The Myth of Meditation
Last updated: May 12, 2020, at 10:33 a.m. PT
Originally published: April 13, 2020, at 6:52 p.m. PT
One of the most persistent myths about meditation is that there’s a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to meditate, that if one doesn’t clear the mind completely then they aren’t ‘doing it right’.
It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to completely clear the mind of any thoughts. Our ability to create stories with the mind is a large part of where our curiosity and rationality come from. These stories, normally brought about through some form of external stimulus, are what kept us safe from danger early in our evolution and are what allow us to dream of a better world.
They goal for meditation isn’t to eliminate all thought and consciousness but to be intentional and mindful with our thoughts; to quiet the mind as much as possible while still allowing a ‘soft focus’.
We live in an overloaded and overstimulated world, though, and it can be difficult to ‘quiet the mind’ or soften our focus when we sit to meditate. As a result, focal points are used to routinely bring the mind back to the present. It is in this action, the consistent and compassionate return to the present moment using some focal point, the true work of meditation happens.
Anything can be a focal point. If you’ve ever found yourself sitting next to a campfire and staring into the flames, watching one flicker high and disappear only for another to take its place, congratulations! You’ve meditated. The action of continually drawing your awareness back to the flames even as other things pull at your mind is the very essence of meditation. Other typical focal points include: the breath, the environment, the body, compassion, and/or some form of mental activity (counting, imagining, etc.)
Focal points can be as simple (listening to the breath) or as complex (a walking meditation with a body scan) as the practitioner wants. Remember, the work of meditation isn’t in having a clear mind to start or in doing something ‘correctly’ but in gently bringing the focus back to the present moment each time we notice it drifting away. If this is difficult at first, that’s completely normal!
The mind is a muscle just like any other and it requires practice and training and, above all else, consistency.