Now that meditation is becoming more of a mainstream thing, there is a sea of confusion around many aspects of the practice such as:
- How best to learn
- What to do about all of the thoughts
- Whether you even need to meditate
This lack of understanding is leading well-intentioned practitioners and poorly-trained teachers to imply things about meditation that are at best misleading, and at worst, contributing to the mass ignorance surrounding this beautiful, yet simple practice.
Here I’ll break down some of the most common misinformed remarks you've probably heard about meditation, which will hopefully bring you some clarity and greater comprehension.
1. “There is no correct way to meditate.”
I’ve found that for the most part, people who say there is no correct way to meditate have usually never meditated in a structured way for any significant amount of time.
In any discipline — whether it’s art, dance, floral arrangement, or sports — learning the best practices and having a structured approach is the only way to insure reliable, verifiable results. Imagine saying to Kelly Slater that there is no correct way to surf. He might think, “Well, not if you want to be any good at it.”
2. “I can’t stop my mind from thinking.”
That’s probably true, but the reality is that nobody can stop their mind from thinking. It doesn’t mean you’re always going to have thoughts in meditation. Eventually the thoughts will subside, but not from actively trying to stop them.
A quiet mind in meditation happens in the same way that daydreams occur — when you least expect it. Otherwise, it’s an exercise in futility. But you may be surprised at how the mind-chatter will subside on its own, as you begin to relax.
3. “Now clear/quiet your mind...”
We hear this one a lot in yoga classes. Yoga teachers receive remarkably little meditation training during the average yoga teacher certification course. I know this because I taught yoga for seven years and received virtually no meditation training before becoming certified.
In fact, most yoga teachers I know today don’t even have a regular meditation practice. Yet, people naturally look to yoga teachers as meditation experts! At best, yoga teachers are meditation guides, meaning they make suggestions and you do your best to follow them. But one way to spot an amateur meditation teacher is when they instruct you (in that soft voice we all despise) to clear your mind. As we stated above, it’s simply not possible to stop your thoughts by thinking about not thinking, and any attempt to do so will only result in multiplying the number of thoughts you are already having.
4. “I don’t have time to meditate.”
Americans spend an average of 11 hours every day on digital media (live TV, Internet, multimedia device, Blu Ray, etc.) and yet, people claim they still don't have time to meditate.
You might get a pass if you were, say, working around the clock for decades to stage mass demonstrations and marches in an effort to liberate your nation from the grip of British imperialism, like Mahatma Gandhi. But even Gandhi, with his demanding schedule, carved out time for daily meditation. In fact it was Gandhi who famously said, "I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one."
5. “Meditation makes you soft.”
Some of the boldest people I know are meditators. Over time, daily meditation makes you virtually immune to criticism, fear and negative self-talk. This frees you up to be daring in ways that would scare the pants off of your average non-meditator.
Remember Marcus Aurelius, the iconic character from the "Gladiator" movie? In real life, he was not just a brave warrior, but a bonafide daily meditator.
6. “My (activity that involves movement) is my meditation.”
Only those who are practicing a structured, seated meditation can access the transcendent fourth state of consciousness that is unique to seated meditation. It’s an altered physiological state that can be easily tracked using measuring devices such as an EEG, gas mask and heart rate monitor.
Therefore, saying your sport or your hobby is your meditation is inaccurate. Playing chess may be relaxing, and it may be “meditative” to your mind (meaning you don’t think of much else when you’re engaged in the activity), but it doesn’t provide the same health benefits of a daily, seated meditation practice, and therefore shouldn’t be considered to be an equivalent.
Nobody is suggesting that you quit your hobbies, I'm just suggesting that you add a seated meditation practice to your regimen and watch how it causes your other cherished activities to flourish.
7. “I don’t need to meditate.”
Of course, no one needs to meditate, just like nobody really needs to eat fruits and vegetables to survive in a day-to-day existence. But if your standard for living is higher than merely surviving, meditation would be a handy tool for combating daily stress, and for helping you access more of your full potential.
Think of meditation as a key habit — meaning a habit that can help you improve in other areas of your life — such as being happier, making better choices, and making you more inclined to work out and eat better foods. Without those changes, performing at your highest level may be possible from time-to-time, but unsustainable in the long run.
8. “Meditation should be free.”
I must admit, I’m biased here because I make my living teaching people how to meditate — and my courses aren’t cheap. I find that many people are happy to pay good money for alcohol, clothes and trips, but when it comes to learning a life skill from an expert that will result in enjoying infinite degrees of inner happiness, they feel it should cost next to nothing.
Many meditation teachers are knowledgeable, dedicated professionals who underwent years of tutelage and practice in an effort to learn how to teach it to others. Most are householders, which means, like you, they have bills, families expenses and savings.
There are free options, bargain options and expensive options when it comes to learning meditation. I'm going to use some generalizations here, but with free meditation, you usually get monastic types who teach monastic techniques (that are often difficult for householders to practice with any consistency) and these teachers are likely subsidized by a religious organization or a generous benefactor.
Bargain meditation offerings are usually provided by yoga teachers or self-taught meditation teachers who read books on meditation, and who may be eloquent in their understanding of how to meditate, but are lacking in their comprehension of why meditation works on a physiological or biochemical level. They often charge donations, and teach meditation as a hobby or side job.
The most expensive options are usually provided by full-time teachers (such as myself) who have spent many years meditating, apprenticing their teacher, traveling back and forth to India — all in an effort to learn how to teach the subtle mechanics of meditation in a simple enough way for westerners to comprehend.
When it comes down to it, meditation is like everything else, in that you get what you pay for.
Photo Credit: Neal Kreuser for mindbodygreen