Meditation is a hot subject these days. You hear about it everywhere.
And like any subject that is popular in Facebook feeds and new shows, there can be a number of myths and misunderstandings about it.
7 Meditation Myths
In this first part of a 3-part series on “Common Meditation Myths”, we’ll look at what is meditation. Oddly, defining meditation can be one of the trickiest things about learning to meditate.
Just what exactly is it? Is it being mindful? Focused? Sitting in open awareness?
We’ll look at many of the ideas people have about meditation and compare that to what it really is.
Myth #1: Meditation is all about focus and concentration
There are many meditation traditions and techniques. Even though they can be very different, a common theme is that meditation trains your mind.
One way or another, they promise to change your state of consciousness, to help you see clearly, find peace, or gain self-knowledge.
To develop these skills, some meditative techniques use focus and concentration. You might focus on your breath. You might bring your attention back to a single point every time it wanders.
But many techniques do not focus. Some broaden your awareness to include all of your surroundings. You are open. Expansive.
And still other techniques use chanting, visualization, contemplation, or mantras.
Depending on what type of meditation you use, focus and concentration are just two of the practices you may develop.
Myth #2: Meditation is mindfulness
Meditation and mindfulness are two common terms, both of which have broad, vague meaning. They can be confusing because they refer to many different things and are often used interchangeably.
Generally, meditation is a broad category of practices to self-regulate and manage the mind.
Mindfulness is one of the practices. It refers to being in the present, fully aware of whatever is occurring. If you are mindful of your breathing, you are fully aware and present with the experience of breathing.
You can be mindful of any sensation or experience–from the sensations in your body to the many experiences in everyday life.
But in popular culture, meditation and mindfulness often mean the same thing.
Myth #3: Meditating means you empty your mind
There’s a common myth that to meditate, you must stop your thoughts. If you’ve ever tried to do this, you probably realized that not thinking is a very difficult task.
The root of this myth is from one common outcome of meditating. Often, your mind becomes calmer. The chatter is softer and less disturbing.
The image of a meditator sitting with an empty mind is reinforced with the many meditating saint images available. The pictures make it hard to imagine that the saints were sitting and thinking about their grocery list.
This myth gets the end confused with the beginning. While your thoughts may be less intrusive with a meditation practice, you don’t block or fight your thoughts to get to that end.
Forcing your thoughts to go away only makes them more rebellious. You work with your thoughts–not against them.
Myth #4: Meditation can teach you esoteric skills like levitating
There are some meditation traditions which believe that highly skilled masters can achieve some very unusual, quite extraordinary skills (including levitating).
However, most meditation traditions don’t focus on these practices. Even if they do, they teach that these skills are the result of meditation–not the goal.
Myth #5: Meditation is spiritual
For some people, meditation is a spiritual practice. Meditation makes them feel closer to a Higher Power or helps them find a deeper Truth.
But for others, meditation is part of their health and wellness regime.
Either way. You get to pick. Meditation is not one or the other.
Myth #6: Meditation is a wellness practice
Many people meditate to reduce stress and increase their overall contentment. They understand (and more and more research is confirming) that meditation provides many health benefits.
But for others, meditating for health alone feels flat.
Meditation includes a broad range of practices that can be practical or spiritual.
Myth #7: Meditation is… (fill in a particular technique)
There are many techniques which fall under the umbrella of meditation.
From single-pointed focus to sitting in open awareness, from contemplating a koan (a paradoxical question) to visualizing complex images, from sitting practices to walking, and from cultivating compassion to contemplating the nature of reality—all of these very different practices could be called meditation.
Meditative practices come from many different traditions, different times in history, and from different parts of the world. Some are taught in a clinical setting and others in a religious space.
Typically the techniques develop the mind or induce different states of consciousness but there is a wide range of why or how they do it.
And despite all these differences, these practices are all mashed under the idea of “meditation”. It’s no wonder that defining meditation can be confusing. Meditation can be many things.
Next month, we’ll look at common meditation myths about how you meditate–myths that can keep you from getting started or that make your practice more difficult.
Looking for the truth about mediation (and other philosophical questions)? So does Julia. Julia Rymut plays with the mind-body connection as she teaches yoga and meditation. Join her mailing list at TaraTrue.com