The top 5 misconceptions about meditation
There is no doubt that ‘meditation’ and ‘mindfulness’ have entered the mainstream mindset along with reams of research into the physical, mental and emotional benefits they offer. In much of the commentary, these terms are used interchangeably.
But despite the buzz and the daily posts on social media sites, there remains a lot of misconceptions about meditation and what it actually entails. Like any popularised practice, sometimes the smarts behind the actions can fall away. Yoga would be a good case in point. Many students are surprised to learn that the original purpose of yoga asana is to prepare the body and mind for meditation and inner work. The fact that regular practice gives you lean limbs, core strength and a tight yoga butt, is a happy side effect of aligning the energetic systems of the body. However, it’s not the main game.
The approach to meditation is the same. Many come to it to relieve stress or improve sleep for example, which of course it does, and relatively quickly with regular practice. But settling the central nervous system is simply the first turn of the key to unlocking the potential of meditation practice. Once you are able to settle the nervous system and alter brainwave patterning at will, you can enter this inner space consciously and really get to work. The physiological changes – yes, structural changes, that take place in the mind/body system through regular meditation, enable the practitioner to alter their state of consciousness, and therefore, their experience of life.
There are five commonly held misconceptions about meditation that I have encountered through my years of teaching. Sadly, they appear to be the main reasons why many try it once or twice and then let it go. To dispel them, I find it useful to understand what meditation is not.
Busting meditation Myth 1: Meditation is emptying the mind of all thought
Meditation is not about clearing the mind of all thought. If you have ever tried to clear the mind of thought, you soon realize that you’re on a hiding to nothing. The mind is thought. So, I find, a better way to view it is that meditation combines the use of the breath, the posture and a single point of focus, to draw in a dissipated mind. When we do this, we experience the revelation that there’s a difference between our awareness and our thought-field. They’re not the same thing. By regularly practicing meditation techniques we are able to lengthen and smooth out the brainwave patterning. This in turn calms the frenetic thought activity of the mind and weakens the tugging action that our thoughts have on our awareness.
Meditation is a way to gather our awareness into the present, the here and now, the only living reality. Our past has happened and our future is yet to be. Our only reality is the here and now, this moment. When our awareness is gathered into the deep now, and our mind and body align and calm into stillness, the immensely powerful heart and energy centres activate and align with the still mind. Your spiritual engine starts up!
Busting Meditation Myth 2: Meditation requires denying the body
Another thing I see quite a bit in meditation circles are keen practitioners forcing their legs and hips into a stiff, unsustainable lotus pose, or holding their arms and hands aloft in some sort of flashy mudra, and often both. There is a common misconception that we must hold the posture of an ancient yogi and then muscle our way through numbed limbs into stillness. It’s pretty hard to achieve inner calm when circulation to your lower body has come to a grinding halt.
The idea that we have to somehow deny our physical aspect as a trade-off for higher awareness is both erroneous and damaging. The idea that Spirit and body are diametrically opposed couldn’t be further from reality. The body is integral to the process of meditation and the body and Spirit are inextricably linked. I see them as one total system, with aspects simply vibrating at different rates. And when I say ‘the body’ I mean all physical aspects – the physical form, the brain, the central nervous system, heart, chemistry, the cells and the space that holds them, the breath and the senses.
It is true that certain meditation techniques allow a temporarily loosening of our association with the physicality of the body, but to enter those deep states we must work with the body and its energy systems. Diet and hydration also have an impact on meditation practice and are wonderful elements to experiment with when getting started. The main postural consideration is a long, supported spine and felt connection with the Earth.
Our bodies are already present. They occupy a physical space and they are in the moment. Our bodies are here and now. The body is the perfect anchor to draw in the mind.
Busting Meditation Myth 3: Meditation is a religion or opposes religion
Sometimes when I am commissioned for corporate workshops and talks, the HR team will make the point that they have a number of employees of different faiths in the office, and while they’re keen to bring meditation into the workplace, could I please keep it one hundred percent secular. The fact that I am asked this tells me that there’s a very close association made by some, that meditation is some form of religion or may be offensive to the religious.
Meditation is not a religion, even though nearly all major world religions and spiritual frameworks acknowledge meditation as a vehicle for prayer, ritual/ceremony and spiritual evolution. As meditation enables deep self-enquiry, it makes sense that it is a practice used in spiritual enquiry. And while some of the best-known meditation techniques are from the Eastern Traditions, they are not exclusively the source of this practice. Meditation is a human practice and very beautiful meditation practices are offered by all world religions and spiritual frameworks, right back to our most ancient Earth-based Shamanic roots.
