“Quiet the mind, and the soul will speak.”
― Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, The 11 Karmic Spaces: Choosing Freedom from the Patterns That Bind You
Many of my patients have asked me about meditation. Mostly, where to start, and why to even do it in the first place. I’ll be exploring various aspects of meditation in future blogs, because there is no way I can cover meditation in a single blog post! But for today, I’ll focus on the common misconceptions about meditation that block people from really understanding what it is. And I can speak from experience from this, because back in the day, I was one of those people who was very skeptical about meditation. Little did I know, I was missing out on a lot! But, it is what it is, and I sure am making up for lost time now!
If you were to ask me 15 years ago if I meditated, I would’ve probably answered that inquiry with a smirk and raised eyebrow. Not because I didn’t think highly of the practice; but because I felt it didn’t speak to me, nor applied to me. I had always admired those who could meditate in any capacity, but, me? Nah. My attention was elsewhere – going to punk rock and hardcore concerts, taking press photos of bands, writing my zine that explored racism, sexism, and homophobia, working within my communities to bring about awareness and change through action, and making sure my long purple mohawk was coiffed (it was a lovely purple, by the way! The Manic Panic Fire Engine Red was a beautiful color, too. But, I digress.)
Like everyone else, I have battled many demons growing up, and some of them were extremely powerful. To the point of being debilitating at times, and having several medical doctors diagnosing me and prescribing cocktails to tame its intensity. Now looking back, I think my keen intuition was starting to emerge even then, but I didn’t really know how to handle it. I truly believe that everyone has their path, and that was part of mine.
It also became part of my path to understand the benefits of meditation. I finally “got it” one day, six years ago, when the inner turmoil was such that no drug could treat it, that I finally opened up to myself, fully and completely, trusting myself, because I pretty much had no other choice. That’s when I started meditating. That also became the day I no longer relied on medication to balance me.
Once I started meditating, even though it was hard at first to begin with 10 minutes one day here, and another day there, I already found the benefits of a calmer mind, becoming familiar with my spirit guides, trusting my intuition, not needing outside validation as much, feeling more solid in myself. And, it just grew exponentially, the more I did it. And now, I can’t do without having my full hour of meditation before I start my day. It grounds me, helps set my intention for the day, plants me firmly in my power, gets me in touch with my body, mind, and spirit’s needs, allows me cultivate some inner healing work, and helps me know I’m not alone in the day to day, knowing now (finally!) that the universe co-creates with me.
I often get compliments from my patients about my skin, and I’m asked what kind of skincare regimen I do. I often respond that drinking lots of water helps, taking off your makeup at night no matter how late it is (yes, I did this even when I was club hopping back in the day), but my real secret to great skin? Meditation. No joke. Meditation makes you glow from the inside/out.
But, before the clouds parted, and little bluebirds tied beautiful sashes of ribbons into bows in the sky for me ala “Snow White”, I had many misconceptions about meditation, and it was always knocking on my door, every time I experienced trauma or deep-rooted pain in my life, to offer comfort; but I never allowed myself to explore it fully until six years ago.
Why did I resist meditation so much? Here were the myths I perpetuated within myself for a very long time:
- Meditation is for very spiritual people.
I grew up knowing that I was very spiritual, although I didn’t realize there was a term for that at the time. I also grew up devoutly Catholic (I was a commentator at weekly mass, I went to a Catholic grade school, and I played the organ.) Although I was no longer Catholic by a certain age, I continued to explore what spirituality meant to me. Even so, my concept of meditation meant total seclusion on a mountaintop in Timbuktu, and possibly lugging gigantic buckets of water from a creek one mile down, just to get sustenance. I also believe that I had to be very self-actualized in order gain any benefit, or to even start. And feeling like the emotional grenade I felt I was back then, there certainly was no place in meditation for a person like me. How wrong I was.
The Truth: You don’t need to be spiritual to meditate. And you certainly don’t need to live on top of a mountain in order to achieve a sense of peace. Peace can be achieved wherever you are the at moment – on your bed, sofa, in the park, in the subway, while stuck in traffic on your way to work. Absolutely anywhere. And you are deserving of peace, no matter where you’re at in life.
- Meditation is a cult.
It all seemed so strange to me – the words, the clothes, the vibe. I was convinced that if I were to involve myself in this kind of thing, eventually, they would demand my first born child, or something similarly dark and mysterious. And, to my surprise, no dark deeds were discovered!
