Wait! Stop Trying to Meditate!

Despite that fact that there is now almost daily new evidence that supports the importance of and benefits received from meditation practice, there is still a lot of resistance to actually doing it. I’d like to take a look at that today. Why is it that so many people, often the people who need it the most, believe they can’t meditate or think it cannot help them?

I’m not saying it is the answer to everything nor am I claiming that one size fits all. (The latter idea is as far from my philosophy as it could be!) However, I do believe with every inch of my being that there is a form of meditation available for everyone be it through physical yoga, chanting, mindfulness, music, breathing, mudra, cooking, painting… One just has to discover what works best and then approach the activity with the proper intent.

So, what exactly are the reasons that come up for why people don’t want to meditate?

I can’t sit still that long!

I’ve heard a lot of people lay claim to this. The idea of “doing nothing”, even for 10 minutes, is too much to bear. The moment a person sits still, all the feelings, thoughts, and problems that she’s been pushing away with constant activity come flowing in like a tidal wave. It isn’t a comfortable feeling.

Early one, when I was forced to silently meditate sitting with my teachers years ago, I would be in absolute hell waiting for them to just get on with the teachings. I would hear myself begging for it to come to an end. Somewhere along the way, that agony left me. Gone. No trace. Poof!

Restlessness is a completely expected stage of meditation, often much worse in the beginning, but it also comes and goes throughout a lifetime of practice. (I can still feel restless from time to time.) If you aren’t willing to work through it, you are giving it power over you. If this is your sole reason for avoiding meditation, I urge you to simply sit with the resistance. The payoff is so worth it!

It’s boring.

There are those who experience meditation as boring. Being still, following the breath, focusing on the body is not enough to entertain the raging monkey that is the mind. These types tend to need constant stimulation and input. They need the radio or TV on, even if they aren’t listening or watching. What do they think all that stimulation is doing? It is distracting them. It is stealing their energy and making it harder for them to know themselves. It is filling them up with worthless noise and making it impossible for them to hear their own answers. It has trained them away from the subtle of life to such an extent that they actually believe the universe could ever be boring!

I actually feel worse when I meditate. My mind is so loud!

Similar to reason number one, this resistance presents itself when people have a misunderstanding of what meditation actually is. They think they are supposed to have no thoughts at all, a blank and quiet mind. But that just isn’t realistic. The stream of thought is incessant. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s a misconception to think one isn’t meditating if one is thinking. Let the thoughts come. Watch them as they do. Then watch them as they morph and go. They are fleeting even if they are torrential! Don’t give them your attention and run around trying to extinguish them. Let them be. You keep quiet!

I’m too busy/I don’t have time.

This is such an empty argument. All it means is that the person doesn’t really want to do it. Sure, meditating for 20-40 minutes is ideal, but even 5 minutes before bed is better than nothing, and I’m sorry but everybody has 5 minutes before bed. Heck, even 3 minutes of focusing on the breath and body is sure to impact your sleep and dreams in a positive way.

I meditate on my own.

There’s nothing wrong with this. I meditate on my own all the time. But when I have groups at the house, I am always blown away by the force in numbers. I’m inspired by their challenges, insights, and energies, and I am often amazed at the depth of my own meditation when others are present and we are all supporting one another. The experience is enhanced. So, if you find yourself making excuses not to go to a meditation group or class, ask yourself if you are cheating yourself of a deeper experience. There is a reason that Buddha made the Sangha one of the three refuges.

Meditation is a waste of time.

Perhaps they’ve tried and “failed”, or they’ve never even bothered to try; they’ve simply decided. Really, if someone holds this idea, then they probably just aren’t ready to meditate for whatever reason, be it deep-seated fear, religious judgment, or some self-sabotaging beliefs. But it is based on a misconception. Meditation cannot be a waste of time. It can only be wasted.

