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Are you interested in meditation but haven’t started a daily practice yet? Or maybe you think there is no point to it, or are not convinced why you should do it?
People from all walks of life are practicing meditation and mindfulness – executives, health professionals, teachers, celebrities, soldiers, athletes. In the past few years we have seen these subjects inundating popular media, so millions of people are trying meditation.
Still, there are many people that either don’t try, or don’t continue once they try it. As a long-term meditation practitioner, geek, and a coach, I’ve observed the most common reasons that people have for not practicing.
Let’s have a look!
(1) “What’s the point? It’s just a New Age fad.”
Meditation is not just a fad – it’s something that people from different countries have been doing for centuries. Traditionally, people have been practicing it in search of peace, happiness, transformation, or simply to have more control of their lives.
The point of meditation is to gain control over your most precious tool: your mind, your attention. The state of your mind is the most determining factor in your success and your happiness. A person could have everything and yet feel miserable, hungry, anxious, inadequate. Conversely, you could have very little, and yet feel at peace and content in your mind. In athletic performance, business, career, relationships, we see this again and again: no amount of skill or resources will help you if your mindset and internal environment is not right.
Meditation helps you master your own mind, by working on one of its key aspects: the attention. We can say that attention is like the flashlight of consciousness. Whatever we put our attention on will exist for us, and will grow. Whatever we withdraw our attention from starts waning, and soon it’s as if it didn’t exist anymore.
By mastering your ability to put your attention on the things you want (and keep it there), and to remove your attention from anything that is negative or not serving, you gain the ability to create what you want in your life and in yourself.
So, the point of meditation? Training of attention. As a byproduct of the practice, you also get several health benefits, release stress, and (if you are “doing it right”) by time also experience a peace and contentment that depends on nothing else.
You can see that meditation is a powerful tool. And it has been there for centuries. It’s not a fad.
(2) “It’s just a fancy name for relaxation, napping, or self-hypnosis”
Relaxation is one of the basic effects of meditation; also, to a certain degree it is one of its conditions. Relaxation is releasing the tensions on the body, and calming the breath. Meditation uses relaxation coupled with regulation of attention (one-pointedness), and introspection (looking inside rather than outside) to drive you to deeper states of consciousness.
So next time you listen to a guided meditation and all that happens is a body-scan, know that that is mostly relaxation (perhaps with some mindfulness), but not meditation. There is nothing wrong with that – it does help to relief stress. But meditation goes deeper, and serves also to prevent stress to happen in the first place.
Relaxation is like an appetiser; meditation is the main course.
Meditation is also not hypnosis. Self-hypnosis is normally induced by verbal self-suggestion (spoken or in the mind), where you are directing yourself to think, see, and feel certain things. It makes use of imagination and of the creative power of the mind. You use affirmations, imagination and visualisation to create a certain state of mind. It works from within our conditioning, and its purpose is to alter our mental states. Many of the “guided meditation” videos and audios out there are mostly a type of self-hypnosis or relaxation.
This is not what meditation is about.
In meditation we typically don’t use imagination or evoke emotions (except for some types of meditation, like Loving-Kindness). We normally focus our attention either on a particular object (focused attention meditation), or on observing the reality of the present moment, without any attempt to add to it or alter it (open monitoring meditation). The purpose is to quieten the mind, make it one-pointed, and perceive reality for what it is. It brings insight, realisation, silence of mind, and breaking free from our conditioning.
(3) “Meditation is too hard. I can’t calm my mind.”
This depends entirely on your attitude. If you have strong expectations, or are attached to goals and “timeframes”, then meditation will be hard for you.
Meditation is not a thing – it’s a process. This process brings several benefits, but is also its own benefit. The key is to learn to enjoy the process. Let go of self-criticism, of comparison, and of expectations, as soon as they arise. Then meditation won’t be hard – nor easy – but simply a enjoyable and wholesome process.
One reason why people feel meditation is hard is because they believe they should be fighting with thoughts, or actively trying to empty the mind.
“The only thing we do in meditation is to consciously withdraw our attention from engaging with thoughts, by focusing it on something else.”
There is no fight, no repressing, and no forcefulness about meditation. Fighting with thoughts (or any other type of mental impression, for that sake), will simply strengthen them, and lead you to an agitated state. The only thing we do in meditation is to consciously withdraw our attention from engaging with thoughts, by focusing it on something else. With this, the mind slowly calms down.
Meditation is simply the process of continuously regulating attention. The emptying of the mind may happen as a result of that, but we should not be holding on to that expectation. We are not actively trying to “empty the mind”, but simply placing our attention in a single point, moment after moment. As a result, our consciousness gets stabilised and we arrive at a state beyond the mind.
