Over the last 30 years or so meditation – like yoga – is enjoying huge interest as THE holy grail which is going to solve every personal problem such as stress, anxiety, sexual dysfunctions, poor self image, chronic fatigue, poor relationships, better mental concentration and many more.Based on unofficial figures the numbers of North American centers offering meditation courses increased by x100-150 over the last 30 years! Why such an explosive trend?
We can identified 5 main reasons:
- The demand is very strong especially for adults in their the mid forties and older
- The teaching of meditation is not regulated opening the door to charlatans and pseudo-experts.
- The business of teaching meditation can be very lucrative.
- Being Oriental in its origin the practice of meditation carries some sort of exotic, divine and mysterious flavor with the expectation that it may produce unique skills to the student.
- Meditation has been very well advertised with the help of marketing experts:
- Advertising for meditation courses and retreats locally and also online is promising automatic happiness, well being, total relaxation, great self image, job promotion, weight control and even enlightenment! This is exactly what most of us want and are dreaming about.
- Advertising guaranties that these dream goals will be achieved rapidly.
- Finally advertising claims that the student will not have to make too much effort.
These 5 factors and the fact that we are always looking for a quick fix with the least effort is a perfect guaranty of success for those who teach meditation but not necessarily so for those who pay for the courses.
Many of us who embark on the meditation bandwagon are or have been misguided regarding what meditation is all about and more importantly what meditation is not about.
2. Misconceptions about meditation
Here is a list of the most common misconceptions regarding meditation. The list is not exhaustive and not in any specific order.
1- The main purpose of practicing meditation is to relax & to quiet the mind.
Not true! The main purpose is to tame then control our ego-centered mind source of ongoing unhappiness and dissatisfaction caused by desire, anger, expectations, fear, etc. Only when we achieve a certain level of control of our ego-centered thoughts can mind relaxation be experienced. Relaxing the mind is only a positive side effect.
2- Practice of meditation is easy.
Not true! Its practice is demanding since it requires many attributes and skills such as:
- Understanding the rational, process and true objectives of meditation.
- Requiring time, quiet location, commitment, patience, perseverance and above all a non-judgmental attitude about the quality and progress of our meditation.
3- Practice of meditation requires few minutes per week.
Not true! In order to progress steadily meditation requires daily practice (unless special circumstances). Practicing once a while is a total waste of time and a great delusion.
4- Guided meditation is the most effective practice.
Not true! Initial coaching (the what, how, why, when) is critical; however ongoing guided meditation can, in fact, be detrimental since meditation is above all a personal exercise without outside teacher and/or audiovisual interferences.
5- Reading book about meditation is necessary.
Not true! Reading books on quantum physic does not make the reader a physicist.
6- A teacher is required to practice meditation.
Not true! (see #4)
7-Solo practice is just as good as group practice.
Not true! Group practice is twice as effective as the solo one. We don’t know why. Meditation in-group is easier. We don’t know why maybe due to peer pressure? Both solo and group practice are complementary and needed.
8- After a while you will be able to shut down your mind.
Not true! Many teachers will say that. It is non sense. It is like saying that one day one will be able to stop breathing or stop her/his kidneys. Zen Masters practicing meditation 6 hours/day for 60 years still have ongoing thoughts during their practice. Shutting down the mind is a marketing trap.
9- Meditation is simple: just to focus on something.
Not true! Meditation is a physical and mental mindfulness (non judgmental awareness) exercise involving 4 interrelated components:
- Mindfulness on body posture and stillness.
- Mindfulness on focusing point (mind anchor) such as breathing.
- Mindfulness on incoming thoughts to let them go.
- Returning mindfully to the focusing point.
10- Breathing is the only focusing point in meditation.
Not true! Breathing is picked as the initial mind anchor for beginners however for experienced meditators any kind of focus target can be used as long as the focusing point is not the source of day dreaming preventing the practitioner to be mindful to her/his incoming thoughts.
11- You will feel the benefits of meditation very soon.
- Not true! Benefits will come but the timing is unpredictable and based on the practitioner and the quality/quantity of practice including group practice.
- Not true! To appreciate benefits may require the help of an objective and independent observer.
- Not true! Looking for benefits is counterproductive since it may produce impatience, frustration and discouragement.
12- Meditation is fun.
Not true! Meditation is neither fun nor boring. Meditation is what it is. Trying to label your meditation is the best approach for quitting.
13- Sitting is the only way to meditate.
Not true! Any still body posture including position of the hands together, closing or semi open eyes are OK as long as the concentration on the focusing point and incoming thoughts are maintained. Having a straight back/neck and breathing by the nose are nevertheless recommended. Beside sitting (floor/chair) walking meditation is a very good practice.
14- Controlling the mind is not as difficult as you think.
Not true! Meditation is an “anti-mind” exercise whereby the mind is forced to focus on something. Meditation creates on the mind a violent reaction like having a wild monkey in a small cage since our mind hates to be told what to do and prefers to make us thinking zombies. Taming the mind is therefore not easy at all and requires lot of practice.
15- Meditation is only for guru and people with special skills.
Not true! Anyone may benefit from it.
16- Meditation is esoteric, airy-fairy.
Not true! To meditate is being down-to-earth with oneself, nothing weird about it.
17- The use of audiovisual supports will enhance the quality of meditation.
Not true! The simplest form of meditation is the most effective one but also the most demanding one.
18- Meditation will eliminate stress.
Not true! Meditation helps us to become non-emotional and non-judgmental regarding our stressors but does not eliminate them. Stressors may change but will be always with us.
19. Practicing meditation is physically easy and not demanding.
Not true! Meditation can be physically demanding even on a chair. Occasional back/neck pain, leg numbness can and will occur.
20. Meditation requires a steady still posture during the whole session.
Not true! There is nothing wrong by modifying the posture once a while including coughing or scratching!
21. Practice of meditation is for every one.
Not true! Candidates suffering from acute stress, very poor self image, severe emotional past or current issues must be assessed initially by healthcare provider prior starting meditation since prolonged sitting may trigger or enhance severe negative emotional reactions.
22. Meditation is a selfish practice.
Not true! By discovering and appreciating yourself better you will be able to help others more efficiently. Being compassionate with ourselves first is a great way to be compassionate with others.
23. Meditation is a spiritual exercise.
Not true! Meditation can be spiritual and or can be used as therapy such as stress management.
Ven. Ji Gong Sunim. Feb. 25th 2015