Common Myths About Meditation
The 11 most common meditation myths
Whether you’re new to meditation or have tried it before, chances are you have some beliefs or concepts about how it works. Some of these ideas can be counter-productive. They’ll impose rules or dogmas that discourage you from starting, or slow your progress, or cause you to give up if it isn’t working as you expected.
Here, we set the record straight on the most common myths about meditation.
Myth #1: Meditation means having no thoughts
This is probably the most common myth, and it’s one of the main reasons people get frustrated and stop meditating.
Each of us has tens of thousands of thoughts every day. The thoughts are a natural by-product of being alive. As you go through your day, your mind will form impressions about what you’re experiencing, and those impressions will become thoughts.
You might have heard that meditating is about having an entirely quiet mind. And you might also have a belief that thoughts are a barrier to your happiness, especially if those thoughts seem loud, insistent, judgmental, and negative. Finding a practice that will free you from these mental impressions can seem appealing.
But freeing yourself from the mind doesn’t require you to stop your thoughts – in fact, it’s counter-productive to try. The more you try to force your mind, the more insistent your thoughts will become.
Meditation is never about stopping the thoughts. It is about changing the way you experience those thoughts. In any pure teaching (such as Ascension), you’ll learn to observe the thoughts without attachment. You’ll see that they can come and go – like clouds passing through the sky – and they won’t cause you any difficulty unless you identify with them and make them important.
When you learn a pure meditation practice, you might also become aware of how thoughts pass through the space of your awareness. You might experience that space as silence, or stillness, or consciousness. It’s the part of you that is aware of what you are experiencing, and it’s always there. An effective meditation technique allows you to lose interest in the thoughts and become more aware of that space, until it becomes more important than the thoughts it is generating. When the mind wanders, that's okay – just use the technique to return.
Myth #2: Meditation is difficult
One of the most common misconceptions in meditative or spiritual practice is that it has to be difficult and challenging. Many of us are trained from early in life to believe that anything worthwhile involves hard work and struggle, that we have to prove ourselves before we can relax and experience inner peace. As a result, many of us see meditation as a long-term process that will only bring benefits after years or lifetimes of sitting in discomfort and pain.
Meditation is not about perpetuating this cycle of struggle and suffering. And it’s not about some future moment. It is about letting go of these beliefs and patterns, and discovering what life is then like.
Any pure technique is completely natural, requires no struggle or effort, and is entirely about your experience of this moment. It will return you to a natural state – the state that children are in when they play – fully engaged, allowing each experience to come and go.
It’s also the state you enter when you’re immersed in something you love, whether that is experiencing nature or reading a book or spending time with friends. It doesn’t take effort to play, nor to be aware of and attentive to your experience of now. It only takes effort to think about these things.
Yes, practicing on a regular basis is useful, and that requires commitment. But commitment is not the same as struggle. A pure technique will always return your mind to a state of open awareness. Practice makes this experience more stable and consistent.
And, yes, sometimes you might feel restless or uncomfortable when you practice meditation. But those experiences don’t arise because you’re meditating – they arise because stresses are releasing from your system. They can be a product of our expectations about meditation and what it is supposed to give us.
It’s never necessary to fight or struggle with these thoughts and feelings, only to be aware of them as they pass.
Myth #3: Meditation is about feeling good
When people come to a meditation course, they’re often looking for a specific experience. They might call it peace, or joy, or love, or Unity, or Enlightenment. They might have subtle expectations that meditating will help them to restore past experiences, especially those that seemed deeply serene and pleasant.
But meditation isn’t about a specific result. It is a path – a means of re-training your attention. When you meditate, you become aware of your inner landscape – the thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, physical experiences and other impressions that you habitually pay attention to.
Each time you close your eyes, your experience will be different. Sometimes you’ll have more thoughts, sometimes fewer. Sometimes you’ll see other content. Sometimes you’ll experience quietness and space. Sometimes it will feel good, and other times you might feel restless or uncomfortable. The benefits of the practice are the same.
Meditating is not about chasing a particular experience. It’s about awareness of what is already here. A pure technique will allow you to observe the content without getting caught up in it, and it will allow you to see beyond the stream of mental experience to the parts you might otherwise miss.
