8 Mind-Boggling Meditation Myths You Should Stop Believing
Photo by Amelia Bartlett on Unsplash
Meditation is one of the most popular and misinterpreted teaching in the world. The plain reason for this is its wide applicability. Everyone from hotshot silicon valley CEOs to renunciates and monks, practice meditation.
Yes, to suit the lifestyle of such a diverse set of individuals, one needs to adapt the practice to match one’s needs. But the adaption comes at the cost of true understanding.
This is why I don’t change the practice itself to suit the needs of the practitioner. When someone tells me that they take a few deep breaths in the morning and visualize their goals, I feel happy for them. But at the same time, it’s not meditation.
And so it is, that to reach true understanding, you not only need to know what meditation is, but you also (and perchance more importantly) what **it isn’t. **In that spirit, here are some myths about meditation that you should stop believing.
1. Meditation = Relaxation
Most people I talk to believe that meditation is just a relaxation technique. The keyword here is ‘just’. Relaxation is both a precursor and an after-effect of meditation.
The first step in meditation is to relax the body. If you can’t sit still for the period of your meditation, you can’t think of anything else but the body. Once you do that, the next step is to relax the mind by focusing it on a single point of concentration (the breath or the body part for example).
When you relax the body-mind, you experience a state of happiness way beyond the normal state of consciousness we live in — it’s the bliss of the soul.
The various forms of meditation have similar, yet different goals. The goal of Vipassana for example is awareness. The goal of Kriya Yoga (which I practice) is to feel the presence of God through bliss. At any rate, concentration and relaxation are only precursors to these lofty goals. They’re not the goal themselves.
2. Meditation Is Mysterious
I empathize with people who see meditation as a mysterious and ‘woo-woo’ practice. Almost invariably, these are the people who’ve never taken a sincere shot at meditation.
Meditation doesn’t only work on the plane of consciousness that we perceive. It goes way beyond the material reality — it deals first with energy, not matter. Any change we see happen on the material plane is only because of a preceding change on the astral (energy) plane.
This is part of the reason why scientific studies don’t grasp the true meaning of meditation. There’s even a deeper level of existence than the astral plane — the causal plane — which is the world of thought (more on that some other time).
The fact that meditation doesn’t give predictable results adds to the complexity. I can meditate for hours but still not feel the same level of awareness as someone who only meditates for 30 minutes.
Every session is unpredictable; it’s an adventure into the deeper stages of your own being. In fact, if your sessions are getting predictable you’re likely not growing enough.
If you feel meditation is mysterious, the only way to burst that myth is to try it for yourself. Trying to wrap your intellect around it is trying to empty the ocean with a bucket. Don’t waste your time on it. Know the basics and go with the flow. Soon it will not seem mysterious anymore.
3. Meditation Is Only for Saints
This myth shows rearward thinking of whoever believes in it. Yes, saints do meditate. But they don’t meditate because they’re saints; they’re saints because they meditate.
Limiting meditation to the masters is like asking someone to be perfect at driving a car without letting him drive it. Many people believe that you must be ‘moral’ or reach a certain level of spiritual accomplishment before starting to meditate. That’s just an excuse that you’re too embarrassed to admit to yourself.
No one demands perfection. All you need is the willingness to peg away. Remember the statement Paramahansa Yogananda used to tell everyone all the time:
“A saint is a sinner who never gave up.”
4. Meditation Is About Escaping From Reality
The argument here is that sitting by yourself, absorbed in your own being makes you a coward who cannot face the reality and challenges of life. Again, it’s backward thinking.
In fact, meditation is about running face-first into reality. We spend most of our lives running away from the underlying pain and suffering. We’ve learned to make life itself a distraction from reality. Then we take our distorted perceptions of life and call that our new ‘reality’.
The fact of the matter is, your reality is unreal; and meditation is the only way you can perceive the true reality.
By meditating, you heighten your consciousness to face life’s challenges with virtue. Not only that but you influence those around you to be more loving, compassionate, calm, and joyful.
It’s not running away from life. It’s about filling your own cup so you can serve others with all the wonderful things you’ve gained from meditation.
5. “8 Weeks of Meditation and Everything Will Be Gooooood”
This is often the promise of a lot of meditation courses you’ll find. While this is an acceptable exaggeration, it leads to unrealistic expectations in the minds of students.
Meditation like anything is a practice. And it naturally takes some time to see results. No doubt, you will get some instant goodies along the way — happiness, calmness, less anger, and so on. But once that phase passes, the changes get too subtle to notice.
On a day-to-day basis, you will see almost no change. But when you look back after a few months or years, you’ll realize how much you’ve changed.
Every session changes you in ways you cannot yet see. As I said above, the changes will be first on a deeper level, which is too subtle for you to grasp. It’s only after some time that the will manifest in perceivable forms.
If you expect instant rewards and want to wish away life’s problems, you’ll get discouraged and swear not to try meditation ever again. Ergo, patience is key. Patience indeed is one of the wonderful virtues meditation teaches us. It’s essential for any change.
6. It Takes Too Much Time
Seeing people meditate for one hour at a time may make you feel you don’t have the time to do the same. The truth is you don’t have to invest that much time if you don’t want to, especially when you start.
Meditating for 10 minutes or even 5 minutes is better than not meditating at all. When you practice it for a few weeks, you’ll realize that meditation doesn’t take time away from your day, it adds to it.
As you become calmer and focused, you’re less distracted and more efficient to finish your work early. I can say this from personal experience. I used to struggle to find 10 minutes to meditate. Now I meditate for 2 (sometimes more) hours in the day. Yet, I’m productive than I’ve ever been.
7. I’m Not Good at It
You can’t suck at meditation. No one can. The reason people feel they’re not doing well, is they think meditation is about emptying the mind or the cessation of thoughts.
Though that may be the goal of meditation, it doesn’t mean you’re bad if you’re not able to achieve it. It can take years to do that! It’s called a meditation ‘practice’ for a reason.
I know it’s tempting to judge yourself but this will only suck the enthusiasm out of you. Instead, if you go in with an attitude of detachment, you’ll find yourself much more satisfied.
It’s important then to take a long-term view of your practice. You’ll have hills and valleys along the way. But you need to keep going. This even-minded attitude is crucial.
St. Teresa of Avila said, **“A meditation is well done if all you did was fight distraction.” **Think about it. There’s no good or bad meditation. The only bad meditation is one that you didn’t do!
8. Meditation Is Only for Those Seeking Enlightenment
You may humbly admit that you don’t want to achieve enlightenment. That you just want to be happy. It sounds sweet at first until you realize it’s utter nonsense.
The only place you’ll find happiness is within. The world is full of ups and downs. One day you’re ecstatic, the other day you’re despondent. Whether you admit it or not, we all want to be free from the inherent duality of life.
It is only by enjoying the bliss within you that you can be evenminded in the face of pain and pleasure. And that evenmindedness is the root of true peace and happiness.
I’m not telling you to leave everything and join a monastery. I’m saying that achieving a state of inner peace requires you to tread the path of enlightenment albeit partially (and perhaps unconsciously).
All humans are on the spiritual path to enlightenment. You can’t get off it. The only choice you have is to consciously walk it, or deny your true nature.