If you’re like many people who have limited experience with meditation, chances are the word conjures up images of monks fasting in caves; tie-died hippies chanting ‘OM’ over vegan, organic, hemp-green smoothies; or yogis in white, getting all bendy at the knees in ways you can’t even imagine a body being capable of…
But what is meditation? How do we do it? And is it possible to excel at it, even if you’re a gluten-loving, meat-eating, SUV driving, business-casual somebody?
One of the biggest misconceptions about meditation is that the main goal is to empty the mind. Sadly, countless people write themselves off as meditators under the mistaken belief that if they can’t get their mind-chatter to stop, trying to meditate is hopeless. There is no need to give up! Even the Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying that he can’t turn his thoughts off completely, and that doing so isn’t even the point!
Rather than emptying the mind, meditative practices are about freeing the mind… learning to become aware of our thoughts, yet remain unattached to them… learning to observe whatever we are experiencing, and to let it be.
Years ago, I was approached but a teacher of a meditation group, who tore a strip out of me for creating a noise that disturbed his group and “made it impossible for us to meditate.” We talked a bit about his frustration, and then about the fact that, in allowing the noise to disturb his group instead of encouraging them to find peace within themselves despite the noise, he had missed out on an excellent opportunity to teach one of the most powerful applications of meditation practices: to be able to exist in a state of oneness and quietude within ourselves, in any situation or environment.
So how do we do it?
Have you ever experienced being ‘in the zone’ – that state of being so completely absorbed in the moment, that all thought disappears – almost to the extent that you cease to exist as a body… you become connected – on a near cellular level, and everything just flows..? If so, congratulations! You have successfully engaged in meditation!
And here’s some more good news: Any activity that helps you achieve this state can be used for meditation. Cooking. Playing music. Sports. Painting. Dancing. Petting your dog. Sitting in a yogic posture, chanting mantras… How you get there is nowhere near as important as that you get there!
In asking ourselves “Why meditate?”, it is helpful to approach our practices with these goals in mind:
To recognize that our thoughts have only the meaning we ascribe to them.
To release ourselves from the suffering created by our attachment