Practicing meditation doesn’t mean you’ve joined a cult or another religion.
Over the years, the practice of meditation has developed an interesting popular image. Some parts of that image are accurate, while others are mistaken, stereotypical, or totally false. I’ll admit it, at one time, I, too, was guilty of holding odd or exaggerated assumptions about meditation. For many of us, when we think of meditation an image comes to mind, and in many cases, that image ranges from slightly off the mark to totally ridiculous. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular myths and misconceptions surrounding meditation. Hopefully, in doing so, you’ll have a more complete and less intimidating view of this practice.
Myth 1: Meditation Is Difficult
In practice, meditation is pretty simple. As anyone who practices regularly will tell you, the technical aspects of meditation are direct, uncomplicated, to the point, and easy. However, our minds have trouble accepting the simplicity of the practice, and we end up making it much more difficult than it is. We overthink, analyze, and evaluate the practice, judging and getting ourselves bogged down in expectations and thinking about meditation rather than simply doing it.
We’re the ones who make meditation a challenge; however, in and of itself the practice of meditation isn’t hard. In fact, it’s much more challenging to explain meditation than it is to just do it.
Myth 2: Meditation Shuts Down the Thinking Process
Many people seem to think that once they start to meditate, a titanium curtain comes down in their mind with a thud, shutting out all outside thoughts. This is rarely the case. Nor is it likely your mind will go blank when you meditate. Meditation slows down the thought traffic in your mind; it may stop for a time, or maybe it won’t, but either way, the meditation will still be beneficial.
Think of meditation as a way to turn down the volume of your thoughts. They may still be there, just not as loud. Sometimes the volume gets turned down completely, other times it goes down just a little bit. What’s more important than the quantity of your thoughts is how you respond to them. Meditation doesn’t necessarily make your thoughts go away—it changes how you react to them. It’s ultimately about changing your relationship to your thoughts, rather than making them go away.
Myth 3: It Takes Years of Dedicated Practice to Receive Benefits
While several of the long-term benefits of meditation accumulate over time, your mind and body will begin to experience subtle and positive shifts in well-being from the first time you meditate. The benefits of meditation are both immediate and long term. The longer and more regularly you practice, however, the more profound and lasting those changes will become.
Meditation is a practice in the sense that it’s something we do regularly. As with any practice, the more you do it, the better you get at it, and the more powerful the results. Rest assured though, even from the first time out, those benefits will begin to accrue.
Myth 4: Meditation Is Uncomfortable
For many people the word meditation conjures up images of saffron-robed, shaven-headed monks sitting cross-legged on a cold wooden monastery floor, mumbling some strange language as they struggle desperately to not fall asleep. Or perhaps it’s a vision of a skinny, loin-clothed yogi with his body twisted into a pretzel. These images portray meditation as a terribly uncomfortable and unforgiving experience, both physically and mentally. And while they may be consistent with formal and traditional Eastern meditation practices, here in the West they simply don’t work.
Being comfortable is an essential ingredient to a successful meditation practice. For the mind to settle into stillness, we need to remove any outside distractions, including putting ourselves into an uncomfortable position. In meditation practice, we always want to be moving toward comfort.
- If we need to shift or reposition our bodies, we do that.
- If we need to scratch an itch, we do.
- If we need to cough or sneeze, we do what we need to be comfortable and not be unnecessarily disturbed by our bodies.
If our meditation isn’t comfortable, our bodies will protest and chances are high that we’ll end up quitting.
Myth 5: Meditation Is a Religion
Many people who could otherwise benefit from meditation are scared because they incorrectly assume that learning meditation means they are taking part in another religion or violating the doctrines of their faith. This is perhaps one of the most stubborn and challenging misconceptions to dispel—due largely to the fact that meditation arose as a part of many spiritual traditions and is often automatically associated with Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Yoga, Vedanta, or countless other beliefs.
However, while meditation is a component of countless spiritual traditions, in and of itself, it is just a simple mental technique. Practicing meditation doesn’t mean you’ve joined a cult or another religion. In its most basic form meditation is a mental exercise, not unlike any type of physical exercise. A bicep curl has no religious affiliation; it’s just a tool used to strengthen your arm. Likewise, meditation doesn’t have a religious affiliation; it’s just a tool to strengthen your mind, body, and spirit.
