Do you see the picture of the lady meditating I chose for this blog post?
That’s what you’re taught to think meditation is like. Peaceful. Serene. Tranquil. That’s how meditation is portrayed. But that’s not what meditation is.
Having meditated for nearly fifteen years, I can attest that meditation shares little with the way it’s portrayed. What you think meditation is, is not reality. In today’s post, I’ll dispell the myths surrounding meditation so you can feel comfortable starting your own meditation practice. But first, a quick look at my own meditation practice…
A brief glimpse into my meditation practice
This past September, I attended a 10-day silent meditation retreat.
The secret no one tells you about meditation retreats is that there’s only a tiny bit of meditation that goes on. The overwhelming majority of the retreat is thinking – at least that was my experience. And I’ve done a number of meditation retreats. Calling them thinking retreats would be far more apt than referring to them as meditation retreats.
And here lies the crux of why no one likes to meditate.
Whenever I recommend meditation practice to a patient, the next thing I inevitably hear is that their mind can’t settle down. Some of the more common comments I hear include:
I can’t shut my mind off.
I have a monkey mind.
My mind thinks way too much for meditation.
You are missing the point. These comments apply to all of us. All of us. Even though I’ve meditated for years, these comments still describe my own mind.
Meditation is not about stopping thinking. It’s about developing a new awareness. A part of ourselves that is aware that thinking is occurring. It helps you to identify less strongly with whatever you’re thinking about.
But there’s never a point where the thinking stops.
For the 10 days I was there, I maybe had 1 minute of calm, peaceful meditation practice. Every other minute was my brain thinking about what I was going to do/eat/see after I got out of this place.
Today, let’s dispell the myths and illusions of meditation. Today, I’ll tell you what meditation is and what meditation isn’t.
What meditation isn’t
Too many portrayals of Eastern Spirituality through film, art, and media have colored your view of meditation. Meditation isn’t nicely stacked rocks. Let’s dispell the myths surrounding what meditation isn’t.
Meditation is not sitting cross-legged like a statue of Buddha
You can meditate on a couch, lying down, cross-legged, or straight-legged. How you position your body really doesn’t matter. So, don’t fixate on your posture.
Meditation is not the absence of thought
Whenever I tell someone about my meditation practice, the inevitable response I hear is that so-and-so person’s mind is way too crazy/busy/active for meditation. They couldn’t possibly stop thinking. Or, so-and-so person tried meditation once but their mind just wouldn’t stop. Thus, meditation is not for them.
When you meditate, your mind does not suddenly stop thinking. The thinking never stops – so far as I can tell, anyways. Thoughts will be with you throughout your meditation practice.
The goal is not to have an absence of thought. Get that idea out of your head. An absence of thought is what meditation isn’t.
Meditation is not all that comfortable
If you try to keep your body in any one position for an extended period of time, you’re going to experience discomfort. Don’t beat yourself up over changing positions. It’s inevitable.
Start with a comfortable position. Hold that position until it becomes uncomfortable. Repeat.
You don’t need to tough it out. No one’s evaluating your posture.
Meditation is not always peaceful
Your mind is like a wild animal. Meditation is a means to try to tame the animal. That process is anything but easy. It’s certainly not peaceful – at least not all of the time.
Some days, meditation might make you feel annoyed, aggravated, frustrated, angry, sad, or anxious. Meditation is not tranquility all of the time.
Stick with your meditation practice. Over time, with a regular meditation practice, your life will likely become more peaceful. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be days/weeks/months filled with the so-called undesirable emotions.
Meditation is not effortless
Meditation takes a great deal of effort and focus. Meditation is not popping in your headphones and lying down. That’s called sleeping.
What meditation is
Ok, now that you’ve got a better idea of what meditation isn’t, let’s jump into what exactly meditation is.
Meditation is a practice
Yes, meditation is often associated with the Buddhist religion. But doing meditation is a practice. Religion and meditation can remain completely separate. Or, if it suits you, religion and meditation can be a part of your meditation practice.
What I mean by practice is that it’s something you do. I like to think of meditation like exercise. Exercise for your brain.
Regardless of your religious affiliation or belief, you can exercise, right?
The same goes for meditation. If a religious or spiritual aspect of meditation doesn’t resonate with you, drop it. Focus on the practice of meditation. The practice of meditation is where you’re going to get the benefit.
Meditation is subtly different from thinking
When you think, you identify with your thought. For example, “I want that coat.” You identify with having the thought of a new coat. The thought of having a new coat generates a positive feeling inside.
When you meditate, you cultivate a new perspective. The new perspective is one of awareness. Going back to our example of “I want that coat” when you’re meditating, you observe the part of yourself that wants a new coat.
Did you catch the difference between the two?
When you think, you’re in the eye of the storm. When you meditate, you’re observing the storm. Meditation allows you to create a little distance between you and your thoughts. It’s the difference between wanting the coat and observing or experiencing the feeling of wanting a coat.
Intellectually, this difference may seem completely insignificant. But experientially, this can be the difference between reacting or taking a deep breath. And we all know how much of a difference taking a breath before acting can make.
Through the practice of meditation, you come to realize that you are not your thoughts.
When you start, meditation is a lot more thinking than meditating
Meditation is the awareness of thinking. But most of the time, you’re going to be entirely caught up in thinking. So much so that you’ll forget you’re meditating.
Don’t worry. That’s completely normal. As you progress along the path of meditation, you’ll have longer and longer periods of actual meditation. But in the early years, your meditation practice will look a lot like thinking.
Meditation is an incessant flow of thoughts
You may get brief glimpses of what a mind without thought feels like. But these moments will be fleeting. Achieving this stillness is not your objective.
For you, meditation is the observation of your thoughts. As you get better at meditation, you’ll find yourself better able to objectively examine your thoughts. Instead of identifying with every thought that enters your head, you’ll be able to casually observe your thoughts come and go.
It’s this ability to better observe your own thoughts that you cultivate through meditation. This is your objective. This is what meditation is.
Ok, now you know the truths behind meditation. I hope I’ve inpired you to start your own meditation practice!