As popular and trendy as meditation has become over the past few years, there is still a lot of mystery and misunderstanding surrounding it in the general population. Some people think of meditation as New Age “woo woo”, while others believe it is only practiced by those of certain religious backgrounds.
There are many misconceptions about meditation, however, there is one that seems to be the most prevalent, even among those who are at least somewhat familiar with the concept of meditation. The number one misconception of meditation is that the goal and purpose of meditating is to have no thoughts.
The converse of this idea is that it is bad to have thoughts while meditating, and that if you have thoughts, you aren’t “doing a good job” at meditating. This is all wildly inaccurate. It is TOTALLY NORMAL to have thoughts while meditating. In fact, those who claim to have no thoughts while meditating are one of three things:
For the sake of simplicity, let’s narrow the focus of this article to Vipassana meditation, which is the most traditional and austere form of meditation. It is the “OG” form of meditation so to speak.
In Vipassana meditation, the individual is supposed to focus on their breath; the act of inhalation and exhalation, as well as the physical sensations and sounds they experience directly from the breath.
Naturally, as seconds pass, thoughts will appear in your mind. Again, this is COMPLETELY normal. The next step is to notice the thoughts objectively. Rather than letting the thoughts take you away on a “story”, simply notice that it is a thought in your mind, and return your focus to the breath. Sometimes you will get carried away into a story - that is ok.
When you realize you’ve been carried away by your thoughts, simply return your focus to the breath. You could think of the “goal” of Vipassana meditation as returning your focus to the breath, rather than to have no thoughts. A wonderful book that goes into great detail about how to practice meditation is The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.
I like to use the analogy of exercising at the gym to relate to the act of meditation; expecting to have no thoughts while meditating is like expecting to have no workout equipment in the gym - how absurd! The thoughts you have while meditating are equivalent to a dumbbell you pick up to do bicep curls.
The thoughts you have while meditating help to train your mind to be more aware and focused. Every time you notice a thought and return your attention to your breath, that is the equivalent of doing one bicep curl in the gym.
Over time, your mind becomes stronger so to speak, and you are better able to notice your thoughts without getting carried away in regrets of the past and anxieties of the future. The thoughts become seemingly less frequent, with more space in between them.
There are tons of benefits to meditation, a few of which are emotional stability and control, a reduction in stress and anxiety, and an overall greater sense of calm and well being.
Perhaps while driving and someone cuts you off, instead of anger arising and you becoming that emotion, you will be able to observe that emotion and let it pass. You will be able to do that thanks to your meditation practice.
We are human beings, and as such, we are supposed to have thoughts. These thoughts are what allow us not just to survive in the world, but to thrive.
Thoughts allow us to communicate with other fellow human beings and foster heartfelt connections with them.
Thoughts allow us to invent new technologies and solve complex problems.
Thoughts are integral to the human experience.
Meditation isn’t here to strip us of our inclination or desire to think; meditation is simply a way for us to become more aware and in control of how our thoughts affect us.
Here at Awakened Self, we believe that meditation serves as the foundation of spiritual growth and emotional well being. It is imperative that we set aside time every day to meditate, even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes.
Tony Robbins himself says that “if you don’t have ten minutes, you don’t have a life.” Yes, we know meditation can be very difficult, but if you make it a priority and a part of your daily routine, it will become easier and more natural.
We hope this post dispelled any misconceptions you may have had about meditation, and inspires you to start meditating today (if you don’t already do so). We wish you well and thanks for reading!
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