Meditation has become popular, but it’s misunderstood. There are things about meditation that people think are true that are simply myths. Meditation will work for you, no matter what you think, but let’s look at some of the common misconceptions and dispel them so you can enjoy your meditations more.
1. You think that you need to concentrate to meditate.
You think that if you concentrate hard, your meditation will “work.” That’s not so. When you meditate, just sit, or lie down, or walk. (Yes, there are walking meditations.) Your ability to focus and concentrate is a side-benefit of meditation, but meditation isn’t concentration.
Relax. Let everything be as it is. If your mind is in turmoil, allow it. Allow everything, and just be as you are.
If you’re focusing on your breath, gently bring your attention back to your breath when it wanders. The key word is “gently.”
2. You think that meditation is a way of escaping your problems.
Everyone has problems. That’s life—it’s one thing after another. You can’t escape your problems with meditation. However, meditation will enable you to handle your problems gracefully.
If you’ve started meditating, and someone accuses you of using meditation to escape, just smile.
3. You think that meditation is about religion.
Meditation isn’t a religious movement. However, all the world’s religions, whether great or small, practice meditation as a discipline—as a way to go beyond thought. Many religions consider prayer to be a way of talking to god, and meditation as a way of listening to god.
4. You think that meditation is a form of hypnosis.
Meditation isn’t hypnosis. Meditation goes beyond thought and the mind, whereas hypnosis is focused attention on suggestions which a hypnotherapist gives you, or if you’re practicing self-hypnosis, suggestions which you give yourself.
Physically meditation and hypnosis can have a similar effect: you become very relaxed, but they’re different practices.
5. You think that unless you can stop thinking, you can’t meditate.
You have a mind. It manufactures thoughts; that’s its job. However, you’re not your mind, or your thoughts. Meditation can quiet your mind, so that it’s less like “monkey mind” jumping from thought to thought.
After you’ve practiced meditation for a while, you’ll be able to watch your thoughts pass through your mind, without becoming attached to them. Minor irritations which once bothered you will no longer affect you. In a sense, meditation gives you greater control of your mind, because you can just let your thoughts go.
As a benefit of meditation practice, when you do want to think about something analytically, your concentration will be better.
6. You think that meditation is supposed to be hard.
Many years ago, when I first started meditating, I struggled to control my thoughts. I tried hard to focus and concentrate on my breath. Of course, this was the opposite of meditation, which is just allowing everything to be as it is.
I wasn’t struggling consciously. Once I became aware, I realized that that was how I lived my life: I viewed it as a struggle. When I learned to let go in meditation, my life became easier too.
7. You think that meditation is a special state.
Meditation isn’t a special state; it’s a way of being. In his book, Coming to Our Senses, professor of medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn says:
We might say that meditation is really a way of being appropriate to the circumstances one finds oneself in, in any and every moment. If we are caught up in the preoccupations of our own mind, in that moment we cannot be present in an appropriate way or perhaps at all. We will bring an agenda of some kind to whatever we say or do or think, even if we don’t know it.
Any state you’re in can be a meditative state. Although you’ll often feel relaxed during and after meditation, relaxation isn’t meditation. Your meditation is an opportunity to be aware of yourself, however you happen to be, in that moment.
8. You expect that meditation will give you supernatural experiences or powers.
Meditators may occasionally have strange experiences. You might feel hot, or cold, or experience colored lights or visions. You may even tap into powers like clairvoyance. However, as spiritual speaker and writer Jiddu Krishnamurti, and other respected meditation teachers have pointed out, these experiences and “powers” are irrelevant. They’re an illusion. Let them go.
If they disturb you, contact a meditation teacher for guidance.
9. You think you don’t have time to meditate.
Got a minute? Meditate. Yes, you can meditate for a minute, or a few minutes. Just allow yourself to let go of whatever your current preoccupation is, and let yourself be aware of the present moment. If you wish, you can use a meditation focus, such as your breath, and become aware of your breathing for few minutes.
If you have time, you can meditate for 20 minutes, once or twice a day. However, mini-meditations are just as valuable as longer, more formal meditations.
10. You think that you need to sit in the lotus position to meditate.
You can sit in lotus position if that’s comfortable for you. However, the lotus position doesn’t confer any special benefits. It’s become popular as a meditation posture over the centuries because it’s a stable posture. In the lotus position, your spine is straight, and your bound legs give your posture stability.
If you can’t achieve the lotus position, assume any posture you like, as long as your spine is straight. Keeping your spine straight is good for your health: mental, physical and emotional.
11. You think that meditation is magical, or that it will change your life.
Meditation isn’t magical. However, your practice gives you so many benefits that it might seem that way. It changes your life in a fundamental way, because you see the patterns in your behavior. Spiritual teacher Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now, said:
As you quiet your mind, you begin to see the nature of your own resistance more clearly, struggles, inner dialogues, the way in which you procrastinate and develop passive resistance against life. As you cultivate the witness, things change. You don’t have to change them. Things just change.