Think Meditation is about clearing the mind? Sitting in uncomfortable positions? Believe Meditation should give you inner peace? Think again!
Meditation has become a hot topic in recent years as more and more research attests to the great benefits attributed to regular sessions of quietening the mind. However there is just as much confusion on how meditation should be done, and plenty of myths on the ‘right’ way to do it.
So just what is meditation, and how do you do it correctly?
First off, I am no expert. I have been a regular practitioner of self-Reiki for the past two decades and through this experience I find myself dropping more easily into meditative practices, but I have not followed any particular path of meditation, I have not had a meditation teacher and so the following tips come simply from my personal observations and experiences. As always, follow your own counsel and if you feel guided to embark on meditation through more formal avenues I encourage you to follow your heart!
So lets discuss the three top myths:
1. Meditation is about clearing your mind
Is that even possible? Wouldn’t you be, like, dead or something? This is a HUGE misconception of the practice, with many practitioners trying to clear their minds in order to begin meditation but this is totally backwards (and impossible). Meditation is simply watching the mind in a relaxed and non-judgmental way. Through this process, maybe, your mind will clear itself. But maybe not – and that’s ok. The point is not to clear the mind, it is to see the mind, to be ‘mindful’ not ‘mindempty’.
What is the point of seeing the mind? The mind is far too full of rubbish because we haven’t been watching! We haven’t been discriminating; discerning what are helpful thoughts, not helpful thoughts; what thoughts nourish us, what thoughts destroy us. Most people believe thoughts are ‘mine’ and so the entire history of our thinking gets shoved inside our brain…’Mine, Mine, Mine’, and now we want to clear it all? Good luck! We are so attached to thoughts, first we need to see them, experience them, take a good hard look inside the monkey mind and just be with the entire cacophony of noise. Learning discernment and detachment is the only way to allow the mind to see itself. And then, maybe, it will release its grip on some of it and you’ll clear some of it. You can’t clear what you can’t see. See the noise first, clear second…the great thing is you do nothing for it, the terrible thing is you do nothing for it…it does itself and you can’t dictate the speed.
As a beginner this may be a curse or a blessing, especially those Type A’s amongst us. But meditation is a huge effort in concentration, so there is lots for you to ‘do’, don’t worry. But, based on our goal orientated society, it is extremely counter-intuitive. In meditation the only goal is to watch your thoughts, and by watch I don’t mean judge, criticize, travel with, add other thoughts, or daydream. I mean simply observe, like watching a movie. It goes something like this in the beginning…..one thought arrives across your brain, and as an unwatched mind you will simply follow the thought and create an entire conversation (called a daydream)……
‘Am I doing this right?’ ‘This doesn’t feel right’, ‘I’m uncomfortable’, I’m not sure this is right’, ‘I’m still thinking’, ‘Oh yeah, that’s ok, she said its ok to keep thinking’, ‘Oh no, she didn’t say thinking, she said watch my thinking’, ‘How do I do that?’ ‘Bum, I really can’t do this, this isn’t right’, ‘I’m wasting my time, how do you watch your thinking, its impossible?’ ‘Ok, I’ve been thinking, not watching, argh! I’m still thinking!’
This is the way most of us operate the entire day, our entire lives, a mind filled with thoughts (most of them negative judgements about ourselves, or about others). When you begin observing it can be quite hard to just watch, even for 30 seconds, without following your thoughts and getting lost in the daydream. Even this simple observation, of how lost in your thoughts you are, is a huge learning and a door opens. You begin to understand. With persistence it becomes fascinating, what else is stuck in there? What other threads keep going round and round in my head, what themes keep playing without my knowledge?
Then after awhile, our meditation becomes more watchful, we stop following, we stop judging and it feels more like this:
‘Am I doing this right?’ Breath…………..’This doesn’t feel right’, Breath………….. ‘I’m uncomfortable’, Breath…………..’My breathing isn’t very deep’ Breath…………..’What shall I cook for dinner?’ Breath………….. ‘My knees hurt’ Breath………….. ‘Ooh, I must remember to call Sally’ Breath…………..
Space appears, thoughts become more random, they don’t flow so solidly in one direction (you stop following the thoughts), as the observer you notice the quiet underneath the thoughts, the silence. Have you cleared your thoughts? Or have you become more discerning, more understanding, more aware of your thinking?
2. Meditation should make you feel peaceful
Ahh….meditation is about blissing out, finding inner peace, relaxation….NOT!
I’m going out on a limb here; guided visualizations are great for relaxation but they are not meditations. They are guided positive visualizations that may well be healing and very good for you, but don’t get them muddled up with mindfulness. Meditation involves observation, not daydreaming. When you are daydreaming or following instructions, you are still thinking.
Be clear that the goal of meditation is to give yourself the opportunity to watch your thinking, following the guidance of someone else’s voice as she takes you off to build castles in the sky and expand your chakras is a distraction to this goal. Simple practices like watching your breath, chanting, repetitive exercise (swimming, jogging), mindful exercises like yin or kundalini yoga, sitting and staring at an object, or simply walking in the park are good ways to begin.
When you begin meditation, and often during a more advanced practice, you become aware of the inner workings of your self-talk, your negativity, your random meanness, and it hurts. Emotions arise as you get connected with what has been going on inside your head, you may well feel anger, frustration, sadness as you come face to face with all the thoughts stored in your basement. It’s easy to think you’re doing something wrong but emotions arising and uncomfortable feelings are signals you are doing the exact right thing. Meditation has no goal to feel either good or bad, observing your mind means watching all of it without judgement – meanness arising is as valid as fuzzy warm feelings. Hate is as valid as Love – we are not justifying anything here, we are simply observing, ahhh hate arises, anger arises, sadness arises. Ahh, love arises, gratitude arises, bliss arises. It is all equal.
If meditation should make you feel peaceful, it is equally true that Meditation should make you feel angry, frustrated and mean-spirited 😉 If you are not prepared to experience the entire spectrum of your inner emotional life, you are not really ready to be mindful.
3. Meditation is hard/ uncomfortable/ you have to sit still
There are many many different meditation techniques from dancing, chanting, jogging and yes, sitting in lotus. But meditation is not something you ‘do’ for 30 minutes a day, it is a process of awareness that grows into a life discipline, of being mindful and aware of your thinking. Of course in the beginning it is very useful to have a technique to follow, but like all techniques these are simply tools to help you develop your skill. Once you have mastered the skill, it’s important to let go of the tool or you won’t be able to grow. Looking at your thoughts for 30 minutes a day may be very hard in the beginning, but after awhile it won’t be enough. Ideally we should be consistently aware of our thinking and this is where the real benefits of meditation manifest. Being fully present, aware, awake and not in our constant daydream we can make authentic choices, have clarity in our decisions, and not take life so damn seriously!
So the technique is not the key here, but the continued practice is. No use choosing a technique you’ll never stick with, so instead choose one that works for you. If you need to move then choose one of Osho’s dynamic meditations, if you enjoying singing then try Kundalini yoga, if your muscles need a good stretch then go for Yin yoga, if you love to swim then do laps, if you’re a couch potato then maybe lotus is for you!