The gifts one receives from a regular meditation practice are so glorious and liberating (and yes, challenging and difficult at times), but if you remain blocked by any of the above excuses, they are a treasure you will never discover. But don’t “try” and work through these blocks; none of these block, not even the latter, are substantial. Stop trying so hard. Meditation is an effortless state of simply being.

Don’t worry. You’ll find your way. Only you can!

 

 

Meditation: Beyond the Trend

medI recently came across a fascinating article about how different types of meditation affect the brain differently written by

The article distinguishes two main types of meditation: directive and nondirective. For the sake of clarity here, directive meditation requires a focusing of the mind on something whether it be one’s breath, an object, or a thought. Nondirective meditation, on the other hand, allows the mind to rest or wander freely. In other words, there is very little effort mental exerted.

The research discovered that those in the study practicing nondirective meditation actually had more neural activity than the directive group.

Nondirective meditation led to higher activity than during rest in the part of the brain dedicated to processing self-related thoughts and feelings. When test subjects performed concentrative meditation, the activity in this part of the brain was almost the same as when they were just resting.

These results suggest that nondirective meditation is more helpful when it comes to processing our thoughts and feelings. If the whole point of one’s meditating is to “know thyself”, then it is clear which form of meditation would be more beneficial.

Last night, my meditation group worked with a Gyatri Mantra meditation, listening to a drone and powerful chanting created by one of my favorite online resources for chants, Dr. Nipun Aggarwal. Afterwords, one of my fellow meditators wanted to know whether what we had just done was the first type, directive, or second type, nondirective type of meditation.

I realized that it wasn’t so much the technique as it was the meditator that would determine which “type” of meditation was experienced. This woman expressed that she was mentally focused on counting the lines of the mantra and so felt as though it was a directive meditation. I, though, had had a nondirective experience allowing the sounds of the mantra to simply wash over me. Thoughts came and went. I do remember at one point turning my attention toward the practice of circulating energies of the Microcosmic Orbit, so there was for several minutes, a more directive experience for me as well.

This all has me asking more questions. Is is possible that these two forms of meditation, or what are classed and treated as two distinct forms of meditation, are really only one form of meditation experienced at different levels of ability? Is the goal, in other words, always nondirective meditation? Assuming the person meditating is doing it to “wake up” to the self, then wouldn’t nondirective meditation be a higher form of meditation than anything directive? In fact, what are the benefits of a more directive form of meditation if such a form doesn’t help us process our thoughts and feelings? It is merely reduced then to a form of relaxation or exercise for the mind?

I recently shared a post on Facebook how meditation is a growing trend. I commented that I was happy to see more and more people learning to meditate but not at all happy it was “trendy”. One of my friends asked me why: More people are exposed to it with greater benefit; what’s bad about that?

At the time, I didn’t much feel like trying to explain how when things go trendy, especially spiritual things, they also get watered-down and greatly misunderstood. It happened with yoga, and now, while there are of course those who do understand, many turn to yoga as a mere physical challenge, completely and ironically ignoring the body in the process. It is likely to happen with meditation as well. If people do not understand the differences between directive and nondirective meditation, there is a grave danger in masses of people thinking they are meditating when all they are actually doing is concentrating and bending the mind to will. Worse yet, there will be those who take The Mystery out of meditation completely sterilizing it in the process. I’m not saying just because it is trendy that people won’t benefit from meditation. That didn’t even cross my mind (until someone I know explained that’s how they read this). I just want everyone to have a chance to experience the best that any meditation has to offer.

Setting aside the “trend” debate, everything has its place. We all have to start somewhere, and often, directive forms of meditation are the easiest. It’s where I started. I suspect it’s where most of us start. I’m not claiming to know that nondirective meditation is somehow superior to directive forms, either. I’m merely asking the questions and sensing what has been true for me. I love many different forms of meditation, including directive. But I must say, for me, the most transformative of experiences have been resting in the wide (and wise)  open space of the self, being still but observant, free from efforting, concentrating, and controlling anything. It took a nondirective practice for me to experience that.