#24 - Busting Mediation Myths
In the past forty years, meditation has entered the mainstream of modern Western culture, prescribed by physicians and practiced by everyone from business executives, artists, and scientists to students, teachers, military personnel, and on a promising note politicians. Despite the growing popularity of meditation, prevailing misconceptions about the practice are a barrier that prevents many people from trying meditation and receiving its profound benefits for the body, mind, and spirit. Below are the most common meditation myths destroyed.
Myth #1: Meditation is difficult.
Truth: This myth is rooted in the image of meditation as a mysterious practice reserved only for saints, holy men, and spiritual adepts. In reality, when you receive instruction from an experienced, knowledgeable teacher, meditation is easy and fun to learn. The techniques can be as simple as focusing on the breath or silently repeating a mantra. One reason why meditation may seem difficult is that we try too hard to concentrate, we’re overly attached to results. Worse yet we’re not sure we are doing it right. In my experience learning meditation from a qualified teacher is the best way to ensure that the process is enjoyable and you get the most from your practice. A teacher will help you understand what you’re experiencing, move past common roadblocks, and create a nourishing daily practice.
Myth #2: You have to quiet your mind in order to have a successful meditation practice.
Truth: This may be the number one myth about meditation and is the cause of many people giving up in frustration. Meditation isn’t about stopping our thoughts or trying to empty our mind. Both of these approaches only create stress and noisier internal chatter. As human, I personally believe we cannot stop our minds from thinking But we can decide how much attention to give our thoughts. Although we can’t impose quiet on our mind, through meditation we can find the quiet that already exists in the space between our thoughts. Sometimes referred to as “the gap or the now or presence,” this space between thoughts is pure consciousness, pure silence, and pure peace. Typically, when one meditates, one use’s an object of attention, such as our breath, an image, or a mantra, which allows our mind to relax into this silent stream of awareness. When thoughts arise, as they inevitably will, we don’t need to judge them or try to push them away. Instead, we gently return our attention to our object of attention. In every meditation, there are moments, even if only microseconds, when the mind dips into the gap and experiences the refreshment of pure awareness. As you meditate on a regular basis, you will spend more and more time in this state of expanded awareness and silence. Be assured that even if it feels like you have been thinking throughout your entire meditation, you are still receiving the benefits of your practice. You haven’t failed or wasted your time.
Myth #3: It takes years of dedicated practice to receive any benefits from meditation.
Truth: The benefits of meditation are both immediate and long-term. You can begin to experience benefits the first time you sit down to meditate and in the first few days of daily practice. Many scientific studies provide evidence that meditation has profound effects on the mind-body physiology within just weeks of practice.
Real life example, a landmark study led by Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital found that as little as eight weeks of meditation not only helped people experience decreased anxiety and greater feelings of calm; it also produced growth in the areas of the brain associated with memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress regulation. Some of the immediate benefits of mediation include
decreased blood pressure
enhanced immune function
I personally started mediation at university as a friend recommended it to me. Within in few days of daily meditation practice, I was able to sleep soundly for the first time in months. The stress about final year project and exam would not let me sleep in peace.
Myth #4: Meditation is escapism.
Truth: The real purpose of meditation isn’t to tune out and get away from it all. But to tune in and get in touch with your true Self. In meditation, you dive below the mind’s churning surface, which tends to be filled with repetitive thoughts about the past and worries about the future, into the still point of pure consciousness.
In this state of great awareness, you let go of all the stories you’ve been telling yourself about who you are, what is limiting you, and where you fall short and you experience the truth that your deepest Self is infinite and unbounded.
As you practice on a regular basis, you cleanse the windows of perception and your clarity expands. While some people do try to use meditation as a form of escape, as a way to bypass unresolved emotional issues. this approach is contrary to all of the wisdom teachings about meditation and mindfulness. In fact, there are a variety of meditation techniques specifically developed to identify, mobilize and release stored emotional toxicity. If you are coping with emotional upset or trauma, I recommend that you work with a therapist who can help you safely explore and heal the pain of the past, allowing you to return to your natural state of wholeness and love.
Myth #5: No time to meditate.
Truth: There are busy, productive executives who have not missed a meditation in twenty-five years. In life you make time for what is important to you, so make meditation a priority.
If you feel like your schedule is too full, remember that even just a few minutes of meditation is better than none. If you can’t do that, just start by doing 3-5 deep breaths every morning. I encourage you not to talk yourself out of meditating just because it’s a bit late or you feel too sleepy.
Myth #6: Meditation is only a religious practice.
Truth: Meditation is a practice that takes us beyond the noisy chatter of the mind into a place of stillness and silence. It doesn’t require a specific spiritual or religious belief. Personally, I look at like an exercise for the mind, just like you go to the gym and curl barbell and get bigger biceps. Some meditators have no particular religious beliefs or are atheist or agnostic. They meditate in order to experience inner quiet and the numerous physical and mental health benefits. Meditation helps us to enrich our lives. It enables us to enjoy whatever we do in our lives more fully and happily whether that is playing sports, taking care of our children, or advancing in our career.
Myth #7: I am supposed to have supreme experiences in meditation.
Truth: Some people are disappointed when they don’t experience visions, see colors, levitate, hear a choir of angels, or glimpse enlightenment when they meditate. Although we can have a variety of wonderful experiences when we meditate, including feelings of bliss and oneness. But these aren’t the purpose of the practice. The real benefits of meditation are what happens in the other hours of the day when we’re going about our daily lives. When we emerge from our meditation session, we carry some of the stillness and silence of our practice with us. The stillness allows us to be more creative, compassionate, centered and loving to ourselves and everyone we encounter.