it: Use an app or watch a youtube guided video, or try a different breathwork exercise than you did before. Anyone can meditate, and even regular meditators don't get in the zone every time.

It's Not Always Blissful

It'd be lovely if you felt blissful every time you meditated. Meditating may lead to feelings of happiness and bliss. Or, it may not. Whatever state of mind it leads to is perfectly all right. There are plenty of times in life when bliss isn't on the table, and that isn't any sort of failure.

If you've been discouraged about meditating because it doesn't make you feel as happy as you've heard it would, it's good to know that you can reap the benefits of it whether or not you feel all smiley afterward. Benefits like stress reduction aren't necessarily palpable, either.

It's OK to Fall Asleep

There is a belief that if you fall asleep while meditating, you didn't do it correctly. Beyond being a silly idea, this is untrue. Meditation can be a relaxing experience. If you get so relaxed that you fall asleep, consider it a job well done!

Bedtime meditations exist for precisely this reason. When you combine meditation with bedtime, you're more likely to relax deeply enough to fall asleep. This is helpful for anyone who experiences racing thoughts when they go to bed at night.

If you fall asleep when meditating during the day and end up napping, it's only a problem if you oversleep. Should you find you're prone to that, simply set an alarm.

It's Not Just Like Therapy

You may have heard someone who meditates decry therapy as less effective than meditation. While meditation is a fabulous tool for introspection, it isn't anything like therapy.

Cognitive behavioral, somatic, and other forms of therapy rely on a skilled, trained professional to help patients work through deep emotional issues. Meditation can make a person more emotionally healthy, but it isn't a substitute for therapy.

Meditation can make for an excellent complement to therapy, as one can further examine and sit with the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of therapy while in meditation. It can't substitute for it, though, and it shouldn't be considered an equivalent practice. The two are not the same.

Now that you've learned some facts about meditation you may not have realized, you can feel more empowered to give this healthful practice a try.

By Ariane Resnick, CNC
Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity.