Mantra to Moksha: 7 Misconceptions about Meditation, Dissolved!
Are you intimidated, or perhaps unsure where to begin, when it comes to learning about meditation? Fair enough. The practice of meditation winds gracefully back through the last 6000 years of history, and through the sands of time. It is no wonder, therefore, that the strands of tradition woven through this ancient art subdivide infinitesimally into different lineages; each steeped in its own mythologies.
The manufacture of myth is an intrinsic part of the human psyche – indeed, it is one of our internal mechanisms of meaning-making. Making up stories which alchemise into hearsay is how we make sense of ourselves, each other, and the world around us. It is no wonder, then, that the mythos of meditation is as old as the practice itself. A facet of this dynamic that is often overlooked, however, is that the mythic lore surrounding meditation continues – to this day – to evolve and grow.
Folklore or falsity: what’s in a myth?
Just as it has been throughout history, the word “myth” today is an umbrella term for two different entities: myths are folkloric legends that populate our collective consciousness, and they are also beliefs which are demonstrably untrue, yet inexplicably widely held. Among the meditation myths that just won’t die, for instance, is the idea that you have to have a calm mind to meditate; not true, but regularly reposted nonetheless!
Contemporarily created myths about the ancient practice of meditation abound, confusing and repelling many millions of people who would benefit from it, if only they understood how complicated it isn’t. Although the misconceptions keep being generated, the basic core values of mediation have been the same since its inception. Here are some of the most common myths and misconceptions about meditation, which – once deconstructed – should no longer serve as obstacles to taking it up.
Myth 1: Meditation requires a clear head
The idea that you need a clear head to practice is one of the most pervasive misconceptions about meditation. It stems from widespread conflation between what meditation entails and the effects it can produce. Meditation is an umbrella term for a wide variety of different techniques that involve either occupying, or observing, the workings of your mind.
As many of the characters in the 7th century BCE Sanskrit epic mythological poem Ramayana find, it is actually particularly useful in a crisis, such as when you’ve been banished to a forest in exile or kidnapped by a demon. Now as then, there is absolutely no need to start meditating with a clear head. Achieving some mental clarity, and the ability to think straight and see the bigger picture, is one of the most sought-after benefits of mediation rather than a requirement for practicing it.
Myth 2: Meditation involves sitting still for hours at a time
Although the archetypal conceptual image of meditation involves a person sitting, cross-legged, in tranquil surroundings, one of the principal characteristics of meditation – and a factor in its indomitable endurance as a human pursuit – is the fact that you can do it anywhere, in any context. Although there are some traditional poses which you might like to adopt, the salient characteristic of your meditation position is that you feel sufficiently comfortable in it to concentrate during your practice – this can vary depending on factors like your age, body type, and any physical limitations.
From Sufi whirling to kundalini yoga, meditation can be practiced in all manner of traditional positions and movements, but – for the less contortion-curious – it is also perfectly possible to access the benefits of meditation by bringing techniques into your consciousness as you move through the day. With mantra meditation, for example, the time it takes to wait for the bus can become a glade of restorative possibilities within a seemingly back-to-back, hectic schedule.
Myth 3: Meditation is a challenge to relax
You’ve set aside time to meditate. You’ve listened to today’s exercise on your new meditation app. Just like you did yesterday. And the day before. And now you’re exhausted, because you’ve been up since 6:30 am. You’re also infinitesimally more anxious by the second about how you’ll manage to do everything tomorrow, on top of everything you didn’t quite finish doing today. If this sounds familiar, you may also be acquainted with a sensation of having “failed” or “missed the trick” to meditation.
The chances are that, technically, you’re doing everything perfectly, and you are perhaps simply yet to find the right meditation technique for you. The potential benefits of meditation are so great, however, that it’s worth exploring a variety of techniques, and consulting a well-respected teacher, in order to discover your personal pathway into meditation.
Myth 4: Done properly, meditation should stop you thinking about other things
Akin to the common misperception that you need to start your meditation practice with a clear head, there is also a widespread myth that your meditation practice is somehow unsuccessful if your day-to-day worries, wonderings and current groundswells of emotion crop up. In actual fact, some forms of meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, are specifically designed to interact with whatever thoughts and feelings arise. The technique involves learning to observe your ideas as they burgeon, rather than letting them take you on new journeys.
Many people consider it easier to jump aboard one particular train of thought than to resist boarding any of the other trains that pass through the station of your mind during the session. In Beeja meditation, which is based on the oldest form of meditation in the world, rather than attempting to not get sucked into any of the tunnels offered by your thoughts, you concentrate your mind on silently thinking your own personal mantra. And, liberatingly, there is no “done properly” to aim for. Your mantra becomes deeply imbued with your personal energy the more you use it, rendering everyone’s meditative experience unique.
Myth 5: Meditation produces instant results
Of all the meditation myths, this is the one that sends most people, confused and a bit disgruntled, into the toxic “tried it; it wasn’t for me” headspace – a realm it can take years to emerge from before you’re ready to dip another toe in the shallows of your higher consciousness. Once you’ve found a meditation practice that works for you, you will start to feel subtle – and then increasingly profound – shifts in your thought patterns and the way you process situations.
The unfolding of these changes, and your awareness of them, might span days, weeks, or months. There is no set of prefab targets to hit for “effective meditation,” and neither will you emerge from your first session – nor your 120th! – with “all the answers.” Instead, there’s time to chill (even if, like meditation itself, this is an art you’re yet to master…).
Myth 6: Meditation is a surefire way of having ‘otherworldly experiences’
From many of the viral depictions and descriptions of meditation, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ll leave your body during the session, entering a nebulous starlit hyperspace.
The keys to spiritual enlightenment will glisten invitingly on little gossamer pillows, you imagine, proffered by invisible, galactic agents of the cosmos. As you reach out your tentacle – tumescent with unfamiliar energies, yet strangely familiar; it’s yours, after all – you will grasp each key with a wave of deep recognition. “Well done,” you’ll say to yourself as your timer beeps and your 20 minutes of meditation is up, “you went for ‘the Classic’ again, and you smashed it.” Unless, of course, you didn’t. Which, for most people, will be the case every time.
Transcendental experiences in meditation can and do occur, but they’re different for everyone, and very rarely fit – or even remotely resemble – any of the stereotypes. As you get deeper into your practice, it is increasingly likely that new and unfamiliar experiences will open up to you. However, preparing for, or worse, courting, these experiences is a surefire way to be disappointed. Let the cosmos, and any stray cephalopod fantasies therein, come to you.
Myth 7: Meditation is a religious practice
There are so many religions, and traditions, which involve meditation, that it’s easy to see where the misconception that it is a religious practice comes from. However, although it is frequently practiced in a religious context, there is nothing religious about meditation itself. Especially, if it is taught and practiced in a secular setting. Becoming familiar with a meditation technique in its own right will allow you to begin reaping the benefits of meditation in a way that is meaningful for you, without reference to any of the myriad religious schools of thought associated with it.
From myth to urban legend: Beeja is meditation for everyone
Having thoroughly delineated what meditation is not, we’d like to leave you with an idea of what it is. Although there are as many definitions of meditation as there are traditions and techniques, at its essence, it is a means of befriending your mind.
Beeja meditation, for instance, is a relationship that you create between yourself, and the words that form your mantra. While other meditation practices out there may draw on religious principles or symbology, mantra-based is truly a technique which is about the individual. It is a personal journey with a holistic focus on you. Contact us today to find out more about how to begin your exploration of Beeja meditation, or to sign up for our courses and classes.
Words by Rosalind Stone