Ask, “Don’t you get sore sitting in one position for so long?”

Of course you do! The point of meditation is not to feel perfectly happy folded onto a zafu cushion…it’s to recognize when you feel stiff or sore and notice it before letting it go. Unpleasant situations arise in life all the time and you can’t do anything about them, so meditation is good practice for being able to deal with problems without freaking out and believing your legs are going to fall off.

Also, little-known fact, Buddha actually said there are four positions to meditate in, and each one should be practiced as much as the others: sitting, standing, walking, and lying down. So if you get sore from sitting…try walking for a change!

Assume the point of meditating is to reach Nirvana.

It turns out, Nirvana (or Nibbana, depending on which tradition you follow) is kind of a side effect — the real benefit of meditation is meditation itself. The concept of karma is often mistranslated as meaning, “If you do good stuff, you’ll get good stuff,” like some kind of cosmic reward cycle; what it really amounts to is, if you take good actions, as a consequence you will be a good person, which is a pretty great outcome (and vice versa: If you take negative actions, you will be a negative person, which is not so great).

Meditation is kind of like that. If you meditate a lot, you’ll be a person who meditates a lot. Which is the point.

Remind us of the five hindrances.

These five obstacles to successful meditation pop up for even the most advanced meditator. They are: sensory desire (wanting to see or hear something to distract yourself), ill-will (getting angry or having hateful thoughts about someone or something), sloth or torpor (sleepiness), restlessness or worry (the inability to calm the mind and focus), and doubt (believing this whole meditation thing is kind of pointless anyway).

Everybody gets these every now and then, and one of my meditation teachers was prone to what he called “multiple hindrance attacks,” where he would get all five at once! On the bright side, Buddha said the best solution to getting sleepy while meditating was to have a nap first, so you have official permission to snooze.

Ask us what our mantra is.

Not everyone who meditates has a mantra (a word or phrase that’s used to focus the mind, and is repeated) but for many who do, their mantra is private. It may have been given to them by a teacher, it might be one they picked themselves, but asking about it is kind of like asking someone exactly what they’re praying about. It’s sort of personal, you know?

Be a competitive meditator.

As Christopher Marlowe said, “Comparisons are odious.” Nobody wants to be in competition, especially about something as personal and noncompetitive as meditation. So prattling on about how many hours you sat, all the silent retreats you’ve been to or famous teachers you’ve studied with, and the number of times you’ve reached complete mindfulness are sure to make other people cranky.

It’s okay if you want to share your experience, but doing it so other people feel less good about their own practice is pretty unskillful behaviour.

Assume there’s only one way to sit.

There are lots of different ways to sit in meditation, if you enjoy sitting. You can sit in simple cross-legged position. Sometimes it’s helpful to sit on a cushion to elevate the hips. Other people use a kneeling bench that allows them to fold their legs under them. If sitting on the ground makes your knees hurt, you can sit in a chair or the edge of a bed.

You’re even allowed to change position while you meditate, provided you do it very mindfully (assuming your tradition allows that — Zen meditators, for example, often teach that you can’t shift at all for the duration of your zazen practice). There are as many ways to sit as there are personal preferences for sitting, so find one that works for you and stick with it!

State that if you can’t meditate for an hour, you might as well not meditate at all.

Even five minutes of meditation is better than nothing at all! One of my teachers told me that the whole point of meditation is to become more mindful of your daily activities. If you can only be mindful while sitting on a cushion, that isn’t particularly effective, because you don’t sit on a cushion that often. Instead, you’re grocery shopping, jogging, and brushing your teeth. So if you can do mindful grocery shopping and tooth-brushing meditation, he said, you’re doing it exactly right.