In the past forty years, meditation has entered the mainstream of modern Western culture, prescribed by physicians and practiced by everyone from business executives, artists, and scientists to students, teachers, military personnel, and on a promising note politicians.
As someone who has practiced for years, and has read a lot about meditation both the “old school stuff” from Buddhist and Vedic traditions, as well as modern mindfulness and new age movement one still sees a lot of misconceptions and myths about meditation. It is time to burst these myths.
MYTH 1: Meditation is a Religious Practice
Yoga and meditation are ancient practices that transcend all religions. For meditation, there is no bar on any religion. In fact, meditation can bring religions, nations, and faiths together. Like the sun shines for everyone and wind blows for all, meditation benefits all. “We encourage people from all background, religion, and culture to come and meditate in a spirit of celebration,” says Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
MYTH 2: You have to be able to “Empty the Mind”
While meditating does often involve quieting of the mind, this doesn’t mean the mind goes blank. Meditation involves developing the ability to observe one’s thoughts, emotions and sensations with the quality of non-reactivity that is being able to notice and pause rather than react and develop a wider compassionate perspective.The idea that one needs to empty the mind has probably come from misunderstandings about some advanced meditation types such as meditative absorptions, awareness of awareness practices. These are accompanied by very few ordinary thoughts, sensations and emotions. But even with limited thinking, these meditative states have qualities of ease, clarity, compassion, alertness and reflective awareness. Forcefully trying to limit thinking would be unhealthy at any stage of meditation training.
MYTH 3: To Meditate, you have to Sit for Hours at a Time
Some practitioners meditate for hours at a time. But while their commitment is admirable, even enviable, such duration in meditation simply isn’t feasible for most of us on a daily basis. And the prevalence of the myth that in order to meditate you must dedicate hours, leads many potential practitioners to assume they simply don’t have sufficient time.Fortunately, meditation does not have to consume too much time. Just as there are many styles of meditation, there are many ways to fit it into your daily life. Once you choose a style of meditation that works for you, you can also gauge how long practicing that style works for you. Maybe ten minutes a day is best for your schedule, or maybe even less. You’ll get the most out of your practice by turning it into a habit.
MYTH 4: Meditation Will Solve All Your Problems
Meditation is not a quick fix to life’s problems. So this is a myth to immediately dispel. Truthfully, meditation is a practice that will allow you to progressively and appropriately unfold a more holistic and balanced experience of life.There is no limit to the results. It depends on your intention and your commitment from being able to enjoy life more fully all the way to a full-blown enlightening experience and anything in between.
MYTH 5: Meditation Requires Years of Practice to Benefit
Meditation doesn’t have “pounds lost” or other statistics to gauge its impact easily, but studies show even eight weeks of practice can boost your brain. Newcomers show lesser anxiety, better creativity, an ability to remember more things; in fact, there are several benefits for a brain that meditates. Get rid of the notion of being “good” at meditation and just start doing it. It’s something to practice regularly, even if you can’t quantify the results.Of course, regular practice makes you better at meditation. In this case, “better” means you’ll be able to get into a meditative state faster. Distractions will affect you less. You’ll be able to dismiss thoughts more easily. Think of it this way: calmness is a state of mind. With practice, you will feel calm quicker than before and for a longer time.