Myth #4: You have to sit in a specific position
Some teachings will ask you to sit in a particular posture such as the lotus position, and some will ask you to hold that posture for a long time, even when it is uncomfortable or painful for your body, or bad for your health. Likewise, some paths will come with other rules – about what you eat, what you believe, who you associate with, and so on.
The good news is, meditation is not about any of these things. It’s not about how you sit, what you eat, how you exercise, or any other lifestyle choice. There's no single correct way to meditate.
Meditation is about where you place your attention. It’s about noticing what you are giving your attention to right now, and discovering if there’s anything you’re missing. So, when you sit to meditate, all that matters is to be comfortable and alert – there's no wrong way to do it. And you don't have to sit at all. Some practices (such as tai chi) involve moving meditations. Others (such as Ascension) can be used anytime, whether you're active or resting.
Myth #5: It's boring to meditate
Some people see meditation as boring. You sit, close your eyes, and see … nothing. Or you see the contents of your head, which you’re already a little too familiar with.
Likewise, some see their meditations as chores – something you have to do every day when you could be doing something you see as more entertaining.
These beliefs arise from misunderstandings. To practice meditation is simply to notice this moment, which includes re-directing your attention back to this moment whenever you leave. If Now seems boring, you’re probably not experiencing it – you’re probably experiencing thoughts about what this moment should be like. Stop believing the thoughts and your experience will change.
The reality is: in the most vibrant moments you have ever experienced, you were fully engaged and attentive. Whether you had your eyes closed or open, whether you were relaxing by the beach or playing football or creating art or cleaning the kitchen, you brought the moment alive by truly focusing on it – so much that you stopped thinking and dissolved into the moment. When you're meditating, you're re-training your attention to experience that aliveness as an ongoing state.
If you choose to meditate, you can enliven it by cultivating an attitude of curiosity. Don’t treat it as a job that you’re doing in order to get somewhere; treat it as an exploration of the freshness of each new moment.
Myth #6: Meditation has to be silent
When people meditate, they’re often looking for an escape from life and its chaos – and from the mind and its inner chaos. They look for quiet rooms, quiet spaces, places of solitude. Maybe they’ll build nests of cushions, light incense, close the door, hang up a sign that says ‘Do not disturb!’
It’s great to create a serene space for your meditation practice, and to give yourself the best chance at experiencing inner stillness. But it’s a mistake to confuse the physical environment with the underlying experience.
The reality is that meditation can be practiced anywhere. It’s as effective in a busy airport as in an ashram, as easy with your eyes open as with your eyes closed. Controlling your environment or imposing physical limitations can limit your practice. You can be aware anywhere.
When you learn a technique such as Ascension, you’ll learn to allow all sounds and other sensory experiences to come and go – not managing or controlling those experiences, but remaining gently aware of them. The piece you’re seeing isn’t in the absence of sound, but in the absence of resistance and attachment. So you don’t need to shut anything out.
Myth #7: Meditation is about your breath
Very often, you’ll hear meditation explained as a set of breathing exercises. You’ll be told that meditation or mindfulness means focusing on your breath, and that breathing will reduce stress and anxiety.
The truth is: breathing is one form of meditation, and not necessarily the one that will be most effective for you. Other methods might ask you to focus on an object, or a sound, or a mantra (a word or phrase). These are known as ‘focused attention’ meditation techniques.
Other practices, including some mindfulness teachings, will ask you to simply be aware of your experience of this moment, noticing your thoughts and feelings without attempting to change or control any of it. These are known as ‘open awareness’ techniques.
There are also practices which involve visualising a desired goal, or saying affirmations in order to boost your positive thoughts.
As you’ve read the last few sentences, you might have developed a sense about which type of technique that most resonates with you. There are clear differences between Ishayas’ Ascension and most awareness practices, because Ascension combines elements of open awareness and focused attention to deliver faster and easier results.
When you learn Ascension, you’ll learn to notice your present moment experience, without changing or judging it. And you’ll also learn techniques that re-focus your attention and return you to a state of still awareness whenever you leave. This combination works with the natural rhythms of the mind to rapidly release stress and calm the nervous system.