The changes in brain activity when we meditate enable feelings of deep connection, slipping out of time, acute awareness and bliss. For example, in deep states of meditation, sections of the pre-frontal cortex go into what’s called ‘temporary hypofrontality’ which is a super impressive term that I throw around occasionally to appear, well, super impressive.
It just means that they temporarily deactivate – in particular, the part of the brain that clocks the past, present and future and places self-awareness somewhere in that context. When this happens, you have the sensation that you have deeply penetrated the present moment. It brings an acute sense of awareness and self, and many equate this with a religious experience.
I would define this experience as connecting with Spirit, but it’s not the doing of some strange god that might or might not agree with other gods, or worse still, the effects of the devil…yes I do get that sometimes as well. This is an inner neurological effect of changing brainwave patterning into deeper and longer waves and it’s very, very, good for you to experience it on many levels, regularly.
Busting Meditation Myth 4: Meditation is a selective skill that not everyone can do
It surprises lots of people to learn how mainstream meditation has been for quite some time in the western world. And it surprises me that many still hold the view that meditation is a hippy woo-woo activity practiced exclusively by new agers and the holy men of India. Thankfully, due to meditation’s renewed trendiness, this misconception is slowly fading. However, I find I do need to address it in my talks and courses.
Meditation and mindfulness practices are used extensively in the medical and psychological arena for treatment of chronic pain, depression and addiction and have been for decades. It is used in trauma and cardiac wards as a recovery process, with amazing results. It is used effectively in palliative care and the support of the elderly.
Meditation is a critical enabler in underprivileged schools and for troubled students around the world and is now accepted as a key practice in building resilience in children and teens. It is common practice in law enforcement in some progressive countries like Canada and in the sports psychology practices of the professional sports arena. A few years ago, Singapore hosted the Rugby Sevens players and I was thrilled to see the South African Rugby team meditate together before training and games. I have to admit that I find this enormously attractive!
I also offer prenatal meditation guidance and it is a beautiful, natural way to enhance body chemistry during pregnancy and conscious connection with the baby as it forms within and during the birth process.
There is a plethora of empirical evidence, studies and research now that has followed the different applications of meditation and the effects that regular practice yields in all sorts of settings for all sorts of people living busy modern lives.
Meditation doesn’t require a specific space or method; it just requires intent, choice and action. There are a couple of very useful things you can do to help establish a regular practice easily by working with your meditation space, starting-ritual and regularity. In any case, everyone can meditate, because we are naturally designed to do so.
Busting Meditation Myth 5: Meditation is the end game
I find it fascinating that the more we meditate, the more our system changes to enable deeper and better meditation. It’s a natural virtuous cycle that evidences the fact that we are designed to meditate.
With regular meditation, we change our default perspective for viewing life. We start to observe ourselves and we start to see the cause and effect of our thoughts, feelings and actions. We start to see the thought and emotional patterns we are bound to and therefore open up a field of choice as to whether these are serving us or not. This is the realisation that mindfulness brings. It triggers us to reach for ways to feel again, to choose different lifeward responses and to connect with the flow of life.
If we continue to nourish this ability, to witness ourselves and our lives, and therefore mellow our reactive responses to events, positivity and calm ensue, which then ripples into our relationships and exchanges. We feel a connectedness with our life field and more importantly, with our self. We can also then perceive our energy bodies and a broader realm of energy that this aspect operates in. We start to perceive information and patterns beyond the physical senses. We start to read situations better. We start to feel spontaneous gratitude, loving-kindness, generosity and love. These beautiful higher feelings are harmonising, soothing, restorative and blissful, and they gently change our behaviours.
We start to work with the flow of life. We give of ourselves more. We smile more. We want the best for others and we try to help them. We forgive more and jettison our past hurts, grievances and regrets more readily. We choose our friends differently. We choose to expose ourselves to life-supporting, positive content. This beautiful shift is where we heal and where we start to connect much more palpably with the energetic nature of the self and life.
Our meditation sits take on a new aspect as we become very aware of the energy moving through the body, thought-field, feelings and of the connection with Spirit. We become enabled and with that comes an ability to engage in dialogue with Spirit, to read the patterns, to sense the movement and to participate energetically as an active co-creator of ourselves, and our life experiences. We become creative. We cross the bridge into experiencing a Spirit-led life, into living within our divine design and power. We upload spiritual living. And this is the end game of meditating.
You can begin your transformative journey through my online meditation course, or sign up for my fortnightly meditation sessions and guided practice.
If you have any questions about meditation or wish to dispel your misconceptions about meditation, do get in touch. You can also visit my website to explore courses and useful content to guide you on your path to healing, self-discovery and mindful living.
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