I've been practicing meditation for five years now and I am a firm believer in its benefits. I don't believe you have to identify with a particular religious or spiritual sect in order to meditate and appreciate what meditation can do for you, but I do think it's important to understand what meditation means. To do this it's a good idea to seek out different teachings an teachers to gain a stronger understanding.
In recent years the psychoanalytical world has taken a keen interest in meditation as the benefits of the practice have been observed for centuries. Through meditation people have solved issues with anxiety, depression, addiction, chronic pain and countless other ailments which tend to hinder a human being from embracing life to the fullest. As medical professionals have taken an interest, so too have the public. A growing number of people are reading the works of Pema Chodron, Sharon Salzberg and Eckhart Tolle. Audio books, CDs and YouTube all offer multiple guided meditation practices of varying sorts.
Yet I find there are often misconceptions when it comes to the nature of meditation and a meditative state.
MYTH: Meditation is relaxing - Anyone who has done any amount of meditation knows this isn't true. The actual act of sitting still and focusing on the breath is a challenge. Our bodies can grow uncomfortable and weary even when our posture is right. Our minds are also a general whirlwind. Thoughts arise on their own and the act of 'not thinking' is far more challenging than most realise.
In fact, to meditate well, one must create a sense of relaxation prior to sitting. It is a good practice to allow some time - five minutes even - before sitting down to meditate to come into your body and relax your mind. Repeating phrases such as, "I am here now, and nothing needs to be done" or taking five to ten deep, deliberate breaths, are great ways to calm the mind and body and prepare for meditation.
MYTH: Meditation is blissful - Meditation is a practice done to cultivate wisdom. We meditate to focus the mind and in doing so gain a more resourceful state. A resourceful state is merely a state in which we are able to act effectively, rather than irrationally or with strong emotion. A resourceful state is any state in which we can perform at our best.
When we meditate we focus the mind and experience the state we are in at that very moment. We free ourselves from the distraction of the past or the future or any story lines we may be holding onto. In any given moment we could be experiencing a range of feelings from calm to anxious, happiness to anger. Meditation allows us to sit with our experience rather than being averse to it or clinging to it.
For anyone who has ever sat with their anxiety, anger, sadness or any other feeling commonly referred to as 'bad', the feeling is not one of bliss. It can actually be quite scary to sit with an emotion which makes us uncomfortable but in doing so we can recognise that emotions are as fleeting as our thoughts. They come and go, ebb and flow, just like the tides.
MYTH: Meditation will 'fix' you - I don't believe that people are broken. People can be confused, oblivious, in turmoil, struggling, frustrated, neurotic and so on, but these states are not broken states. They are simply unresourceful states which can make life seem challenging to lead.
The purpose of meditation is not to 'repair' anything but to learn to accept what is. Meditation is an exploration of the self.
Many of us, myself included, do whatever we can to ignore or avoid the things about ourselves which we don't like. We can use any manner of distraction. I used to throw myself into work or into 'fixing' other people in order to avoid working on my own stuff. Through meditation I became acutely aware of this fact.
At first, seeing ourselves for who we are and all the things we do, even the things we are averse to, is actually quite disheartening. It can be crushing to our spirit to think that we are not put-together, well-adjusted beings.
But meditation is not about just being able to see where we are still growing or in need of change, it's about embracing the fact that we are flawed. Until we obtain enlightenment we will always be flawed but our flaws are part of us just like anything else. They do not define us but they do contribute to who we are as individuals.
Meditation allows us to make friends with ourselves, warts and all, and in doing so learn to let go of those things which are not beneficial to our growth.
These are only three misconceptions about meditation practice, but three which I have encountered most often. The important thing in all of this is to find out what works for you. Seek different teachers, different teachings and different methods. Until you have found one that suits your own sense of reason, do not settle.
If you would like to learn more about meditation and how it can benefit you, it's one of the tools I use in my life coaching to help you access your own unlimited potential.
I was asked to make a contribution to the C.R.O.W.N (Creating Radiant Outgoing Women Now) Project, a blog that aims to help build the self esteem of women all over the world. The entry I wrote was published today so please go take a look-see at it.