The Truth about Meditation
Part II: Truth and Myths about Meditation
Last week I wrote about the myths some people hold about meditation, and today I want to discuss some of the truths about meditation. My hope is that after reading this post you have a better understanding of what meditation is and can explain it to your colleagues, friends and family members without much hesitation.
#1 There are various types and styles of meditation
The word meditation has various meanings depending on who you speak with and that person’s cultural and even religious background. There are many ways to meditate. I won’t go through the exhaustive list here, but just provide a few examples of historical and current practices. In the Judeo-Christian practice prayer and contemplation can be viewed as a meditation practice since contemplation involves concentration on a image, word, or scripture related to the religious practice. This concentration can lead to peace of mind. In some Buddhist practices visualization is used with the goal of destroying the ego, which results in awareness of reality. In Hindu practices yogis practice meditation by concentrating on a single object, like a candle flame or take on more complex objects, images, mantras, or chants to concentrate. While Vispassana, the meditation practice associated with the Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha), is about becoming aware through mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way to see the world as it really is rather than our mind creating a story and running with it.
I want to be VERY clear that you don’t have to believe in or practice any of the religions I mentioned. Meditation is NOT a religion. Meditation is not about praying or exploring the concept of God or any religious figures, but about uncovering who you are. Let’s dig into this a little deeper.
# 2 It’s about exploration and discovery
Meditation is about exploring your own mind, your heart, the world around you and seeing it for what it is. Many times our ego, or our self-concept, gets in the way and creates a story about ourselves, others, and how we interact in the world around us that may not actually be the reality. Our ego tries to not only to preserve itself, but highlight its self-importance. As a result, we lose touch with our true selves and do not notice the world around us as it truly is.
It’s like trying to see and understand the world looking through your smartphone’s camera app and using your favorite filter. If you use the camera app to walk around your neighborhood you will have a limited and even distorted view of your neighborhood. But if you put the phone away and walk around your neighborhood and really pay attention to the colors, sounds, shapes, and smells you’ll think you’re in a totally different neighborhood, but in reality this is the same neighborhood you’ve been walking in. It’s just that today you are walking mindfully in your neighborhood without the distraction of the ego and all its thoughts. Meditation provides us a space to be quiet and explore and rediscover ourselves and the world around us. You’re probably wondering how is this done? This leads me to truth number 3, which is the importance of mindfulness.
# 3 Mindfulness is important
Mindfulness is key to any meditation practice. We live our lives with thoughts floating through our mind constantly. These thoughts often distract us from what we are actually doing in the moment. How many times have you driven from work to your home, parked the car, and thought, “Wow, I’m home. How did I get here?!?” Of course you know how you got home, but you don’t remember stopping at the stop light, making the left turn, or seeing a man on the sidewalk walking with his dog. You were on autopilot driving home while your mind was thinking about the meeting you had with a parent, the growing to-do list, tomorrow’s lesson plan, and so on. Meditation helps us to catch ourselves when the barrage of thoughts that come racing into our minds. Thoughts will continue to go in and out, but through meditation practice we are training ourselves to see or hear the thought and ignore it and pay attention to what is right in front of us at that moment. Because what is in front of us a the moment is the reality, not the thought that just waltz into our brain. It’s also helpful to have a positive attitude towards your mediation practice.
# 4 Your attitude matters
The attitude you bring into your practice can help you. For me personally, non-judgemental curiosity is key. Every time I meditate it is a new experience. I just have to be curious and allow the meditation process to unfold without judgement. This sounds easy, but it is quite difficult to do. It is common, especially for novice meditators, to fall into the trap of judging yourself for having a thought pop in your mind. It usually goes something like this:
The meditator is focused on her breathe. She is paying attention to the breathe entering through her nostril into her mouth… and all of the sudden these thoughts come in: “I have to buy tomatoes for the salad I’m making for the potluck. I wonder how many people are going to be there? Is Anna going to be there? I LOVE her. She is just the funniest…DAMN it! I’m thinking. Ugh! I always do that. I think and then I get out of my meditation groove….Okay, get it together and get back to the breathe. Ugh! I’m really not good at this.”
Does this sound familiar? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said this to myself during mediation practice. It’s totally natural to have thoughts come and go, but it’s the attitude you have toward your practice that can make or break your meditation sessions. So, you have a thought. It’s fine. Recognize the thought like this, “Thank you thought about my grocery list,” and then return to the breathe. I could go on about attitude in meditation practice, so look for a separate blog post on this topic at a later date.
# 5 It’s a practice...so start practicing
Meditation is experiential. You can read all the scholarship and blogs about meditation and mindfulness, but you never become an “expert” in meditation if you don’t practice it yourself. It’s also important to note that everyone is going to have a different meditation practice and experiences. It is through practice that you begin the process of self-discovery and have an understanding of the reality around you. As you practice you will see that you will uncover many layers to yourself and at times it’s going to be a struggle and other times the practice will come with great ease. It’s your practice and your journey. So, explore, be curious, and enjoy the process.
Meditation is hard. It is not easy to establish, let alone maintain a meditation practice. But, with time, practice, and curiosity about the process I’m sure you’ll experience the beauty of awareness that meditation brings to your mind, body, and heart. Now that you know what meditation is I hope you can start to imagine what it’s like to meditate and even begin your practice.
I’m still in the process of learning, and I am far from perfect in my meditation practice. However, I keep at it… even on days when I’d rather just stay in bed for an extra 15 minutes instead of meditating. And guess what? I’ve had those days when I chose to stay in bed an extra 15 minutes instead of meditating and it’s okay. This is all a part of a journey, and it's so much easier to be on a journey with other people. So, please continue reading my blog posts, subscribe to my email list, like my page on Facebook and follow me on Pinterest. Let’s connect and continue this conversation.