4 misunderstandings about meditation

I was going to call this “4 myths about meditation,” but that’s been done before, and I don’t think these are really myths, just misunderstandings. 

1. “Meditation is a way to relax.” 

Actually, meditation is not a day at the spa. 

The goal is not necessarily to become instantly calmer or release stress. 

Being relaxed is one key element to sitting down, closing your eyes, and looking within. But the things that come up during meditation will not always be “relaxing,” per se. Often times difficult emotions will come up—longing and heartache and worry and sadness—and the object is to simply notice those emotions. Sit with them like old friends at the dinner table. Mindfulness is an open door and everyone is invited to the party—both the good and bad, the pleasant and the scary, the euphoric and the neurotic. The trick is to learn to hold some space for them with patience and an open heart. 

This is not to scare you, if you’ve never tried meditation. Many wonderful experiences can be had in deep meditation, especially in the context of a retreat. It’s just that it’s important to know that meditation is not about “chilling out” or being “zen” in the popular sense of the word. It’s a kind of work, actually, and it takes a gentle discipline. 

2. “Meditation is for hippies.” 

Not really. 

There are now hundreds of scientific studies published on the benefits mindfulness meditation. The scientific community has embraced it. Business schools teach it. Elementary schools teach it. 

At this point, I no longer even associate it with anything hippie. I don’t see what having long hair and wearing beads and eating granola has to do with the ongoing practice of being happier. 

3. “Meditation is a religious thing.” 

Well, it was, originally. 

But so was marriage. And Christmas. And baklava

Now we enjoy the benefits of these practices without the religious context. The same thing appears to be happening for meditation. 

4. “I can’t meditate. My mind is too scattered and full of so many thoughts.” 

Here’s the thing: everyone’s mind is like that. You are not the only one who tries to meditate and finds an insane waterfall of thoughts in there. 

I talk to many people who mistakenly believe that their minds are somehow full of more thoughts than everyone else’s. But the truth is that most people are walking around lost in thought most of the time. Very few people are Zen masters. And even the masters have nagging thoughts and difficult emotions they work with. 

Meditation is not about “getting rid” of thoughts. It’s about practicing the flow of noticing thoughts as they arise, over and over, as an ongoing process. Meditation is a way to continually drop back and notice your conscious experience, and allow the thoughts to just be as they are. If you spend enough time with it, you’ll learn to see the space between thoughts. 

Meditation is not just for certain types of very spiritual or focused people. Anyone can practice it.