One of the biggest misconceptions about meditation may surprise you. Do you think meditation is about calming the mind? If so, you might have tried meditation only to get frustrated quickly. Some have even felt more agitated while meditating.
In my years of asking patients about their meditation challenges, I can say you’re not alone.
There are many benefits to a regular meditation practice. Meditation reduces anxiety and depression while improving overall well-being. It can also have a profound effect on chronic disease. Meditation is encouraged for anyone who wants to consciously participate in their physical and psycho-emotional health.
But once someone sits down to meditate, they can feel worse than when they started.
Our culture and meditation:
Meditation is life transforming. It’s tragic though that our cultural programming sets us up for failure. The popular misconception is that one must calm the mind during meditation. This is why many people never experience its benefits and just give up.
What you might not know is that it’s impossible to force yourself to stop thinking. Trying to calm the mind is a pointless exercise.
How our mind actually works:
The mind is hardwired to think. Over six million years of evolution have designed it into a 24/7 thinking machine, especially about scary, life-threatening stuff.
The mind analyzes, evaluates, and sometimes creates imaginary scenarios. It has a singular focus on self-preservation and perpetuation of the species. This natural inclination is in our basic genetic programming. Constantly looking for potential threats is a survival mechanism that has allowed us to thrive as humans.
Many threats our ancestors faced no longer exist though. Instead of a saber tooth tiger, we are hunted by abstract, psychological concerns. We now live in a digital jungle.
Piled on top of the basic challenges of life, social media lurks in the bushes and a 24 hour news cycle surrounds us like an impending storm. This can even be worse than being chased by a T-Rex because it’s a vague threat that never stops.
The mind also prioritizes threats above any other signal it might receive.
This is why a good day can immediately go bad if someone does something threatening in any way. We tend to obsess over that while ignoring the positive, life-affirming experiences that preceded it.
In a globally connected world with a perplexing spectrum of what is socially acceptable, it’s impossible not to upset someone these days. This can leave our brain in a perpetual mode of being attacked.
How to meditate:
If you try to deliberately stop the brain from all of this with meditation, you will fail. Meditation is not molding the brain into something else.
Meditation is a practice of sitting in mental chaos and being the observer. What we’re feeling and thinking become things to watch like a movie. By approaching our mind like we do Netflix, a new relationship with thoughts or feelings begins to develop.
A space starts to open where we choose to some degree how we let them affect us. This is the difference between a reaction and a response. To react is the product of blind attachment to thoughts and feelings. A response, on the other hand, is a mindful choice with our consciousness at the helm.
Responses tend to lead to more productive outcomes. Reactions, not so much.
By learning to watch our thoughts from a distance, we create a buffer between ourselves and the internal chatter. Over time, we develop an ability to choose how we respond to our thoughts, rather than reacting impulsively.
Even as you begin experiencing this type of mindfulness, your brain won’t stop chattering. But I encourage you to practice daily anyway. You’ll be surprised how you change even though your brain doesn’t.
Our brains can be a horror show. Meditation is about cultivating a different perspective so you’re triggered less by what is just an impersonal part of our biology.