There are a lot of misconceptions out there about meditation and mindfulness.
In this article, I will try to clarify most of the misconceptions about meditation.
1. Meditation Means Clearing or Emptying the Mind
As described in this blog post, meditation means cultivation of the mind. More specifically it is the cultivation of the faculty of attention.
In meditation you try practicing paying attention. Paying attention is same as becoming aware. You can say that in meditation you practice becoming aware.
You pay attention or become aware, over and over again during meditation. It doesn’t matter what you chose to pay attention.
There are many choices when it comes to picking what to pay attention. You can pay attention to the breath, to the sense of the body, to physical sensations, to visual objects (e.g. a candle light), to sounds or even to thoughts.
It is just not clearing the mind. It is not emptying the mind or stopping thoughts. It is not the space between thoughts. It is practicing paying attention.
This argument may not hold when you reach the advanced stage of meditation. But for a beginner or an intermediate meditator, it is very important that they don’t think of meditation as clearing the mind.
It would help you a lot if you realize that meditation is practicing paying attention.
2. Meditation Means Going Into a Trance
This one is similar to the previous one about clearing the mind. Meditation is not hypnosis. You are not supposed to become unconscious during meditation.
On the contrary meditation is the practice of paying attention. I would add, alert attention.
Meditation is all about paying attention to your direct experience. And learning from your direct experience.
So much of our learning is conceptual. We used language symbols and we form concepts about such symbols and a framework that integrates such symbols along with a particular way of relating with those symbols.
Conceptual learning can be useful, but meditation is the skill of facing the direct experience head on. It is exactly opposite of hypnosis or trance.
3. Meditation Is Just a Relaxation Technique
Meditation is not merely a relaxation technique. When you meditate, you may feel relaxed afterwords.
Some scientist call meditation a relaxation response. You may have heard the term ‘stress response’, or ‘fight or flight response’.
During stress response, the body get agitated. Your heartbeats increase, your breath fasters, your blood pressure increases. After all the body is being prepared to run or fight.
When you meditate or practice paying attention and restoring your attention over and over again, the body is likely to produce a response which is opposite of the stress response.
Your body relaxes, your heartbeats slow down, your breathing slows down. You feel relaxed.
This is not guaranteed to happen each time you meditate, but there is a high likelihood you will feel relaxed.
But in reality meditation really means practicing paying attention to what you are doing in order to strengthen your awareness or mindfulness.
Once your awareness becomes stronger, you will be able to notice things you didn’t notice before. You will be able to notice how your mind functions.
With stronger awareness you will be able to notice, exactly when your mind reacts to somethings. You will be able to notice habitual patterns of your mind. You will be able to notice the previously unconscious biases and prejudices of your mind.
Once you start noticing how your mind works, it may help you get more clarity about the situation. Once you understand how your mind actually functions, you can see more choices that you have available in your daily life circumstances.
And through proper exercise of choices you will be able to reduce stress, worry, anxiety and other problems that you face in your life.
Relaxation is just a byproduct of meditation. Meditation is much more than relaxation.
4. The Purpose of Meditation Is to Gain Supernatural Powers
As we just discussed earlier, meditation is nothing else but attention training.
And by training attention, we improve or strengthen awareness and start noticing what was previously unnoticed or subconscious.
Such improved awareness can help us gain clarity about situations and make us see the choices that are available to us at any given instant.
It has nothing to do with supernatural powers. Meditation is firmly rooted in the mundane realities of life.
Because we are very familiar with mundane realities. And although sometimes supernatural powers can be helpful, if they ever existed, the mundane reality in itself holds the answers to many of your problems.
You just have to pay attention to your current direct experience.
5. Meditation Is Running Away from Reality
Yes you often meditate in seclusion or go to isolated places for meditation retreats.
Although such retreats can be greatly helpful. You really don’t have to leave your home to meditate.
When you are formally practicing meditation the lesser the distractions more helpful it is. In fact that is the point of trying to practice meditation in isolation.
But the whole point of meditation is not to continue to stick to the isolation but use a distraction free environment wherever it is possible to train attention.
And use the attention training to face the reality head on. Meditation is all about cultivating awareness and use that awareness to turn towards difficulties.
