meditation myths

Eight ways not to think about meditation

wildmind meditation newsBarry Morris, The Practical Buddhist: In Zen, meditation is about sitting, standing, or walking in total awareness. Steve Hagen, Lead teacher at the Dharma Field Zen Center in Minneapolis, MN and author of the best book on meditation I’ve ever read, Meditation Now or Never, puts it this way:

“Meditation, and it’s Japanese translation ‘Zen,’ is the practice of awareness, openness, and direct experience of here and now.

That’s what we need to know about meditation. It’s not about becoming more relaxed, healthy or even enlightened. In fact, the moment we think we’re going to get something out of meditation, we take ourselves …

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Five common myths about meditation debunked

wildmind meditation newsMihir Patkar, Lifehacker: You’ve probably heard that meditation can be beneficial, but how much do you actually know about it? Many aspects of meditation are often misunderstood or misinterpreted. Let’s debunk some of these myths so you can start reaping the rewards.

Myth: Meditation is About Clearing Your Mind of All Thoughts
In its purest form, meditation is about focusing on emptiness. However, you don’t have to do that. Meditation is effective as long as you merely minimize distracting thoughts.

Mindfulness meditation is perhaps the most accessible form of meditation. And as psychologist Mike Brooks puts it, with mindfulness meditation, it’s not about …

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The top ten myths about meditation

meditation incense

Buddhist meditation teacher Bodhipaksa debunks the ten most common meditation myths.

Even though meditation is now widely used in sports, medicine, psychiatry, and of course as part of the spiritual practice of millions of people around the world, there are still many misconceptions in circulation about what meditation actually is.

Myth #10. Meditation is relaxation

To say that some people’s conception of meditation is “Think of warm puppies, and let your mind go limp” is an exaggeration, but not much of one. Perhaps because meditation has found a home in stress management classes around the world, many people think that “letting your tensions dissolve away” is the be-all and end-all of a meditation practice. But while it’s important to let go of unnecessary effort while meditating, meditation is still a practice — that is, it involves effort. Sure, we start by letting go of tensions in the body, but that’s only the start.

Myth #9. Meditation is just self-hypnosis

Hypnosis, when used in therapy, involves a patient being guided into having experiences that he or she would have difficulty in attaining unaided — experiences as varied as being content without a cigarette in hand and remembering forgotten events from childhood. Self-hypnosis does the same thing, but the practitioner uses a remembered script or visualization to, say, increase relaxation or to experience greater confidence. There’s actually some overlap between hypnosis and meditation (although some meditation teachers, being suspicious of hypnosis, would deny this). In both disciplines we start with inducing a state of relaxation and then proceed to doing some kind of inner work. In hypnosis and in some forms of meditation that inner work involves visualization or the use of repeated phrases. But many forms of meditation (for example, Zen “just sitting” or Theravadin mindfulness meditation) make no use of such tools. The overlap between hypnosis and meditation is only partial.

Myth #8. There are technological shortcuts

“I want to relax, and I want to do it now!” is the approach taken by many goal-oriented Westerners. And that makes them suckers for promises of quick-fix technological approaches to meditating. The web is full of products that promise you that you’ll meditate like a Zen monk at the touch of a button. Just stick your headphones on and hit play, and let the magical audio technology do the rest! But like myth #10, this overlooks the fact that meditation involves effort. Sure, if you stop running around being stressed for half an hour and listen to some blandly pleasant music you’ll find you’re more relaxed. Why wouldn’t you be? But it’s a mistake to confuse this with real meditation. The “Zen monk” in these ads would surely be puzzled to think that someone listening to a CD for a few minutes had attained the depths of mindfulness and compassion that come from thousands of hours of sitting on a cushion watching your breath.

Myth #7. Transcendental Meditation is the most common kind of meditation

“Oh, so is it Transcendental meditation you do?” I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked that question when people have found out I’m a meditation teacher. Just about everyone has heard of Transcendental Meditation because of famous practitioners like the Beatles and because of controversies about TM being taught in U.S. schools, but TM is very much a minority pursuit — probably because it’s so darned expensive to learn (and the question of where those millions of dollars go is still open). The most common form of meditation in the West is Mindfulness or Insight meditation, which comes from Theradavin Buddhism of South and Southeast Asia. Zen meditation and Tibetan meditation (which often involves visualization) isn’t far behind.

Myth #6. You have to sit in lotus position

In the Asian countries where Buddhist meditation developed people generally sit on the floor and have flexible hips. It’s natural for them to sit cross-legged, and so they sit in a variety of cross-legged postures in order to meditate, the lotus position being one of the most common and stable postures. In the West we sit in chairs from an early age and have stiffer hips. It’s therefore a rare Westerner who can sit in the lotus position to meditate — at least with any degree of comfort. In actual fact it’s possible to sit comfortably to meditate on a chair, a meditation stool, kneeling, or even lying down (although you’ll have trouble staying awake). The most important thing is that you find a posture that’s comfortable for you — and that you don’t beat yourself up about not being able to twist your legs like a pretzel.

Myth #5. In meditation you sit there saying “OM”

Mantra meditation is only one kind of meditation, and “OM” is only one mantra (or part of a mantra). ‘Nuff said.