The Truth: Um… No, meditation is not a cult. I’m sure there are some communities out there that can be very cult-ish, but I’m not familiar with those setups. What I know is that sometimes there are teachers who help folks get started, or who help guide meditations, or who hold space for a meditation to take place; but even if you’re in a group, meditation is a singular experience, known only to the person who is meditating. This is a practice you uncover for yourself, one that resonates best for you. And it doesn’t matter if you follow a certain religion, or not, you can find a meditative moment in everything – in walking, doing the dishes, holding hands with your loved one, watching a candle flame, baking a pie, being in nature… Yes, you can have a mindful moment anywhere you wish.
- Meditation is for hippy-dippy people who are hygienically- and wardrobe-challenged and make you sing strange chants in the middle of Union Square Park.
Hey, I like soap and water! Although the social diva in me loves to interact and connect, the private side of me thought, “I am SO not ready to wear a sheath and be chanting with a bunch of people in the middle of Union Square.” And, I like fashion! I may not seek it out like a hellbent fashionista, but I’ll admit that I’ve come into my own style in the past couple of years. And I own that.
The Truth: Sure, some folks may fit that stereotype. But the reality is that you don’t need to be homogenous with any social construct to enjoy its benefits. People are not robots, we choose to live how we live, and as much as there are many types of people out in the world, there are many types of people who meditate. It takes all kinds. And if you like to meditate with a pink feather boa, then you work that awesome meditation with your pink feather boa!
- In order to meditate, you need to sit in lotus position, or in some other seemingly impossible or uncomfortable pose, with hands in mudra (mudra is “a symbolic or ritual gesture in Hinduism and Buddhism. While some mudras involve the entire body, most are performed with the hands and fingers”.) It is a very structured practice.
It all just seemed like such a regimented practice to me, since, in all the pictures I saw at the time, people were depicted meditating in lotus position. And, back then, with my newly reconstructed ACL in my right knee, that had a fresh cadaver ligament, and I was still in physical therapy, no way was I going to push it. Even a few years later, with my knee feeling brand spankin’ new, I just was just not jiving with that stance.
The Truth: You meditate where you like, and how you like, and in positions that are comfortable for you. This is your practice, and there are practically unlimited ways and positions in which to meditate. Some folks sit on a meditation bolster to help their spine align, others may sit on a small meditation bench for the same reason. Others enjoy sitting up in a chair. Me? I prefer laying in bed and meditating. It’s a rather helpful position, as well, if I play binaural beats to help aid in my meditation. It is a time to just be. It was best put by reknowned ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, “The Way to do is to be.”
- I just won’t be able to do it.
Sitting in the same position for long periods of time? What am I going to do? No tv? No computer? No distraction to keep my mind occupied? Surely, I’ll go insane!
The Truth: In the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti, Indian speaker and writer on philosophical and spiritual subjects, “To understand the immeasurable, the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.” Meditation is a practice. A practice of experiencing, and being at peace with, stillness. It’s not always easy to do, though, especially in the beginning! There’s a reason why the term “monkey mind” comes into play when speaking about meditation – it’s difficult for us modern day humans to block out distractions, since we’re surrounded by them, and if we’re not surrounded by them, we’re thinking of our “to do” list in our head. In the beginning, it can be difficult to quell this mind chatter, but just keep at it, and soon enough, you’ll be able to just notice the distraction, say “ok, I see you, thank you”, allow it to pass, and gently bring your focus back to self. Start with 5-10 minutes a day. Do it first thing in the morning, or right before bedtime. Heck, you could do it in the shower! Water meditation, go for it!
- Meditation means saying “Om” all day.
Again, I thought meditation was a rigid practice, and I was consumed about how to do it “the right way”. And, from what I was seeing, it seemed the only way to meditate was to chant or speak in languages I didn’t understand.
The Truth: Meditation is totally what you make of it. There is no “right way”. Only the practice of doing it. Don’t get caught up in the technicalities of it. Because, eventually, you’ll find a style that resonates with you, and you will stick to it, and then add bits and pieces of your own that will meet your meditation needs. In fact, I find that my most effective meditations are a combination of things: clearing my mind, being grateful, focusing on breath, praying, setting intentions, getting in touch with my spirit guides and my ancestors, listening to my body and chakras to see where I need to tune in, performing Reiki on myself and others, owning my light, or simply, being. It’s always a mixed bag, and it’s all good! So play around with what techniques work for you, and add your own bells and whistles down the line, if you’d like.
So, if you’ve held back from trying out meditation due to some similar limiting thoughts as those above, you may want to consider taking a serious look-see to re-evaluate how true those perceptions are! Still have a question about meditation that you didn’t see covered in the above points? Or, have a favorite way you like to meditate? Feel free to comment, below, and share your thoughts!
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
― Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation
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