A Guide to Meditation: The Myths

At long last, I'm posting the second installment of my series on meditation. In part one, I shared my experiences and why I vouch for it so enthusiastically. Now, I would like to focus on some of the common myths surrounding  meditation, specifically mindfulness meditation. First, let me reiterate a few things, namely, what mindfulness meditation is and some of the benefits of practicing it. Mindfulness meditation is a way of giving full attention to one's present experience, moment by moment. There are various ways this can be done. For example, a person may concentrate on her/his breathing or chant mantras. Some of the benefits of meditation are that it decreases stress, improves sleep patterns and allows us to have deeper, kinder relationships with ourselves as well as others. These rewards are all the greater when meditation is done consistently. Considering how much good can come from meditating and that it is free for all, you might be asking "why don't more people meditate?" Well, this may (in part) be due to the misconceptions and confusion regarding the practice. Let's address  some of these myths, why don't we...

1) The objective with meditating is to stop a person from having thoughts.
 Our minds are designed to think. Thinking is an essential part of human functioning. However,  
 overthinking and overstimulation can have adverse effects on our mental and emotional health. 
 Meditation is supposed to  reduce the noise and help make our thought processes more harmonious.

2) The right or only way to meditate is in the 'lotus' position. 
The cross legged sitting position or padmasana is widely recognised and associated with meditation. (The Hindu god Shiva and Siddartha Gautama, founder of Buddhism are often depicted in this pose).  The iconic stance helps in maintaining stability and proper breathing during meditation. I recommend this asana to others (it's my favourite) because I feel like I receive the most from the experience after meditating in this way. Nonetheless, you can also meditate while standing, sitting, lying down or walking. The main goal is to focus on the now.

3) Meditation goes against Christianity and Islam. 
Although  meditation has been a part of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and  ancient Kemet's religions for centuries, the practice is not the monopoly of these religions. Regardless of one's spiritual or religious beliefs, a person can meditate and benefit from meditating. This includes atheists and agnostics. Furthermore, meditation is not meant to change a person's spiritual or religious beliefs. This is one of the beautiful aspects of  the practice: it truly embraces all, is accessible to all and benefits all.

4) Meditation is not for busy people. 
Of course not everyone is an ascetic monk who can feasibly devote hours each day to meditation. Still, even the 'busiest' person can spend some time mindfully meditating. This can be 30, 20 or 15 minutes. We all find time to do things that do not add value to our lives so surely, we can devote some time to something that is positively transformative. Also, I think the more hectic our lives feel, the more need there is to practise mindful meditation. 

5)Meditation is a crutch for not wanting to deal with real life.
Yes, meditation can be seen as pressing the pause button on life but it's not some escapist tactic. To the contrary, it is meant to help us be more tuned in to life. In an era when we tend to be in a multitasking, hectic daze, we need to devote time to being still. Consistent meditation helps me to feel clearer and more empowered as I go through daily life...not a crutch at all.

6) Mindful meditation can only happen in complete silence.
Quiet surroundings definitely help in remaining focused but they aren't absolutely necessary. Even if you become distracted by sounds around you, as long as you can return your attention from those things to your breathing, it's fine. With that said, if you can find a peaceful space, it will make the experience easier and more enjoyable.

7) Meditation is not successful if a person doesn't have a transcendent experience.
First off, every meditation is a successful one. Just allowing yourself the opportunity to be still is a good feat. As far as transcendence, it is indeed possible to experience visions, levitate or gain enlightenment through consistent meditation but these should not be the ultimate reasons for the practice. Having had visions while meditating consistently, I can attest for how amazing transcendent experiences can be.  Even so, the most wonderful aspect of meditating for me is the impact it bears in my daily 'normal' life. 

I hope that I have helped to clarify some misunderstandings about meditation. Let me know if you have any questions that I have not addressed. 

Photography: Kyeon Constantine

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