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A fascination with, and exploration of, the spiritual-self is a common thread, binding all cultures of the world, traversing space and time. We can see it in the centuries-old use of ayahuasca in the Incan cultures of the Amazon Basin. We can imagine it in the spiritual drive that resulted in the building of the pyramids; a sanctuary offering safe-passage for the deceased pharaoh’s soul. And, we can feel it, in the Sanskrit texts from the Vedic period, detailing the workings of a complex spiritual movement on the Indian Subcontinent, long before the monoliths of Hinduism came into existence.
It is from the Vedas that I developed my understanding of meditation, a practice providing the tools necessary for intrinsic exploration. We all have the ability to easily and effortlessly transcend the mind and journey to the source from which these thoughts are coming. This is the truest essence of what we are, our Atma. From here we can develop a conscious contact with a new spiritual plane; one that has been accessed since prehistoric times by ancient Rishis in the Himalayas. Yet, with all the possibilities for growth that meditation offers, there remains several misconceptions. For that reason, I want to clear up four myths of what meditation is not.
Myth One: I am bad at meditation because I can’t stop thoughts or quiet my mind.
The nature of the mind is to think. The average brain fires off between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts a day. Take solace in this finding; we can’t forgo the automatic workings of the mind. That said, everyone can learn a simple technique and begin implementing it daily with ease. If you can think, you can meditate, it’s that simple.
The only goal we should have with meditation is to do it. The practice of meditation is process-oriented rather than goal-driven. Pivoting to this mindset is freeing; we’re no longer bound to speculation and can relax into the practice. I recommend setting aside fifteen minutes of your day to start. This mental reprieve is just one percent of your day, and with consistent practice, will begin to quickly yield the fruits of its labor. Consistency is important for meditation, as it is for all behavior where you hope to improve over time. If I have a membership to the gym but never went, I can’t blame the gym for lack of muscle growth.
Myth Two: There is no correct way to meditate.
One of the most common questions I receive is, “Why do I need to be taught meditation if it’s a process of self-discovery?” I can best answer this question with a personal anecdote from my childhood. Swim lessons boggled me as a kid. I remember my initial fears early one summer, as I learned to slowly build up a stride, diving head-first into the deep end, and swimming across to the pools side. By the end of the summer I had mastered this sequence, coming back the following summer to learn a variety of strokes from the same instructor. Had I not learned the proper techniques in sequential order from a coach, would I have figured out how to swim efficiently and with grace? Probably not. Would I have been able to get certified as a lifeguard and be able to utilize the techniques learned to then be of service to others? No.
Meditation, like virtually all disciplines, improves with proper instruction and consistent application. Two individuals; one using the doggie paddle and the other slicing through the water with freestyle and flip turns, are both swimming. But, if you asked yourself, who’d you most want to offer you tips on your own swimming, it’s an easy answer.
Myth Three: I don’t have time to meditate.
We make time for things that are important. These things fall into two categories; activities we want to do and activities we need to do. Meditation applies to both categories, and as it becomes habitual, it no longer appears to be taking time from other activities. The idea of meditation has changed for me over the years. At first, I found it difficult to sit for even a very short period of time. I knew meditation was good for the mind, body and spirit, but I didn’t necessarily enjoy it when I was “dabbling.” And when I say “dabbling,” it varied from a few times a week to a few times a year. In reality, I was doing the best I knew how but I did not have a foundation to build on. It was like trying to figure out how to swim after being dropped in to the vastness of the open water ocean.
My lukewarm approach to meditation changed when I learned the simple techniques behind Vedic Meditation, a practice whose use is backed up by hundreds of scientific studies. My practice went from something I “had to do,” to something I “got to do.” This shift in mentality made all the difference, with the fruits of my meditation appearing in the first weeks of persistent practice. Events that use to upset me no longer controlled me, and I developed a new level of introspection. I was now able to sit with myself, alone, in a quiet room, and not feel the urgent need to do something. For me, that was huge.
Myth Four: I can meditate while doing other things.
Now that we’ve covered some primary misconceptions surrounding meditation, I’d like to turn to a question I’m often asked. “Can I meditate while doing other things, like exercising?” The short answer is, no. When we partake in high intensity physical activity the body utilizes the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response). The brain then induces a release of chemicals (e.g. cortisol or adrenaline) indicative of what would have been needed to survive a prehistoric altercation. With the sympathetic nervous system on high alert, or body is unable to alleviate stressors using the parasympathetic nervous system. This precludes proper meditative practice from taking place.
Beyond exercise, there are a couple other things to avoid before meditation. With meditation, we are in the business of de-exciting mind and body. This can’t happen anytime we ingest food or have an intake of caffeine. These catalysts light up our body’s mechanisms, blocking an enjoyable meditative experience. When both mind and body start to de-excite the body can then go into a deep state of profound rest. This is critical as approximately 90 percent of our body’s repair occurs during rest states.
Meditation does not have to be boring, something you struggle through or something you are afraid of doing. In fact, meditation should be none of that. There is a technique it which it can be easy, effortless, beneficial and quite enjoyable.
In February of 2014, I was ranked number one in the nation for a Fortune 500 company’s sales division. Two weeks before our national meeting I totaled the company car crashing into a telephone pole at 50mph. Three days later, I was arrested for DUI in a rental car the company had provided for me. I was bare-chested, in gym shorts and house slippers. Soon after, I received a call from the Vice President and HR agent relinquishing me from my position within the company. That wasn’t enough for me to stop. I kept using, and in May of 2014, woke up in a treatment center after an overdose.
Learning about myself was an inside job and would start with a psychic overhaul via a 12-step program. One of the foundational steps in continuing spiritual growth is the daily practice of prayer and meditation for addiction recovery. My early attempts at meditation were weak, at best, until I heard what I needed at a Santa Monica AA meeting. I can still remember it, “If you are not meditating, then you are not working the 12-steps.” The meditation I learned is a practice of when the mind and body silently experience a mantra and settle down. It takes the mind beyond thought to its most settled state while maintaining full alertness, a state of inner contentedness.
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