If you’re reading this blog you are likely actively meditating or at least highly considering the idea of it. Meditation – and especially meditation centered around mindfulness – can be a great way to understand yourself and the world a little better.
For many people, however, meditation can seem too difficult, or even pointless, depending on your current place in life. This is mostly because the act – and even the concept – of meditation is surrounded by myths; mostly perpetuated by so-called “gurus” (read: assholes) who want to charge money for something that you can do for free in the comfort of your own home or local Buddhist temple.
Following are five of the more common myths I hear people say when discussing the act of meditation that make me want to stick something sharp and hot in my ears.
- Meditation is about relaxation - Now, if you want to sit in a room listening to a tape instructing you to think of a babbling brook or puppies or something like that, I guess you could say the whole purpose of meditation is to relax. But seriously, if that’s all you’re looking for you can get that by sitting on a beach with a margarita. While letting go of tension and the stresses of your daily life is where the path begins, that is far from the goal. True meditation has a purpose far beyond lowering your blood pressure. Meditation is a practice and a journey. In fact, the journey is essentially the most important aspect of meditative practice when you really consider it.
- Meditation is easy - If meditation were really all that easy why isn’t everyone doing it? That question, like many Zen Koans, is really the answer as well. If mediation were easy OF COURSE everyone would be doing it. Meditation however – true meditative practice – is not really all that easy at all. And if you think it is you are probably doing it wrong.
- Meditation is hard - I’ll admit it, when I first started meditating the idea of sitting in the same position for a MINIMUM of twenty minutes without talking, scratching, or THINKING was very intimidating. And maybe at first it is. But so is learning to ride a bike, or taking on a new job, or learning to play the guitar. But you stick with it, and when you do pretty soon it comes almost as second nature to you. The truth is, there is really nothing HARD about meditating (except maybe learning about yourself). Being a firefighter is hard. Taking a punch as a boxer is hard. You’re sitting quietly and becoming introspective…deal with it.
- You have to contort your body into lotus to meditate - While I will be the first to admit that seeing someone sitting in a perfect lotus position looks awesome and makes you think they are a “master” of some sort, we are all simply built differently, and that will play a lot into your sitting (or standing or walking or lying) position while meditating. If you’re into it and you keep practicing, at some point you will likely contort yourself into pretzel-man, but some of us just cannot physically do that. Personally, I have a degenerative joint issue that means I will probably never be able to sit comfortably like some “Great White Buddha”. I am okay with that. Position is not everything. If you can get yourself into lotus, or half-lotus go for it. If you have to sit in a comfy chair, that’s cool to. Remember, it’s not how you get there; the journey is the important part.
- You have to be Buddhist (or at least religious) to meditate - Yes, meditation is a big part of Buddhism, and especially Zen, but that doesn’t mean you have to practice a particular philosophy or religion to reap some of the benefits. Many psychiatrists use mediation to help their patients and scientific studies have even shown how meditative practice can benefit the heart and brain (I also embedded the video at the end of the post as well). THAT’S SCIENCE YO! Even if you don’t believe in an all-powerful God (I don’t), you can still use meditative practice to improve your life.
- Meditation means “thinking of nothing” - Grrrrr….this is probably the single most annoying of the myths regarding meditative practice. How often do you hear people say “Man, how can you just sit there thinking of nothing?” Consider that oxymoron for a second. How can one “think of nothing”? I have even read books by so-called “masters” that talk about removing thoughts from your mind. It is simply ridiculous. Think about meditation as more of a release. Thoughts will always enter your mind; there is nothing you can do about that. Let them in, acknowledge them as yours, and release them.
The bottom line here is: Meditation is not some mystical practice that is available to a select few. Anyone can do this. It will take practice, however, so at the same time don’t think you can just walk into the nearest temple and run a sesshin. Ease into it like you would anything else, and open your heart and your mind to the true benefits that come with a meditative practice.
What are those benefits?
They are different for each and every one of us, but they are well worth the effort.