The rising popularity of mindfulness meditation in recent years has sparked a great deal of interest by the general population. As with any innovation, there are bound to be some misconceptions. Though mindfulness meditation is an ancient practice, it is relatively new to Westerners. And the related body of thousands of clinical studies, scientific research and evidence over the past 100 years is hot off the press.
Whenever I invite someone to our weekly meditation meeting, I am often met with some skepticism. I often hear things like “meditation is not for me,” or “I’m the type of person who can’t sit still.” While these are valid concerns, they are usually based on secondhand information, which is often inaccurate. And if you’re not meditating, you could be missing out on some of the benefits, such as better health, relationships, and personal fulfillment.
Here are ten of the most common misconceptions about mindfulness meditation, along with some clarification.
1. All meditation is pretty much the same.
This was the biggest source of confusion for me when I was learning how to meditate. I didn’t realize that there were several different forms of meditation, such as Transcendental Meditation, guided imagery, and contemplative meditation. And each has different goals. What I did was try them all, and achieved little results. When I finally realized what I was doing, I picked one, mindfulness meditation, and committed myself to learning it well. That is when I began to make the greatest progress in my personal development.
2. Mindfulness meditation is of no practical use.
The main purpose of mindfulness meditation is to train our mind to see ourselves and the world with greater clarity, so we can make better decisions in all our affairs, such as relationships, careers, and social action. It also improves our mental abilities, such as memory, creativity, and abstract thinking, which makes us more effective in everything we do.
3. Mindfulness meditation is used to escape reality.
On the contrary, mindfulness meditation enables us to see reality without our views being influenced by our emotions or preconceived ideas. In fact, the definition of mindfulness is awareness of reality. Meditation calms our emotions, and the excess chatter in our mind, so we can see the world more objectively.
4. Mindfulness meditation is self-absorption.
It is quite the opposite. As we develop mindfulness, we begin to see how we are interconnected with the rest of the world. Over time we start to identify less with our ego, and more with the world at large. We begin to see how our actions affect others, and we learn how to focus our efforts so that we have the greatest positive impact in the world.
5. I need to quiet my mind before meditating.
One of the main goals of mindfulness meditation IS to calm our mind, so it’s not necessary to do this before you meditate. However, once our students get into the practice, they’ll learn to identify some of the sources of their mental agitation, so they can minimize them, and achieve greater benefit from their meditation sessions.
6. It takes a long time to realize any benefits.
This is simply not so. Studies have shown that you can make significant progress in just one week of daily mindfulness meditation. I would even say that you can see benefits from just one session. I usually feel more relaxed, sleep better that night, worry less the next day, and things just don’t seem to bother me as much. In the long run, the world will make much greater sense, and you’ll develop the inner strength to deal with difficult situations with dignity and focus, and without them affecting your inner sense of peace.
7. Mindfulness meditation is difficult.
Have you ever gone someplace serene and just sat there for a few minutes to enjoy the quiet and solitude? If so, then you’ve meditated. In its simplest form, meditation is just sitting quietly, and giving your mind a rest from all the mental stimulation of your daily life. Of course, with mindfulness meditation, there are some tools and techniques that enable you to get more from your meditation practice. But, even those are not complicated. I usually teach the basics of the practice in just one ninety-minute session.
8. Meditation is a religious practice.
While various religions and contemplative traditions (almost all, actually) do practice meditation, it is really just a practice. With mindfulness meditation, there is no philosophy or God or doctrine to accept. In fact, one of the goals of mindfulness meditation is to free ourselves from views, and to see the world as it truly is.
9. It takes too much time.
It is not necessary to meditate for hours to realize any benefits. If you can find as little as 5-10 minutes a day, you can make significant progress toward beating stress and finding inner peace. Many of us spend more time than this playing with our cell phone (every waking hour!), or on our computer. Finding a little time to meditate is usually just a matter of good time management.
10. Meditation is only for those seeking enlightenment.
Many people think that meditation is not for them, because they’re not interested in achieving enlightenment—they just want to be happy. While this may sound humble, it is unrealistic. If we want to achieve true happiness, we need to be able to see how our thoughts and actions are contributing to our unhappiness. And this requires the development of some measure of inner wisdom. You don’t have to call it enlightenment if you don’t want to.
To say “meditation is not for me” is like saying “good nutrition and exercise are not for me.” Everyone can benefit from good nutrition and exercise, as well as meditation. While some forms of meditation may be fads, I don’t think it’s the case with mindfulness meditation. As research has confirmed many of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of the practice, it is fast becoming an integral part of various mental health treatments. It is also becoming an effective complement to standard medical care.
We often make judgments about things we don’t understand. In the case of meditation, you may be denying yourself of the true happiness and personal fulfillment your searching for. If you’re still skeptical about mindfulness meditation, try it for 2-3 weeks and then decide if it’s worth your time and effort. I am confident you will, and you’ll enjoy it too.
Best wishes on your journey!
I know criticism can sometimes be difficult to accept. Some of my harshest critics have been my greatest teachers. They were the ones who had the guts to tell me what I needed to hear, and not what I wanted to hear. I hated them for a long time, and then grew to love them. I am now grateful for them having told me the truth about me when I most needed to hear it.
About the Author: This article was written by Charles Frances and edited and reprinted with the permission of our friends at The Mindfulness Meditation Institute. To learn more about their work, please visit www.mindfulnessmeditationinstitute.org.