Imagine we are trying to get some work done, and suddenly some loud music starts playing next to us. The more we try to “stop hearing it”, the louder we make it be inside ourselves. But if we make an effort to focus our mind on something else, intensely, after some moments we have forgotten about the music.
Don’t think about emptying the mind, or making it quiet. Simply follow the meditation instructions, and let everything else be.
Other’s believe that they need to have a quiet mind in order to meditate. “My mind is too restless, there is no way I can meditate.” Rings a bell?
Yet, this is like saying that being fit is a requirement for going to the gym.
Having a “calm mind” is definitely not a requirement to do meditation. Don’t think that you cannot meditate because your mind is very restless. If your mind is agitated, there is even more reason for you to meditate!
Besides, when you meditate for a while, you may see that, generally speaking, nobody has a “calm mind”. Everybody needs some meditation.
Finally, don’t think that you need to sit in a lotus position to mediate. The essential element of the posture is keeping the spine absolutely straight, from your hips to your neck and head. As to the legs, you can sit cross-legged on a cushion if you like; otherwise a chair will do. Physical flexibility is not a requirement for meditation.
In the beginning your focus should be only to create the habit of meditation. Resist the temptation to constantly evaluate yourself, and how you are doing. The very fact that you are sitting to meditate, daily, is replenishing your health, affirming your willpower, and slowly developing your internal mastery.
(4) “It takes years to truly benefit from it.”
Research shows that meditation brings great physical and mental health benefits after even as little as 8 weeks of daily practice.
Of course, a Buddhist monk with 20 thousand hours of meditation will have reaped more benefits than a person who started doing 10min a day one month ago. Meditation has many levels of benefits. If you want to attain enlightenment, or be in a fearless state beyond all suffering, then yes, it will take a while. But if all you want is better health, a bit more peace and balance in your life, many people can start having that in a few weeks.
Another way of looking is that meditation’s benefits are immediate. The practice itself is the benefit. You will usually feel better after all your meditation sessions – more relaxed, more focused, more rested. And it’s free; all it costs is your attention.
(5) “I don’t have time to meditate.”
Sorry, but I don’t believe you.
Try this exercise: during one week, take note of all the unproductive time that you spend in front of a screen (TV, smartphone, or tablet). Now set aside 20% of that time for meditation, and you’ll be alright.
There are busy executives who have not missed a meditation in years. If meditation becomes a priority in your life, you will find time for it. You can start with as little as 1~3 minutes a day, and increase slowly.
Some people even find that after they start meditating, they have more time in their lives. Suddenly they gain clarity on what is really important, and stop spending time on things that don’t truly serve them.
(6) “Meditation is boring.”
Depending on your attitude towards the practice, you may feel like this. If you try meditation expecting to feel something fun or entertaining, you will find it boring.
In modern world, where it is so easy to get instantaneous fun, still we find millions of people carving time out of their busy days, every day, to practice. Throughout history, thousands of people actually abandoned everything in their lives to meditate – they must have found something deeply satisfying about meditation, isn’t it? Some of them were even members of royal families or rich merchants, and thus “had everything” they could have in terms of enjoyment.
Personally, the peace and enjoyment I get almost on a daily basis, sitting on my cushion, is unlike anything I’ve experienced in my life. It’s a rare pleasure, and one that is free, depends on nobody else, and never feels repetitive.
That last sentence may have picked your attention. Dopamine, the “pleasure chemical” of the brain, is released in activities such as sex, eating, sports, taking drugs, earning money, listening to music, etc. By time, with repeated exposure to the same pleasures, there is a tolerance for dopamine built into the neurons, so the reward for the repeated pleasure gradually diminishes.
Get your favourite ice cream and eat it three times a day, every day, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. After a couple of weeks the pleasure you get from it is a fraction of what you’d get if you ate it once a month. (Psychologists refer to this concept as hedonic adaptation.) At this point, you either continue eating everyday out of sheer habit – even though it’s not good for you and brings little rewards – or you switch to another source of pleasure.
Research has shown, however, that the dopamine produced by meditation does not suffer from the “down-regulation” of pleasure experienced in sex, food, money, etc. (source). Unlike the other “sources of happiness”, meditation is not only free, but gets better the more you do it.
Don’t go towards meditation with a hungry mind, or with strong expectations. They will keep your experience in the surface. It takes time develop optimal attitudes towards the practice; but, as much as possible, try to leave aside all expectations and “just do it”.
It’s a little bit like going to the gym. If you look at it, running on the spot and pulling iron is not really exciting. If you only do it for the sake of the results (nicer body), it will be a constant battle between the desire for the result, and the unwillingness to through that boring and tough training. However, if you learn to enjoy the process itself – and desire to get better at it -, then you can keep at it long-term, and have better results also.
