I suggest starting a consistent meditation practice to virtually all of my patients. Why? What is meditation and why is it perceived as challenging by so many people? In this article, I will address some of the common misconceptions about meditation and why it is worth beginning a practice.
#1 Meditation is “having no thoughts”. Meditation is often thought of as some woo-woo, disembodied state where your mind is empty and you’re somehow existing, or “floating”, in a blissful, empty-headed state of complete peace. Um…no. I mean, that might be nice for a little while, and might even be attainable for some, but that’s not meditation. It’s impossible to have “no thoughts”, and even experienced practitioners of meditation wil have thoughts that arise without bidding.
Meditation is an investigation into who we are as part of the universal consciousness, and we can use those 5/15/30/60 or so minutes of quiet sitting as a method for that investigation. It is a way to quiet the ‘thinking’ part of our mind in order to connect more deeply with our true nature: one of seemless connection to, and unbroken oneness with, all other beings in the universe. That might sound like a tall order, but stick with me here: thoughts are not who we are. We are told all our lives, from 1st grade up until we get our first job, that we ARE our thoughts. We are judged on the “quality” of our thoughts as translated into speech or writing. We are told to study harder, learn more. We are told to “be kind” to others without telling us why.
Who or what is doing that thinking? What are we WITHOUT our thoughts, body, feelings–do we not exist? And if we do, what remains? A quiet, persistent awareness. And how is this awareness any different from the awareness of anyone else? Do we have our own separate awareness, delineated and separate from the awareness that other people experience? What do we bring into any situation or interaction? Do we consistently bring our thoughts, which always change? Do we consistently bring our moods, which always change? What never changes, and is always present? Awareness. It is that understanding that meditation hopes to reveal. By connecting with that awareness for a brief period of meditation, we can hopefully find greater peace and calm when we inevitably encounter challenges in our day-to-day life. In fact, we can learn to bring that meditative mind into our daily activities, which can transform even the most mundane act into something deeper, more alive, more meaningful.
#2 I don’t like sitting still, so I could never meditate. It’s a common misunderstanding that one has to sit still, on the floor in a lotus position to meditate. Sit wherever you are comfortable yet unlikely to fall asleep ( I meditated in my bed for quite a while but soon came to realize that I was napping, not meditating. Now, napping is a fantastic leisure activity, but serves a different purpose than meditation.) Sit on a chair, or perhaps lie on the floor. You can even learn walking meditation. Most importantly, you want to be in a position that allows you to temporarily “forget the body”, so it should be comfortable, and if you’re walking, it should be in an area or room with few distractions.
#3 I dont have the time or discipline to meditate. You brush your teeth, comb your hair, walk your dog daily. These are habits you cultivated from a very young age, and while learning a new habit as we get older can be more challenging, it can be worth it. Meditation only requires 10 minutes in the morning or evening (more if you like). You do it whether you want to or not, whether you are “in the mood” or not, whether you feel you “need it” or not. You just do it, every day. And within about a month, it will become a practice you eagerly look forward to. When I started meditating, I sat for about 5 minutes each day. Slowly but surely, that became 10 minutes a day, and now I like to meditate at least 30 minutes a day because I truly enjoy it. And guess what, if you miss a day, or two days, or a week, that’s okay. Restart your practice with a renewed sense of optimism.
#4 I don’t even know where to begin! If you are new to meditation, I recommend a guided meditation using an app like Insight Timer, Calm or Headspace. On youtube, there are teachers who offer meditations of varying lengths (I like Rupert Spira’s guided meditations)The apps can be downloaded to your phone, and you can specify the length and type of meditation you would like. Over time, you will find the guides you like the best and perhaps you will find that simple white noise and a timer is all you need. I have found that new meditation students prefer a guided meditation, which leads them along a path towards deep relaxation and calm.
#5 I meditated for a while but nothing really changed in my life. Basically it didnt work. Nothing needs to change. The only shift you will experience is the realization that the emotions and feelings and interactions you have on a daily basis are not who you truly are. As time passes, and as you investigate what is underneath your personality, you will realize that your personality and the way you behave in the world is not really “you”. In fact, there is no you. Who you truly are is a deeper, more fundamental being-ness that never changes, no matter what you might go through in your life. It is always calm, pervasive, and static. It is a deep abiding joy and it is the same deep, abiding joy that others feel when they think “Who AM I, really?” We all share the same Awareness, but even that is not accurate. We don’t share it, because awareness doesn’t split itself up into discrete parts, a little for you, and a little for your neighbor. Awareness is a seemless, all-pervasive sned of Beingness that suffuses everything we do. And by sitting quiety daily and withdrawing our attention from thoughts and feelings, we can get in touch with that a bit more every day.
I hope this helps clarify how meditation can assist you in recognizing your true nature.