Myth #4. Meditation is a religious activity

Although meditation comes from various spiritual or religious traditions, it’s not in itself necessarily a religious practice. The most common forms of meditation practice, for example, involve observing the sensations of the breath. What’s religious about that? Sure, there are some forms of meditation that involve using religious words of phrases as objects of concentration (e.g. Transcendental Meditation, Buddhist Mantra meditation, etc.) but many of the most common meditation practices have no religious overtones — which is probably one of the reasons they’re so common.

Myth #3. Meditation is somehow “Eastern”

A lot of people (usually Christians) have told me that they think Buddhist practice is “foreign” because it comes from an Eastern context. Hmm, where does Christianity come from again? Oh yes, the Middle East. But as with Myth #4 (“Meditation is a religious activity”) there’s nothing inherently Eastern, Southern, or Northern about counting your breath or wishing people well. Some Tibetan practices do involve visualizing rather bizarre (to Western eyes) figures, and mantra meditation usually involves repeating Sanskrit words or phrases — but those constitute a minority of meditation practices. Oh, all right, it’s a large minority — but what’s wrong with a little exoticism?

Myth #2. Meditation is escapist

To some people, meditation is “running away from problems,” “navel gazing,” “lotus eating,” or “disregarding the world.” Actually, running around being busy and never having time to experience yourself deeply is escapism. When you meditate you’re brought face-to-face in a very direct way with your own anger, delusion, craving, pain, and selfishness. There’s nothing to do in meditation but to experience and work with these things. Also, some forms of meditation — such as lovingkindness and compassion meditation — involve us working at transforming our relationship with the world by cultivating love and empathy for others. Perhaps that’s why so many meditators are involved in social work, psychotherapy, nursing, bereavement counseling, prison work, etc.

Myth #1 Meditation is about letting your mind go blank

Here it is, the all-time number one meditation myth — that meditation is about “making your mind go blank.” Sure, in meditation we aim to reduce the amount of thinking that goes on. Sure, just sit there for a few minutes watching all those pointless and even downright unhelpful thoughts bubbling up nonstop in the mind and you’d start to think that a blank mind would be preferable! But what would it be like to have a blank mind? Would you even be awake? Would you have any consciousness at all? Would you be able to know that your mind was blank? The confusion arises because we identify so much with our verbal thoughts (our inner self-talk) that we think that that’s all our experience is. And if we reduce or even stop our thinking (and that can happen) we assume that the mind must be blank. But a blank mind simply isn’t possible.

No, in meditation we aim to develop mindfulness — that’s mind-full-ness. When we’re mindful the mind is very much not blank. Rather, we’re aware of physical sensations, emotions, thoughts — and of how all those things interact with each other. The mind is so full of our present-moment experience that there’s less room for it to be full of useless thoughts, and instead we’re aware of the incredible richness of our experience — a richness that we overlook entirely when we spend our whole lives lost in thinking.

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Chogyam Trungpa: “Meditation practice brings our neuroses to the surface”

Chogyam Trungpa

Trungpa said, “In the practice of sitting meditation you relate to your daily life all the time. Meditation practice brings our neuroses to the surface rather than hiding them at the bottom of our minds. It enables us to relate to our lives as something workable.”

Meditation is not escapism. In fact one could argue that burying ourselves in daily activities with no time set aside for reflection is a classic escapist activity. When we meditate we’re thrust into an awareness — often a very challenging awareness — of exactly what’s going on in our lives. There’s no escaping who we are: as we sit, thought after thought, emotion after emotion, wells up inside of us.

When we’re busy rushing from one task to the next there simply isn’t time to process our thoughts and emotions, to put things into perspective, to think things through. Our hopes and fears end up being, as Trungpa puts it, hidden at the bottom of our minds. And so we need time out: time to re-collect ourselves, time to let the hidden parts of ourselves begin to show themselves. These experiences that we have in meditation are aspects of what’s been going on in our daily lives: the fears, hopes, annoyances, dreams, and desires to which we’ve given rise but to which we all too often pay little attention.

Some of those hidden parts do start to reveal themselves very quickly indeed, although others can — because we’ve become well-practiced in keeping them hidden — take much longer to emerge. But as, in their own time, they emerge we begin to give them our attention and respond to them appropriately.

Sometimes all we have to do is acknowledge them as we watch them pass by (perhaps just a stray thought about something we forgot to do). Sometimes we need to meet them head on, as when a major volley of ill-will arrives and we respond with a counter-blast of lovingkindness. Other times we need simply to sit and explore our experiences in a kind and patient way, giving them space to reveal their stories, reminding ourselves that it’s alright to experience discomfort.

So in these kinds of ways we deal with our “stuff,” working with each thought and emotion as it arrives, and in an appropriate way. And in so doing we start to notice that the quality of our lives has improved: there are fewer conflicts with others, we’re kinder, we’re quicker to let go of grievances and less prone to take offense, and we’re more relaxed.

Often the best way to work with our lives is to take a step back and sort out what’s inside of us first. One we’ve started doing that, life seems to take care of itself.

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