by Deepak Chopra, MD
Adapted from the Chopra Center Blog
Despite the growing popularity of meditation, misconceptions about the practice are a barrier that prevents many people from trying meditation and receiving its profound benefits for the body, mind, and spirit. Here are some of the most common meditation myths dispelled.
Myth #1: You have to quiet your mind in order to have a successful meditation practice.
Truth: This may be the number one myth about meditation and is the cause of many people giving up in frustration. Meditation isn’t about stopping our thoughts or trying to empty our mind – both of these approaches only create stress and more noisy internal chatter. We can’t stop or control our thoughts, but we can decide how much attention to give them. Although we can’t impose quiet on our mind, through meditation we can find the quiet that already exists in the space between our thoughts. Sometimes referred to as “the gap,” this space between thoughts is pure consciousness, pure silence, and pure peace.
When we meditate, we use an object of attention, such as a mantra or our breath, which allows our mind to relax into this silent stream of awareness. When thoughts arise, as they inevitably will, we don’t need to judge them or try to push them away. Instead, we gently return our attention to our object of attention. In every meditation, there are moments, even if only microseconds, when the mind dips into the gap and experiences the refreshment of pure awareness. As you meditate on a regular basis, you will spend more and more time in this state of expanded awareness and silence.
Be assured that even if it feels like you have been thinking throughout your entire meditation, you are still receiving the benefits of your practice. You haven’t failed or wasted your time. When my friend and colleague David Simon taught meditation, he would often tell students, “The thought I’m having thoughts may be the most important thought you have ever thought, because before you had that thought, you may not have even known you were having thoughts. You probably thought you were your thoughts.” Simply noticing that you are having thoughts is a breakthrough because it begins to shift your internal reference point from ego mind to witnessing awareness. As you become less identified with your thoughts and stories, you experience greater peace and open to new possibilities.
Myth #2: I don’t have enough time to meditate.
Truth: There are busy, productive executives who have not missed a meditation in twenty-five years, and if you make meditation a priority, you will do it. If you feel like your schedule is too full, remember that even just a few minutes of meditation is better than none. We encourage you not to talk yourself out of meditating just because it’s a bit late or you feel too sleepy.
In life’s paradoxical way, when we spend time meditating regularly, we actually have more time. When we meditate, we dip in and out of the timeless, spaceless realm of consciousness – the state of pure awareness that is the source of everything in the universe. Our breathing and heart rate slow down, our blood pressure lowers, and our body decreases the production of stress hormones and other chemicals that speed up the aging process and give us the subjective feeling that we are “running out of time.”
Myth #3: It takes years of dedicated practice to receive any benefits from meditation.
Truth: The benefits of meditation are both immediate and long-term. You can begin to experience benefits the first time you sit down to meditate and in the first few days of daily practice. Many scientific studies provide evidence that meditation has profound effects on the mind-body physiology within just weeks of practice. For example, a landmark study led by Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital found that as little as eight weeks of meditation not only helped people experience decreased anxiety and greater feelings of calm; it also produced growth in the areas of the brain associated with memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress regulation. Other common benefits of meditation include improved concentration, decreased blood pressure, reduced stress and anxiety, and enhanced immune function.
Myth #4: I’m supposed to have transcendent experiences in meditation.
Truth: Some people are disappointed when they don’t experience visions, see colors, levitate, hear a choir of angels, or glimpse enlightenment when they meditate. Although we can have a variety of wonderful experiences when we meditate, including feelings of bliss and oneness, these aren’t the purpose of the practice. The real benefits of meditation are what happens in the other hours of the day when we’re going about our daily lives. When we emerge from our meditation session, we carry some of the stillness and silence of our practice with us, allowing us to be more creative, compassionate, centered, and loving to ourselves and everyone we encounter.