Common Misconceptions About Meditation
Meditation can't be all I talk it up to be.
How could ‘doing nothing’ seemingly be helpful in any realm of our lives?
Please, be a skeptic. I certainly was.
Consistently when I started, I found numerous holes in what I thought meditation actually entailed—when will I be able to float again? But I can say that meditation became nothing like what I thought it was going to be when I started. As meditated more, I stumbled upon experiences no one had ever cared to share, lessons that I have greatly impacted me.
So let’s discuss some of the myths commonly associated with meditation. Here are 6 that I have seen people consider as ‘truths’ of a meditative practice:
It Takes Years Of Meditation To See Any Benefits
You can actually start to see substantial benefits of meditation after only a few consecutive sessions.
In research published in The Scientific Journal on Consciousness and Cognition, participants were found to have shown similar benefits to those commonly associated with long-term meditation practitioners. "Our findings suggest that 4 days of meditation training can enhance the ability to sustain attention; benefits that have previously been reported with long-term meditators."
Now of course more substantive benefits are shown in long-term practitioners, but you do not need to compare yourself to monks to notice the impact of a meditative practice after 3 or 4 sessions.
I’d say you even have the potential to accrue the benefits of meditation after your first session.
On the face of it, your first session may seem minor. But that experience is important. Your first session represents the first small win in a chain of potentially thousands of hours of practice. We all have to start somewhere, and the first sit is no exception. So do not stress about when the benefits will arise. When you sit, the benefits are accruing.
Meditation Is Running Away From Your Problems
It's actually the opposite. If you ask me, meditation is more like running head first into a brick wall.
If your goal is to escape from your problems meditation is the last thing I’d recommend. If anything, meditation will bring forward the root of your problems.
Meditation tends to familiarize you with underlying problems you may not yet be aware of; we do this through observation. As we become adept at discerning our feelings from one another, the minute differences between them become clear and what at first seemed synonymous couldn't be any more different. From the clarity, you may find that the magnitude of these problems grows larger, so large it can no longer just be ignored. You become enamored with your feelings, curious what lies beyond and what can be uncovered through more meditation, more insight.
Meditation Is Only For Relaxation
Is meditation focused solely on relaxing? Not really.
This is probably the most common misconception that I have seen amongst meditators.
Let’s think of relaxation as an effect or byproduct of meditation—a happy consequence perhaps. While relaxation is nice and all it, is not the goal. The purpose of meditating lies deeper then entering a relaxed state. The purpose is insight, insight into the true nature of our being; to see reality as it is.
We tend to make life harder than it has to be for ourselves. So instead of viewing meditation as a tool for distressing, see it as the means to relinquish any stress from arising in the first place.
Meditation Is About Being In The Present Moment
Once again I think people are confusing a byproduct of the practice with intention.
Becoming present is more of an effect of a meditative practice rather than the purpose. During meditation, distractions arise. These distractions tend to be thoughts and are created by way of our habitual reaction or innate predispositions. But as you develop your practice, you can start to notice a pattern; everything in your head is either self-referential, about the past or future, or interpersonal—a simulation.
That means the mind is constantly attempting to run reproductions of the past and future to attend to the next decision.
Now is this present? Not at all.
But like habit formation, observing the cues is the first step to changing the habits. So if our default habit pattern of the mind are these things—the not present stuff—it isn’t that mediation is about being in the present, the present just begins to reveal itself more frequently as you claim more control over the thought patterns.
Living more presently becomes our natural state once we stop attaching ourselves to the simulations that we use to create past and future versions of reality.
Meditation Takes Up Too Much Time
Absolutely not true.
Why do you have hygiene habits? Some would say it was so they don't feel nasty or so others wouldn’t judge them harshly.
No matter the reason, you take the precautionary efforts to assist your wellbeing all the time. Well, why should this only be the case with the external? If you are willing to bathe & brush your teeth, you can take a few moments to clean up your mental state as well. Believe it or not, a dirty inside is just as impactful as a dirty outside.
Everyone has time. You are just choosing to prioritize yours differently.
If this warning isn’t enough I challenge you to start writing out what you do with your off time. Are you on social media? Watching Netflix? Try to write out how you spent your time in last few days. I can almost guarantee there will be gaps. And if you can find a gap that is even a minute long, you have time to meditate.
Check out my post on developing a meditation practice one minute at a time.
Meditation Will Make Me A Vegetable—I Will Become Emotionless
I want to preface what I have to tell you about the relationship between meditation and emotion with this; it’s what you choose to make it.
As you meditate, you develop a newfound relationship with your emotions. Such a relationship could certainly be used to subdue your feelings and deliberately tune yourself out to things.
But it does not have to be that way. We can use the clarity to deepen our relationships with our emotions.
As you move further along in your practice, you are not becoming a veggie—meditation will once again actually do the opposite. What we are practicing to develop is a form of selective engagement with feelings. That means choosing which of your emotional states are worth engaging with and opting out of reacting towards the ineffective ones.
So it isn’t that we are emotionless, it’s that emotions tend to become clearer after developing a practice, so clear, that we can pick and choose which we react to.
Note that a lot of meditators do not have to worry about full nonattachment from emotions—that is a state that calls for thousands of hours of practice, most of which will take place in a quiet place in solitude. Something tells me you are not looking to become a monk, so you do not need to worry about issues that only pertain to practitioners whose sole purpose is the travel further down the path towards liberation—they are all in.
As a regular meditator, you will move toward liberation, but I just do not think emotionlessness is something to consider unless you yourself are all in.
I hope this post has shared insight into some of the misconceptions I see as becoming more prevalent in the west as meditation begins to catch on. More and more people are starting meditative practices and that means there will be a greater need to dispel misconceptions like these.