Meditation can be practiced and embraced by everyone, regardless of their faith or religious beliefs. Plus, many students of meditation find that their practice helps them to have a deeper connection to their faith, whatever it may be.
Myth 6: Meditation Requires Special Externals
Often when we think of meditation, we associate the practice with chimes, candles, incense, shawls, beads, robes, cushions, altars, or other external items. It’s true, these things can have a place in a meditation practice, but they are not required.
We spend 90 percent of our waking state with our attention externally focused. Meditation can be referred to as an inward stroke—we’re directing our attention internally. The external ornaments of a meditation practice may be helpful in creating a comfortable or nurturing environment for meditation, but if you don’t want or need those things you’ll be able to meditate without them just fine.
Furthermore, we don’t want a lack of those external items to potentially become a crutch or an excuse for not meditating. Just know that one of the beautiful aspects of this practice is that, as they say, no equipment required. If you can sit down and close your eyes, you can meditate.
Myth 7: I-Can’t-Meditate Syndrome
As a meditation teacher, I’ve heard this excuse more times than I can remember. People often assume, due to a combination of the previous misconceptions or through some anti-meditation genetic disposition, that meditation is incompatible with them. This myth fosters the notion that meditation is a God-given talent certain individuals are born with while others aren’t so lucky. In my experience, this is nonsense.
I believe that everyone can be taught to meditate and reap the benefits from the practice. I’m guessing that the majority of individuals who believe they can’t meditate fall into this trap due to a lack of proper instruction. A good meditation teacher will be able to walk the student through their doubts so they can arrive at a point of comfort and confidence in the practice. Everyone can meditate—even you.
Myth 8: “I Have Too Many Thoughts!”
I imagine 95 percent of people in the modern world would say they have too many thoughts. Having thoughts is part of the human experience, and due to our technological, information-based society it’s likely that we have more and faster thoughts than at any time in human history. But that’s okay—thoughts are a byproduct of life, and no thoughts means you’re flatlining—we don’t want that.
Plus, thoughts and meditation aren’t mortal enemies. Thoughts play a necessary role in the meditation process. Don’t worry about how many thoughts you have or that they will prevent you from meditating successfully. You can have loads of thoughts every day and still enjoy and benefit from meditation.
Myth 9: “I Don’t Have Time to Meditate”
This is a myth/excuse sometimes heard more often from those who have previously learned to meditate, but it also plagues those new to meditation who just can’t imagine making room for a meditation practice in their busy lives. They’re often familiar with the multiple benefits of meditation yet they can’t seem to find time to practice regularly. In all honesty, this is a matter of priorities more than anything else. Here’s the thing:
- If you have time for Facebook, you have time for meditation.
- If you have time for the latest reality show, you have time for meditation.
- If you have time for video games, you have time for meditation.
You’ll ultimately make time for meditation if you make it a priority in your life. If meditation is just a passing flirtation, chances aren’t good that you’ll find time for it. But consider that countless, incredibly busy and successful people meditate every day. The only thing that separates them from you is a conscious choice to do this powerful and transformative thing each day. Perhaps meditation is even a key to their success.
In addition, there seems to be a consensus among regular meditators in that, despite giving up 15 to 20 minutes a day or more to meditation, they feel as if they have more time during the course of their day. As odd as it sounds, this may be due to a couple of reasons.
- The sharpening of awareness during meditation makes their non-meditating time more focused, aware, and productive, allowing them to accomplish more in the same amount of time.
- When we slip into the stillness between our thoughts, it is a domain of timeless awareness. With practice, we pull some of that timelessness back into our daily lives.
You’ll have time to meditate if you choose to make it an important part of your life—and it will be well worth your time.
By learning about these common myths and misconceptions, I hope you have been able to let go of any notions that might be holding you back from taking the next step into learning meditation. I feel strongly that everyone can meditate and there are no bad meditators—only less efficient ways to learn. The responsibility of conveying the how-to’s, benefits, subtleties, and nuances of a meditation practice lie with the instructor.
Meditation works. If you’re having difficulty with it, don’t blame yourself and think that you’re somehow defective, and don’t blame the meditation process and think the practice is somehow flawed. Instead, blame me for being a lousy teacher, but don’t give up on meditation. Find another article, go to a class, download an app, or watch a video. Sooner or later, you’ll find the method that works for you and come to understand that meditation is for everyone.
This article is an excerpt from The Path to Stillness: A Meditator’s Guide by Adam Brady.
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