Possibly the most persistent myths regarding meditation are that it’s difficult, it involves struggle or laser-like focus, or that it is reserved for a privileged few who possess the mental or genetic makeup necessary to settle the mind. However, none of these beliefs are true. Popular culture has done meditation practice somewhat of a disservice by often making it appear unreachable, other-worldly, loaded with philosophical or mystical trappings, or veiled in secrecy. Fortunately, the deeper understandings of mind-body wellness and the demystification of the world’s wisdom traditions have helped to blow the dust off the outdated views of meditation that kept it out of reach of the general public.
Put simply, meditation is for everyone. It’s a process and a practice that is a natural and inherent birthright we all carry within us. When the first sages and seers of remote antiquity discovered the ability to settle their minds, they heralded a new era in humanity—the activation of our mind-body’s restful awareness response. Not unlike Roger Bannister, running the first four-minute mile in 1954, who unlocked the door to what was physically and physiologically possible, the first meditators unlocked the door to higher states of awareness that we can all experience and benefit from today.
To further illustrate meditation’s universal applicability, consider the following.
The Mind’s Urge for Stillness Is Built In
While the body is geared for activity, the mind, if given the opportunity, will naturally be drawn to settling down. The simple act of sitting comfortably with closed eyes activates the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system and the mind’s tendency to go within. Whenever the input from the senses is withdrawn, the mind begins to go inward. Like a tortoise drawing in its limbs, unplugging our senses allows the mind to be calm while simultaneously expanding into higher states of awareness.
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Meditation Is Universal in Value
In other words, meditation works for all people, everywhere. As we all share common traits that are part of the human experience, the methodical practices of meditation affect all human beings similarly across time and space. Meditation’s universal effectiveness, therefore, is a byproduct of the laws of nature that apply equally to us all. In the same way that gravity applies uniformly to all humans, regardless of gender, age, or national origin, the practice of meditation is valuable for everyone on earth.
There Are No Bad Meditators
Meditation is natural and has no biases. It can be done by anyone, regardless of background or experience. As Krishna reminds Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita:
On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort towards spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear. 2:40
No one who does good work will ever come to a bad end, either here or in the world to come. 6:40
While these passages may seem somewhat esoteric and mystical, they still reflect the important truth that you really can’t fail at meditation. Take comfort in Krishna’s words of encouragement and recognize that you can do this. There are no bad meditators, only less effective ways to learn. Since meditation is a unique skill, it stands to reason that thoroughly learning both the theory and experience, taking the time to learn a practice from a high-quality source such as a book, an online program like Chopra Global’s Primordial Sound Meditation Master Course, or a meditation app will help you reap meditation’s many rewards and feel successful in your practice.
It’s important to remember that if whatever source of instruction you follow isn’t working for you: Don’t give up on meditation and don’t give up on yourself. Recognize what didn’t work, try another practice, and keep exploring until you find what suits you best.
Expectations Lead to Failure
This is a good time to mention that the illusion of failure in meditation practice is almost always the result of attachment to expectations or a specific outcome. Meditation is always healing and your mind-body takes exactly what it needs from your practice. The quickest way to frustrate yourself in meditation is to have expectations of a practice that, by its very nature, is meant to embrace uncertainty, unpredictability, and the unknown.
As long as you hold on to a particular idea of what’s “supposed” to happen during meditation, you’ll constantly think of yourself as failing whenever your experiences don’t match your expectations. Set yourself free from the burden of evaluation and self-judgment and you’ll recognize that every meditation is unique and just the way it’s meant to be.
Meditation Adapts to You
When I learned meditation from Chopra Global’s chief meditation officer Roger Gabriel, he mentioned that in the beginning, practicing meditation was like breaking in a pair of slippers—they initially feel somewhat stiff and tight, but after a little time, they become comfortable and fit your feet perfectly. In this way, meditation adapts to you—to your lifestyle, needs, karma, and dharma. Ultimately, your meditation practice should be as unique as your fingerprint. Yes, there are guidelines you can follow for when, where, how long to meditate, how to sit, how to breathe, and supplementary practices, but in the end, no one knows your life and routine better than you.
Don’t try to force yourself into a meditation mold that doesn’t fit your life. Doing so will only make you uncomfortable and you’ll end up quitting. Like asana practice in yoga, don’t force yourself into the pose; modify it to fit your body and the pose will support your health and well-being for years to come.
Still unconvinced that you can meditate? Let’s see just how simple it can be. Take a moment to read through these steps and then commit to giving meditation a five-minute test drive.
- Find a place where you won’t be disturbed for the next five to seven minutes. Silence your phone, close the door, and dim the lights if you like.
- Sit comfortably in whatever position allows your neck and back to remain relatively upright. Try to have both feet resting flat on the floor with your legs uncrossed. Close your eyes softly. Relax your body into the chair.
- Take three full, slow, deep breaths.
- On your next inhalation, silently repeat to yourself the word, I.
- As you exhale, silently repeat the word am.
- Inhale: I; exhale: am.
- Continue this process for the next several minutes or as long as comfortable. When thoughts in your mind, sensations in your body, or sounds in the environment occur, effortlessly bring your awareness back to I am. Just repeat the words gently without force, effort, or struggle to concentrate.
- When you choose to end the practice, stop repeating I am, and sit comfortably with your eyes closed for a few more moments.
- When you’re ready, softly open your eyes.
Congratulations! You just meditated. While this first experience may have felt slightly strange, know that with practice it will become increasingly normal. Thoughts, sounds in the environment, and bodily sensations are all part of the practice. In the end, all you need to do is innocently notice when your attention drifts away from I am, and then gently bring it back. Simple, comfortable, effortless. This is meditation.
See? You can do this.
If you’d like to explore the theory and practice of meditation in greater detail, perhaps you’d enjoy The Path To Stillness, A Meditator's Guide. This book was written as a manual for both the new and experienced meditator alike, a tool to lead you through the ins and outs of becoming a lifelong meditator and reaping all the rewards the practice has to offer.