You use meditation to gain more clarity about difficult situation by facing them head on and not use the avoidance or ignorance techniques to deal with life.
6. Meditation Is Selfish Activity
Yes it looks like when you are meditating you are focusing on yourself and you even try to close your eyes. It looks like as if you are ignoring what is around you.
You try to close your eyes and you try to meditate in a distraction free environment. But the point is not to practice being selfish but to practice paying attention.
It seems like you are being selfish, but you are practicing paying attention so that you can notice when subconscious selfish urges arise and you don’t automatically serve them.
You meditate to improve awareness so that you can notice when you are being too selfish and not being fair to people. And same awareness can help you bolster a healthy amount of selfishness that you all need to prevent you from getting sucked into a depressive spiral.
7. Meditation Is Dangerous
So is driving car. Did you know that people are more likely to die in car accidents than flying in airplanes?
Meditation practices have been around for literally thousands of years. There aren’t documented cases of meditation proving to be very dangerous in a very short amount of time.
It may not be for everyone. In some rare cases, the mental health problems can get worse with meditation.
But even in those cases, there tends to be a gradual progression of its ill effects. There will be signs in advance.
When you start practicing meditation, you should always listen to the wisdom of your own body and mind. If meditation doesn’t suit you, the body and mind is very likely to let you know, well in advance.
There will be signs and symptoms that will be present and at the earliest signs you can stop.
For vast majority, meditation has been beneficial. If you are interested you can give it a sincere try under the guidance of a qualified teacher.
You should not try to meditate without proper understanding or proper guidance of a qualified teacher.
8. Meditation Is Not for Regular People
The prevalent images of monks or religious people meditating may have given rise to the notion that it is only for monks and not for normal people.
That is not true. Yes, monastic community throughout the world has used meditation to achieve their spiritual goals.
But as past couple decades of research has been showing us that meditation can have practical benefits like reducing stress or easing mental health problems.
Meditation has diverse set of potential benefits. People from all walks of life, ranging from athletes to business executives have been successfully practicing meditation for a long time.
9. Meditation Is a Mystical, Hard to Comprehend Activity
Meditation comes from Sanskrit word ‘Bhavana’, which means cultivation. Cultivation of what?
Cultivation of the mind. Mind has several faculties. And cultivation of any of those faculties is meditation.
From this reasoning all forms of education is meditation.
A more popular form of cultivation of mind is that of the faculty of attention. Apparently when you train your attention it helps increase your awareness or mindfulness and that has many practical benefits.
Meditation is nothing else but cultivation of different faculties of mind. In a more narrow sense, it is the cultivation of attention by practicing paying attention.
Yet another popular set of meditation is the cultivation of a set of mental attitudes. The example is the cultivation of kindness.
Human mind is plastic and you can cultivate kindness as a skill by repeatedly practicing being kind.
What part of this explanation is mystical? Training attention by repeatedly practicing paying attention and training to be kinder by practicing being kind, what is if anything that is not clear about that?
10. You Just Need Very Little for A Couple of Weeks to Experience Benefits
Meditation is not a quick fix. Our society has been primed to expect quick fixes.
You might argue who wouldn’t want quick fixes. Of course, if there are quick fixes you can use those.
In life, not all problems have quick fixes. And there are quick and dirty fixes and there are longer term, permanent fixes.
Meditation doesn’t work fast. It works by dose response. More you meditation more benefits you will experience.
But that doesn’t mean you have to meditate for decades in order to experience the benefits.
The research is still in its infancy, but there are some trends that have been emerging.
For some people they can start experiencing benefits with as short as 10 minute meditation per day and within a couple of weeks.
More practice scenario is that, once you start meditation more than 30 minutes, you are like to start experiencing significant benefits within 6 to 8 weeks.
But if you are able to form the habit of meditation, it can change your life. Your reality can transform in a way where things don’t disturb you so much.
You can become much more resilient and can face ups and downs of life with balance, clarity and ease. You can become more joyful, calm and wiser person.
Don’t expect meditation to work fast.
11. Meditation Is a Way to Get High
Do you get high by practicing paying attention?
Do you get high by practicing being kind?
It should be clear by now what meditation is and it has nothing to do with getting high.
If it is still not clear, let me know in the comment below and I will respond.