Sometimes, to understand what something is we have to look first at what it is not. Covering 11 things meditation is not to dispel and myths and misconceptions to help open up your practice.
Happy Monday, friends!
A few weeks back, I talked about how the secret to a successful meditation practice is shifting your attitude. Well, it’s also about understanding the core of meditation – what it is and what it is not. There are many different types of meditation out there that it’s easy to confuse one type for another. With Vipassana meditation (what we’re usually talking about on this blog), the goal is simply cultivating awareness. By dispelling the myths or misconceptions around meditation and getting straight on what vipassana is, you will be able to approach the practice with a more open mind.
Before reading excerpts from Mindfulness in Plain English by Henepola Gunaratana Mahathera, I found myself attaching to some of the myths he talks about (like #1 and #11) and felt frustrated when the practice wasn’t living up to these beliefs. Once I let these go, my meditation practice shifted.
11 Things Meditation Is Not (adapted from Mindfulness in Plain English):
- Meditation is just a way to relax. The goal of vipassana meditation is awareness. Yes, you have to concentrate and relax in order to achieve that goal but relaxation is not the end goal. It’s something higher than relaxation. It’s insight.
- Meditation means going into a trance. We’ve all seen the pictures and videos of people being hypnotized into a trance through meditation. This may apply to other forms of meditation, but not vipassana. In vipassana, you are not trying to black out or become unconscious, you are trying to do exactly the opposite. You are in full control of your concentration with vipassana, no one else. If you find yourself drifting off into unconscious in meditation, then you aren’t meditation according to the vipassana definition.
- Meditation is a mysterious practice which cannot be understood. It’s true that mediation deals with levels of consciousness so deep that they may be difficult to explain via words. But it can be understood by actually doing it and experiencing it for yourself.
- The purpose of meditation is to become some psychic superhero. Reading minds and levitating is not the goal – the goal is liberation via awareness. Very experienced meditators may experience some intuition during practice but this shouldn’t be the focus and if it is, it can set you off track during the beginning stages.
- Meditation is dangerous. Done properly, meditation is a slow, gentle, gradual process. Nothing should be forced. Sure, you might have some stuff come up that’s been buried that is uncomfortable. But not dealing with it and keeping it buried is arguably more dangerous than noticing it and dealing with it.
- Meditation is not for regular people, only holy people. It’s true that most holy people meditate but they don’t meditate because they are holy people. They are holy people because they meditate and they started meditating before they became holy. There is this expectation that experienced meditators will be these extraordinary pious figures but have one conversation with them and you’ll realize they aren’t much different from you and I.
- Meditation is avoiding reality. Meditation is quite the opposite – it is facing reality head on. It’s facing the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s learning to look at yourself exactly as you are and to accept it fully.
- Meditation is a great way to get high. You may experience feelings of bliss and pleasure but it isn’t the purpose and it’s not always guaranteed. And if you start your practice seeking those feelings, you’re unlikely to find it. Bliss only comes when you’re not chasing after it.
- Meditation is selfish. Any form of self-care can be viewed as being selfish. But the reality is when we take care of ourselves first, we can then take care of others. When we meditate, we our trying to cleanse ourselves of selfishness, of the ego, so we can be the best version of ourselves to others.
- When you meditate, you sit around thinking lofty thoughts. Lofty thoughts may come up in your practice – you don’t need to avoid them but you shouldn’t seek them out either. Vipassana is all about seeing what in your life comes up and not judging it. It’s that simple.
- A couple weeks of meditation and all your problems will go away. Meditation is by no means a quick cure. You might start seeing some changes right away but profound effects are years down the line. And if you sit looking for those big changes, you might not be able to notice the subtle shifts that are taking place. The key with meditation is patience.
Do you hold any of these misconceptions around meditation? If you let them go, would it change (or start) your practice?