Some of the most interesting conversations I have about meditation are with absolute beginners. It gives me a chance to talk with people about questions like: “What is meditation anyway?” “Why do people do it?” “Isn’t it kind of weird?”
And it’s an opportunity to try to untangle some of the myths about meditation that are hanging on, even though meditation has become quite mainstream. These myths or misunderstandings go to the heart of meditation, and people’s hopes and fears about it. So, it’s a joy to talk with people about them.
I’d say these are the five most common myths or misunderstandings.
1 | TO MEDITATE, I HAVE TO CONTROL MY THOUGHTS OR MAKE MY MIND QUIET
This is Number One, hands down. People ask me, “How can I stop thinking? That’s just not possible! And why would I want to anyway?”
And they’re right.
Our minds create thoughts. That’s what they do. Trying to control or suppress them is an exercise in futility and frustration. What meditation will teach you is how to observe your thoughts with some objectivity and curiousity–and without any criticism. You see that they’re largely not under your control at all. They just happen. So, paying attention to your thoughts gives you some choice you didn’t have before. You can believe your thoughts or not; act on them or not. And this objectivity opens you to powerful realizations and questions, like, “Hmm, in between that thought and this one, I’m still aware–even when I’m not thinking. Hmm. So, who is it that’s watching my thoughts?” The central inquiry into awareness itself has begun.
2 | MEDITATION ENCOURAGES YOU TO CHECK OUT OR DISENGAGE FROM LIFE
If this myth was true, it would be a good reason to avoid meditation. Collectively and individually, we need people who are fully engaged in life.
I think there are some very good reasons for this misunderstanding. Words like “acceptance” and “allowing” are common in meditation practices to express a particular idea about inner and outer resistance. With a bit of reflection, I think most people would agree that we resist or push away a lot of experiences we don’t like–either in our owns minds or with other people. It’s a reflexive argument with reality. And it’s a recipe for stress and disconnection. The suggestion to “accept” is not the same as to “like”–the situation we’re in may not be pleasant. Accepting it simply means: accept this is happening.
Ironically, what people actually find when they practice acceptance is they see the situation more clearly, as well as what needs to be done. So, the practice of acceptance is a way to engage more fully and wisely with life, not the opposite.
3 | I NEED TO HAVE A SPIRITUAL OR RELIGIOUS BELIEF
If you’re interested in meditation, it often means you either want to know how to relax and destress or you want to know more about “life, the universe and everything.” Meditation can help you with both of these explorations and in neither case do you need to believe anything at all. In fact, having beliefs can sometimes get in the way of the curiousity and openness that’s at the heart of meditation.
Meditation is rooted in spiritual and religious traditions, it’s true. But you don’t need to believe or practice these traditions to start to meditate. All you need is a genuine interest in learning about yourself and about what’s true. Meditation is a tradition of practices that are beautifully designed to help you explore your thoughts, your feelings, your deepest sense of being, your inner knowing, your uniqueness and your common humanity. It’s a sophisticated tool for experiential knowledge: what you learn, you learn from within, not from belief in an idea.
4 | I SHOULD FIND PEACE OR BE ABLE TO TRANSCEND “PROBLEMS”
Another misunderstanding is that meditation will help you reach a certain state that is somewhere or some-when else. The myth is that the goal is something like peace or transcendence and, if you don’t experience that, you “can’t meditate.”
This myth is a bit trickier because people do contact states of deep peace or transcendence or joy through meditation. And those experiences can transform you. But you don’t find them by searching for them. You can discover or uncover them by being fully present with your experience, whatever it may be, this moment. It’s one of the paradoxes of meditation practice that you can only find it by not seeking it. But if you can put aside the linguistic irritation, live with a practice for a while, you may get a taste of what this means.
5 | I’D LIKE TO MEDITATE, BUT I DON’T HAVE TIME
This is a classic. Beyond the common sense answer that you find time for what you value, you can get a feeling for meditation in literally five minutes a day. If you can sit quietly, without interruption, without technology and do a breath meditation for five minutes a day, you will create a space in your day that’s not like anything else. And there really is something magical about the stillness and silence of meditation. Time moves differently. Five, fully present minutes in silence will seem like much more. You’ll feel refreshed and a bit more present.
TRY A PRACTICE
If you are interested in what meditation might add to your life, the best thing you can do is to try it. Start small with a practice or course that appeals to you, and make it a part of your day for a few weeks. It’s your experience of meditation that matters and the practice will teach you how to pay attention and listen.
Enjoy the journey.
About the author-
Ann Vrlak is Founder of OneSelf Meditation and a meditation practitioner for over 25 years. She’s a Certified Meditation Teacher for adults and for children (the best job ever!). She loves to share how the perspective and practice of meditation can support people with their everyday stresses, as well as places of deep dissatisfaction and disconnection.
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