Ascension differs from open awareness techniques because you have a tool to bring your mind back if it drifts off on thought. And it differs from focused attention techniques because, you’re allowing your mind to move, not forcing it to stay focused on one thing.
Myth #8: Having a meditation practice is selfish
Some people see meditation as a selfish and passive activity. It seems like something you do alone, taking time out from your family and friends, and ignoring the world and all its problems.
The reality is quite the opposite. The purpose of meditation is to free you from mental patterns, and reveal what lies beyond those patterns. Most people who regularly meditate experience greater depths of calmness, contentment, and enjoyment of life. This means they’re easier to be around, less judgmental of others, more selfless in their desires and actions, and much more focused and effective with anything they pursue. Some studies also associate meditation with increased empathy and compassion.
Meditation is not about shutting yourself off from the rest of life, it’s about opening yourself up to reality as it is, so your actions make a real difference. If you want to support others' well being, you'll need to look after your own first - otherwise you’re trying to shows others the path before you’ve found it for yourself. And if you want to make the world a better place, letting go of the ego is a great place to start.
Myth #9: Meditation is a religious practice
Many religions (Buddhism for example) incorporate elements of meditation, or similar practices such as prayer or contemplation. On some level they recognise that these activities focus your attention and open you up to a reality that is beyond the limited mind, an experience that they might call Brahman, God, or myriad other names.
But meditation is not itself about religion. On the contrary, religious teachings always incorporate some element of belief or dogma – you’re required to think and act in certain ways in order to discover nirvana or heaven in some future moment.
Meditation is not about adopting any new belief or idea, and it is not about the future. Quite the contrary, any pure meditation technique is entirely about enlivening your experience of this moment. Beliefs can only get in the way.
Nonetheless, meditation can open you up to experiences that are beyond your limited mind – experiences of presence, consciousness, magic, transcendence, stillness, or divinity. Many meditation practitioners, including those who practice Ishayas’ Ascension, would regard their practice as a spiritual one.
Myth #10: Meditation is only for stressed people
Meditation can bring significant benefits to people who are stressed or suffering. A great deal of research has confirmed that mindfulness or meditation helps to calm parts of the brain associated with stress, and also calm the body and its fight-flight-freeze system. The many benefits of meditation include reducing anxiety, increased focus, enhancing well being, stress reduction, and associated health benefits. For some, a practice can also help to improve symptoms of depression or other common mental health issues.
Yet these are side effects. The underlying purpose of meditation is to reveal truth, by freeing you from the mind’s limiting beliefs about yourself and those around you. The reality is that anyone can meditate. If your experience of life is already positive, meditating is likely to enhance that. If you’re considering a meditation practice, the question to ask yourself is not ‘am I stressed’, but ‘Am I looking for more?’.
Myth #11: You don't need a meditation teacher
A quick internet search will reveal many apps, books, podcasts and videos offering to teach you meditation or mindfulness skills. They can give you a taste of some of the benefits of having a regular practice, and if your goal is simply to reduce stress just a little they might be all you need. However, if you're searching for something that will deliver complete freedom from your mind and its patterns, you'll need a teacher.
Whereas an app is a one-size-fits-all experience, a live teaching will deliver you a personal experience. For new meditators, you'll receive guidance that's tailored for you, and have your questions answered by people who have already walked your path. For more experienced meditators who are seeking awakening or enlightenment, the only realistic path is to find a trusted guide who has walked the path before you.
Why do meditation myths arise?
Myths arise when people attempt to understand meditation and its effects by thinking. Meditation is about discovering reality, and reality can only be discovered when we stop interpreting experiences through the lens of beliefs and ideas.
That essential truth has never stopped people from trying to think about how meditations work. Nor has it stopped people from trying to think about the reality that a true path can reveal – a reality of pure, loving consciousness unlimited by judgements and other concepts.
As soon as you think about the path or where it can lead, you’re missing out. The results can’t be described in thoughts or words. They can only be experienced.
Ishayas’ Ascension is more than meditation – it’s a complete system for dissolving the mind’s limiting concepts and revealing the truth that lies beyond the mind. It works with eyes open and closed, during activity or rest, and it harnesses the mind’s natural rhythms to set you free you from attachment. See more about the Ascension techniques here.