Part 1 of a 4 part post on the common myths surrounding meditation practice, of which there are many! Meditation has literally revolutionized my life for the last 15 years and the myths I seek to dispell here come from my own pitfalls, lessons, mistakes, and the frustrating aspects of my meditation practice I misunderstood for a long time.
All of these myths made me want to throw in the towel at one time or another and it was by the grace of incredible teachers, and a lot of humility, that I was able to continue the practice and explore life changing insights. My sincere hope with this series is to share with you ideas that will help to keep your meditation practice going, invigorate it, or maybe start a formal practice of your own!
If you have questions about formal meditation practice or places to practice please feel free to email me.
Meditation Myth Number 1: You have to stop thinking and feeling when you meditate
A major myth, maybe the major myth of meditation is that we should somehow be able to stop the flow of thoughts and feelings moving through us while we meditate.
When we meditate we will have brief periods when we stop thinking and experience the vast peace of our own consciousness, yet thoughts and feelings will always be there. It is not possible to stop thinking for it is the nature of our minds to have thoughts just like it's the nature of the sky to have clouds or the nature of the ocean to have waves. When we try to stop our thinking and feeling, we are subconsciously associating thought and feeling with the idea of "problem" or "wrong". And it's no wonder we form that association, because nothing gets us in hot water faster than our own thinking. But since it is impossible to stop our thoughts and feelings, how do we address the issue? How do we meditate in a way that gets us less rather than more stress?
The key word is: observation.
The trick is to observe our thoughts, and feel our feelings, without becoming invested in our thoughts and feelings. Ever notice when you start to think about something and then you feel the snowball start to roll? Like you have the thought "I'm irritated" and in thirty seconds you're on "everyone is so irritating" and then "I don't deserve this irritation" then "why is my life so irritating?" and before long you're packing your bags and moving to a small isolated cabin in Alaska? That process is investing in thinking or what some traditions call "following" thinking. It's when we fail to see the process of snowballing thought and suddenly feel caught in a literal thought "avalanche" that quickly careens into a stressful and difficult place. Everything from internal personal suffering to massive destructive wars begin from the process of investing in thought.
With feeling the investment process is much the same. We feel, and then we think about the feeling, intellectualize it, dramatize it, and even fantasize about it. The process being something like feeling "sad" then the thought "I'm sick of being sad" then "I'll always be sad" then "What if I'm never happy again" and so on. The sadness itself is a feeling. It is a sensation. The sadness is what is happening. The suffering comes into play when we begin to invest in the feeling and tell ourselves about the feeling. In meditation, slowly we learn to just let sad be sad, anger be angry, loneliness be lonely, and happiness be happy. Every emotion gets a seat at the table and every feeling gets to say what it needs to say and move on. We openly let what is be what is.
So rather than stopping thought and feeling, see if you can just see your thought for what it is, like a movie playing out on your TV. Instead of investing in a feeling, simply let the feeling feel and say what it needs to say. And while the process does take a lot of practice, it is an achievable goal. We can learn to be more self-aware of our internal space, but we cannot repress thought and feeling. Repression of thought and feeling is just another dysfunctional pattern that will greatly amplify and not lessen our suffering.
And watch how easily you invest in thinking! Watch how tempting it is and watch how it happens without even realizing it's happened. Watch the process! If you can stand back from it enough, the "thought investment" process is incredibly entertaining. I've often chuckled at my own thought process like going from "I'm hungry" to "the world sucks I hate everything" in about 5 seconds. A word to the wise, don't let me skip a meal, it's just not cute.
And when we see the investment process for what it is, suffering begins to lessen. The enormous relief is when we realize we don't have to sit and furrow our eyebrows and concentrate and stress ourselves out trying to get it to stop. We can form a new relationship to what is happening based on loving observation, mindfulness, honesty, and allowing.
So stop trying to stop thinking it will get you nowhere but more frustrated and more stressed out. Use your breathing as a lighthouse, as a guidepost or reminder of where you are and what you're doing. When you get invested, cut the investment loose, feel your breathing, and smile. And you may find the more you watch thoughts and the more you feel feelings for just what they are, that you catch glimpses of what is behind all of that internal drama. There is something vast, peaceful, alert, and present behind every thought and feeling. And the more mindful we become, the more we practice, the more we naturally wind our way into a lucky connection with and recognition of that place. And that place, that vast indescribable peaceful presence, is the truth of what we really are.
Check in tomorrow for Myth Number 2. . .