Despite its growing popularity and reach, the practice of meditation is clouded by some misconceptions. DEEPAK CHOPRA dispels some of the popular myths
Meditation has entered the mainstream of modern western culture, prescribed by physicians and practised by everyone from business executives, artists,and scientists to students, teachers, military personnel, and, on a promising note, politicians. Despite the growing popularity of meditation,prevailing misconceptions about the practice are a barrier that prevents many from trying it.Here are seven common meditation myths dispelled.
1: Meditation is difficult:
Truth: This myth is rooted in the image of meditation as an esoteric practice reserved only for saints, holy men, and spiritual adepts.In reality,when you receive instruction from an experienced, knowledgeable teacher, meditation is easy and fun to learn.The techniques can be as simple as focusing on the breath or silently repeating a mantra. One reason why meditation may seem difficult is that we try too hard to concentrate, we’re overly attached to results, or we’re not sure we are doing it right.A teacher will help you understand what you’re experiencing, move past common roadblocks, and create a nourishing daily practice.
2:You have to quiet your mind in order to have a successful meditation practice.
Truth: This may be the number one myth about meditation and is the cause of many people giving up in frustration. Meditation isn’t about stopping our thoughts or trying to empty our mind — both of these approaches only create stress and more noisy internal chatter.We can’t stop or control our thoughts,but we can decide how much attention to give them. Although we can’t impose quiet on our mind, through meditation we can find the quiet that already exists in the space between our thoughts.Sometimes referred to as ‘the gap,’ this space between thoughts is pure consciousness,pure silence, and pure peace. When we meditate,we use an object of attention, such as our breath,an image, or a mantra, which allows our mind to relax into this silent stream of awareness.When thoughts arise, as they inevitably will,we don’t need to judge them or try to push them away. Instead, we gently return our attention to our object of attention. In every meditation, there are moments,even if only microseconds, when the mind dips into the gap and experiences the refreshment of pure awareness.As you meditate on a regular basis, you will spend more and more time in this state of expanded awareness and silence.
3: It takes years of dedicated practice to receive any benefits from meditation.
Truth: The benefits of meditation are both immediate and longterm. You can begin to experience benefits the first time you sit down to meditate and in the first few days of daily practice.Many scientific studies provide evidence that meditation has profound effects on the mind-body physiology within just weeks of practice.For example, a landmark study led by Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital found that as little as eight weeks of meditation not only helped people experience decreased anxiety and greater feelings of calm,it also produced growth in the areas of the brain associated with memory,empathy,sense of self, and stress regulation.
4: Meditation is escapism.
Truth: The real purpose of meditation isn’t to tune out and get away from it all but to tune in and get in touch with your true Self — that eternal aspect of yourself that goes beyond all the ever-changing,external circumstances of your life. In meditation, you dive below the mind’s churning surface, which tends to be filled with repetitive thoughts about the past and worries about the future, into the still point of pure consciousness. In this state of transcendent awareness,you let go of all the stories you’ve been telling yourself about who you are, what is limiting you, and where you fall short — and you experience the truth that your deepest Self is infinite and unbounded. As you practise on a regular basis, you cleanse the windows of perception and your clarity expands.While some people do try to use meditation as a form of escape — as a way to bypass unresolved emotional issues — this approach runs counter to all of the wisdom teachings about meditation and mindfulness. In fact, a variety of meditation techniques have been developed to identify, mobilise and release stored emotional toxicity.
5: I don’t have time to meditate.
Truth: There are busy, productive executives who have not missed a meditation in 25 years,and if you make meditation a priority, you will do it. If you feel like your schedule is too full, remember that even just a few minutes of meditation is better than none.We encourage you not to talk yourself out of meditating just because it’s a bit late or you feel too sleepy. In life’s paradoxical way, when we spend time meditating on a regular basis, we actually have more time.When we meditate,we dip in and out of the timeless, spaceless realm of consciousness… the state of pure awareness that is the source of everything that manifests in the universe.Our breathing and heart rate slow down, our BP lowers, and our body decreases the production of stress hormones and other chemicals that speed up the ageing process and give us the subjective feeling that we are ‘running out of time.’ In meditation, we are in restful alertness that is extremely refreshing for the body and mind. As people stick with their meditation ritual, they notice that they are able to accomplish more while doing less. Instead of struggling to achieve goals, they spend more and more time ‘in the flow’ — aligned with universal intelligence that orchestrates everything.
6: Meditation requires spiritual or religious beliefs.
Truth: Meditation is a practice that takes us beyond the noisy chatter of the mind into stillness and silence. It doesn’t require a specific spiritual belief,and many people of many different religions practise meditation without any conflict with their current religious beliefs. Some meditators have no particular religious beliefs or are atheist or agnostic. They meditate in order to experience inner quiet and the numerous physical and mental health benefits of the practice — including lowered blood pressure, stress reduction, and restful sleep.
7: I’m supposed to have transcendent experiences in meditation.
Truth: Some people are disappointed when they don’t experience visions,see colours, levitate, hear a choir of angels, or glimpse enlightenment when they meditate.Although we can have a variety of wonderful experiences when we meditate, including feelings of bliss and oneness,these aren’t the purpose of the practice.The real benefits of meditation are what happens in the other hours of the day when we’re going about our daily lives.When we emerge from our meditation session, we carry some of the stillness and silence of our practice with us,allowing us to be more creative, compassionate, centred, and loving to ourselves and everyone we encounter.