Many people have ideas about meditation.
I want to address some of those ideas that I think might be misconceptions. I’m doing that because many times I think people go to meditation events with certain expectations. Some ideas we associate with meditation are true and others are not. And some ideas may apply to some systems of meditation, but not the simple practices that I lead at Fountain City Meditation.
We do not chant secret words, we do not visualize magical things appearing, we do not pray or ask spirits to appear. And also we aren’t going to shave our heads or put on weird costumes. That’s not what we do, we’ll leave that to others.
We are training our minds to be fully present and to gain insight into our selves. The goals are attention and awareness. So, with that being said, I’m going to go over some common misconceptions.
- Meditation is just for relaxation: the issue here is with that word “just”. Relaxation is a part of this but it isn’t everything. Concentration, relaxation, and insight. This is about changing the way we interact with the world. If it was all relaxation, we’d just be going to sleep.
- Meditation is zoning out: There may be forms of meditation where this is true, but that’s not what we’re doing. If anything, it’s the opposite. We’re zoning in. We’re becoming more deeply involved in our experience, not going away from our experience.
- Meditation is mysterious and/or weird: I like to say I’m selling water by the river. It may not always be easy to talk about, especially if we’re thinking in terms of measurement or success, but it is about being where we already are. It’s all right here.
- Meditation is for people who are calm or spiritual: I think it’s for everyone. We can all improve our lives with this practice. There are no gatekeepers or prerequisites. If we think we have to have some measure of stability BEFORE we start a meditation practice, we’re probably never going to start.
So, those are some common misconceptions. It’s all here. Are you?
What are some other misconceptions you can think of?
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People often come to meditation with some preconceived ideas.
I can’t count how many people have said to me some version of:
“I just can’t get my mind to settle down enough to meditate. When I try it doesn’t work.”
I think a lot of people try meditation just a couple times (or never try) because they have certain expectations. They want to feel relaxed, or blissed out, or…at the very least…not bored. In the modern era we sort of have this idea that we should be entertained all the time. And we definitely want immediate results.
People also tend to think they are unique in their struggle. “I wish I could meditate, but I just can’t get my mind to settle down.” When people say things like that I think they’re making the assumption that it’s hard for them, but for other people it’s easier.
I want to suggest that we can see the path in a different way. The path is not a victory march. We are not in a situation where baring down and focusing really hard will help us. Focusing really hard on goals here will lead to disappointment. The path is not a victory march. One of the most important things we can bring to our meditation practice is a passive attitude. Don’t be hard on yourself if it’s a struggle sometimes. Don’t be hard on yourself if it’s a struggle every time. Just accept that it’s hard and do it anyway.
There will be days we feel like our meditation is “successful” (whatever that means) but there will also be days where we feel like our meditation is a total failure, when we think we’re doing nothing but being distracted and waiting for the signal that meditation is over. Both kinds of meditation are good. Trying to meditate and feeling like a failure….that counts as meditation. The only way to fail at meditation is to not do it.
So, let’s meditate together.
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Those who pursue money are always rushed, always busy with urgent matters. Those who pursue the Dharma, go slow and easy. “Boring” you say? Maybe. Maybe it’s downright dreary to stop and smell a flower or listen to a bird. Maybe a glint of gold is really more dazzling than the sight of one’s Original Face. Maybe what we need is a better definition of “treasure”. -Master Silly Mountain
Go slow and easy. We seem to have lost our ability to relax in the modern era. We try hard to keep busy. But there’s something more significant than that. We also don’t want to be bored. Entertainment is so common these days that we’ve come to expect it. By entertainment I mean anything that’s designed to take you away from where you are. Maybe most people don’t think of their phones as entertainment, but that’s what they are. I struggle with that myself. I really don’t want to be waiting in line anywhere, so when I’m waiting in line I’m checking my phone. I’m either scrolling through Facebook or reading emails. I’m always doing this. Where did I get the idea that I should be entertained all the time? And I don’t think that’s rare. From what I can see by watching other people, that thing I do in line at the store is really really common. We should be willing to let ourselves be a little bored. This is advice I really need to take. Go for a walk alone without wearing headphones. Drive to work without the radio on. Just sit on the couch, not checking Facebook, not watching Netflix, no doing anything. Just BE. The truth is there are no ordinary moments. Even the moments that seem boring can be full of wonder. We’re just missing them. Let’s bring back boredom.
Meditation is a general term that’s used for several different spiritual practices.
The goal of these practices is to bring the meditator to a state of heightened awareness and/or to bring a state of awakening or enlightenment.
If we practice with determination we can come to non-dualistic states of mind. This can lead to enlightenment.
Most types of meditation that are taught in Buddhism fall into one of two categories. They are Concentration and Insight.
This is sometimes called calm abiding or tranquility. This type of meditation can be done in several different ways. One is a mindless repetition of a word or phrase (such as OM or RAM), another is by staring at an object like a mandala or a flame (like you do around a campfire).
But there is one way that is simpler than all the others. This is the practice of following the breath. In this practice we just follow the pattern of our breathing and any time our thoughts distract us, we pull our attention back to our breathing. Often counting breaths is recommended as a point of focus, but that isn’t necessarily important. If we spend a lot of time engaged in this practice we will have better focus and we will be able to enter a deeper state of calm.
This type of meditation can also be done in several different ways. It is normally done in addition to concentration practices. In this type of meditation we are trying to deeply analyze something—often ourselves. If we were using this in breathing meditation we would minutely examine the breath that’s coming into and exiting our bodies, rather than simply following it. Another version of this is the hua tou.
In hua tou practice, we are constantly asking ourselves a question (usually a difficult to answer one like ‘who am I’ or ‘what is this’). These seem like easy questions, but it quickly becomes clear that they are not when we sit and analyze them.
Another example is the zen koan, in which a teacher asks a student to answer a seemingly nonsensical riddle, like “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” The purpose of these practices is to challenge our delusions and force our minds to think in a nondualistic way.
With these two practices our consciousness can awaken to it’s true nature, which is luminous and free.