(7) “I need to be spiritual or do weird things.”
Meditation is a very old practice, and it was indeed created/discovered within religious contexts, with the purpose of achieving spiritual goals. However, for most techniques – especially as practiced in the West – there is nothing essentially religious about them. If you want to do it as a simple body-mind exercise, you can. Many people practice meditation exclusively for health and well-being benefits.
You can practice meditation without needing to believe in anything. A Christian or Muslim can practice it, without any conflict with their own faith. The same goes for atheists and agnostics. Practicing meditation will not make you not make you religious, just as doing stretches will not make you a Yogi.
There are thousands, if not millions, of Christians that meditate. (Read more about Christian Meditation)
For the same reasons, you don’t need to follow any rituals, or wear special clothing, to meditate. Some people choose to do so because they find it helps them prepare the mind for meditation – but they are not essential to the practice. Use these elements if you like, and find helpful.
I have practiced meditation with these elements (incense, clothes, some ritual), when I was following Zen Buddhism. At that time I found that they helped creating a different atmosphere for the mind, and improve focus. Yet, on the past 10 years I have no special element around the practice – I just sit on a cushion, in the corner of my room, usually in my pyjamas. And my meditation is even deeper than before.
Also, it doesn’t need to include repeating a mantra. There are several meditation techniques, and many of them don’t including mantra repetition.
(8) “Meditation is escapism.”
Anyone that has done meditation for a decent length of time knows that it’s the other way around. Meditation makes many things that you are trying to run away from – in your life an in yourself – painfully clear.
The Oxford definition of escapism is [QUOTE]: The tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.
For escapism you need something that gives you either distraction (like TV, social media, games) or unconsciousness (like alcohol and drugs).
Meditation removes all distractions, and gives you heightened awareness, so it’s not really an escape plan. If you start meditation with a “run away” attitude, you will probably be disappointed very soon. Everything you try to escape from is right there, in your mind, waiting for you. All the not-so-pretty stuff we’re hiding or ignoring surfaces up.
On the other hand, it is true that some people do try to use meditation to avoid looking at their problems. Once they get skilled enough in the practice, they are able to bring their attention to a peaceful place, inside their consciousness, which is beyond all problems. (Shame on them, right?).
However, the blame is on their attitude, not on meditation. Meditation simply gives them a tool to control mind and attention; what they do with it is their choice. It’s just like saying that money is bad because it makes one selfish and evil – it doesn’t. It simply amplifies the personality traits that were already there, positive or negative.
Meditation helps you to know yourself, to see things more clearly and to control your mind. If you use this “power” to turn the blind eye on things that need real action outside yourself, don’t blame the practice.
More often then not, it will enable you to be more self-aware and more in control of your internal resources. For me, meditation has been a major enabler in my daily life, marriage, career, and martial arts practice.
Conclusion: meditation will not make you run away from your problems… It will take you to a place that is deeper than them. From there you will emerge with the needed clarity and resources to meet them skillfully, if you so wish.
(9) “Meditation is selfish.”
If you look at meditation as merely a way to experience happiness, inside yourself alone and isolated, then one may argue that it is selfish. Still, are we not having other selfish pleasures in our lives? Are we not having “time for ourselves” in other ways? If so, meditation – even with this limited pursuit – is just another way of doing what we are already doing, just more efficiently.
But, truly, meditation is no more selfish than eating, sleeping, or taking shower. It is an essential daily activity that human beings need to be able to live fully and function meaningfully. Yes, it is done alone, and yes, it does not “produce” anything tangible. Yet what you get through the practice will positively affect those that interact with you and the output of your efforts, in personal and work life.
(10) “It will make me emotionless.”
The practice will make you less of a slave of your emotions. You will gain greater perspective on them. You will know, experientially, that at any time you have the ability to follow the wave of emotion, or just let it be and hold your space. This is one of the aspects of this inner freedom that meditation brings you.
It’s true, you will be less reactive – but in a good way. You won’t lose the capacity to feel. Actually, feelings are more clear than before. You simply start to operate from a deeper place inside yourself, a place that is larger than your emotions and concerns.
I hope this post helped clear out some of the misconceptions that you might have had about the practice. The next step, now, is to start.
Giovanni has been actively seeking personal growth and a deeper meaning in life since his teenage time. He has practiced meditation daily for the past 15 years, read hundreds of books on spirituality, tried several different practices, and spent time on retreats with masters and instructors around the world – Zen masters, western teachers and Indian Yogis.
He is now dedicated to sharing his experience and insight with anybody that is inspired to grow, be it through his personal blog or in person. He is also a Meditation coach in Coach.me, which is a huge platform for developing habits.