Popular Meditation Misconceptions

Meditation misconceptions: I’ve been a meditation instructor for about five years now. During that time, I’ve noticed some cruel hoaxes being perpetrated on would-be meditators, making meditation seem much more complicated than it really is.

Meditation Misconceptions: The Top 5

    1. Meditation means I have to stop thinking. This is simply not possible. Nor is it desirable. Your mind cannot stop producing thoughts; that is what it does. Attempting to stop thinking would be like opening your eyes and telling them not to see.  Quite frustrating, not to mention unachievable. Instead, meditation is about making a different relationship to your thoughts. Rather than becoming embroiled in them, believing that the bad ones mean everything is going to hell in a hand basket or that the good ones mean everything is fine and always will be, you step back, notice them as they flow by, and feel the accompanying feelings (or lack thereof) fully. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a trickle or torrential. Just as you can observe a gentle drizzle or a wild hurricane from a distance, so you can also observe your thoughts and emotions. Taking such a stance relative to your emotions is key to achieving the type of health emotional equanimity Dr. Weil prescribes for Spontaneous Happiness. So, if you’ve ever thought, “There is no way I can meditate because I cannot clear my mind of thought,” just stop thinking that and you’ll be in great shape.
    2. The object of meditation is to create peace of mind and I can’t meditate because I just can’t calm my mind down. Not so. Sometimes when you sit, your mind becomes peaceful and that’s great. Other times however, you just sit there the whole time working with a speedy jumble of thoughts that never stop coming. Either one is okay. The only thing that makes meditation hard is when you try to fight what your mind is doing. If you allow it, if you allow the peace, allow the turmoil, allow the boredom, your mind is much more likely to settle down than if you try to tell it how to act. And even if it doesn’t, the simple effort to work with your mind rather than allow it to run away with you creates positive effects. One of the great things about meditation is you don’t have to pretend to be a blissed out calm person. You can be as frantic, silly, brilliant, equanimous and/or confused as you actually are.
    3. If I’m not having special experiences (profound emotional catharses, energy up the spine, glimpses into the nature of reality, levitation to another planet), there’s something wrong with the meditation practice and/or I’m just not doing it right. There is nothing more ordinary than the practice of sitting meditation. I mean, you’re sitting there. You’re breathing. You’re observing your mind as it is, as it would be even if you weren’t meditating. Rather than seeking to cultivate experiences (or just hoping some would happen to counteract the boredom), the practice is to hang out with yourself just as you are. Unconditionally. It is such a relief to take a break from the search for entertainment and distraction. Actually, when you start to get bored, that’s probably the best indicator that the practice is really starting to become beneficial.
    4. I find meditation too hard, so instead I do walking/running/listening to music/yoga as my meditation practice. Although many activities can have a pacifying affect on your nervous system such as taking a walk or listening to Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites, these are not meditation. They are meditative, which is awesome. Any endeavor that unifies body and mind such as swimming, doing yoga, knitting – anything you do that, if you take your mind off of it, you mess it up – is profoundly soothing. We love these things. However, as mentioned, the idea behind meditation isn’t to calm down. It’s to wake up. Turn around. Look yourself right in the eye and discover who you really are.
    5. I’ve learned various kinds of meditation and I like parts of them all so I’ve combined those parts into my own unique practice. Although I completely understand why someone would do this, it’s really not a good idea. Buddhist meditation practices are more than 2500 years old. They’ve been tested and refined over time. Millions and millions of people have used them well, screwed them up, attained realization, and confused the hell out of themselves. We can learn from them and trust that the instructions have been honed by their experiences over centuries and we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The traditional practices are unimpeachable in their elegance, precision, and profundity. We usually try to skip out once the practice becomes difficult and think, well this particular practice isn’t for me, I’d better try another one. And you should try different practices to see which one suits you. But at some point you’ve got to stop trying them out and pick one. Stick with it. Stay. Let it unfold. Let it guide you instead of the other way around.

    by Susan Piver

  1. Susan Piver is the New York Times bestselling author of eight books, including the award-winning How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life and The Wisdom of a Broken Heart. Her latest book is Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation. She is at work on her next book, The Four Noble Truths of Love.

    Susan has been a student of Buddhism since 1993, graduated from a Buddhist seminary in 2004 and was authorized to teach meditation in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage in 2005.

    In 2012, she launched the “Open Heart Project,” a completely virtual meditation center that lives in the cloud. There are close to 20,000 members all over the world who receive free weekly guided meditation videos from her.

    She has worked with Dr. Weil to create two CDs about meditation, “Eight Meditations for Optimum Health,” and “Sound Body, Sound Mind.”

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