Busting the Meditation Myth

If I ask you “What is meditation?”,
what would your answer be?

Many people would answer “stillness of the mind”. But is this the truth? This is like saying that working out at the gym is all about strength.
Well, it is and it isn’t. We work out at the gym in order to build strength. It’s an ongoing practice to take our muscles in directions they may not ordinarily roam, and strength is the ultimate outcome.
This is a great analogy for meditation.
Like working out at the gym, meditation is a practice. It’s not designed to be done once and perfected. Instead, like the gym, it puts the “muscles” of our mind into activities that they don’t normally do, in order to build mental stamina. And the outcome of that mental stamina is moments or minutes of mind stillness.
But asking someone who’s never meditated before to sit for an hour like a Tibetan Monk and still their mind is as impossible as asking someone who’s never built up muscle strength to suddenly lift a 300 kg weight. It just ain’t gonna happen.
So it’s no wonder that people who jump into meditation expecting that they are going to have this instant “stillness of mind” will believe they’ve failed at it, and that it’s “too hard”.
So what is meditation? Well yes, it is a practice. But what type of practice?

Meditation is the practice of mastery of the mind.

In fact, it’s very much like training an animal. Imagine that you are walking your dog in the forest, without a lead. Suddenly, a little squirrel runs past, and your dog is off like a rocket, chasing after it. You call loudly and authoritatively, and eventually your dog loses interest in the squirrel, and comes back to your side and sits down.
But then a butterfly floats past on the breeze, and your dog jumps in the air and races after the butterfly, trying to catch it in mid-flight. Again, you call loudly and authoritatively, and your dog begins to lose interest in the butterfly and hears your voice and comes back to your side and sits down.
Next, a group of people walk up the path beside you and they have a dog. You are telling your dog to sit still, but your dog jumps up and runs over to the new dog and sniffs it from head to tail before deciding it’s allowed to walk past. And finally your dog hears your voice and comes back to your side and sits down.
How many days of practice do you think it would take for your dog to sit still beside you, even while these shiny bright objects are floating past its vision? It’s certainly not going to happen on the first day of training, and it probably won’t even happen on the 10th day of training. Maybe, just maybe, you will see some real progress by the 100th day of training. Meditation is just like this.
Let me bust a myth for you….

So many people say to me, “I can’t meditate because I can’t stop the thoughts.”

What they don’t realise is that there is a process that happens to us when we begin to meditate. When we decide to meditate, we are choosing to place ourselves into a state of non-activity. We interrupt our busy life to sit somewhere quietly. We stop the activity, and relax into the void. And when we give our mind the opportunity to relax and it begins to sink into quietness, the natural by-product of this relaxation is that thoughts emerge in our mind.
So when you are relaxing into a meditation and a thought comes up, this doesn’t mean that you are doing something wrong. It means you are doing something right. The meditation is working, and exactly what’s meant to happen is happening!!!
And this is where the practice comes in. Remember – meditation is a practice of mastery of the mind. So imagine you are the dog, and your thoughts are the shiny bright objects running past you….
As a new meditator, you will sink into relaxation, then the first thought arises, and you are off running after that thought. And after a few seconds or many minutes or maybe even half an hour, you suddenly become aware that you are following this shiny bright object into a train of thoughts.
This is where the mastery comes in. Your role is simple.

As soon as you become aware that you are thinking, you pick up your mind and you bring it back to the place of stillness.

And again, you relax a little deeper in this state, and then the next thought arises (as it should), and you suddenly are off running after this next thought. So when you become aware that you are thinking, you pick your mind up and bring it back to the place of stillness.
This is where the discipline comes in, no different to the discipline we exercise with every repetition we do of lifting a weight.
Why do you think at the gym that we don’t just lift a weight once? Why do we do multiple repetitions? It’s because we are training our muscles. And we then take a period of rest to allow our muscles to recover, and when we come back to our next training session, we are a fraction stronger. Incrementally we progress towards our goal of improved strength, through conscious repetition.
The process in meditation of picking our mind up and bringing it back to stillness is identical to what we do at the gym, except that we are training our mind.
To expect our mind to be totally still with no thoughts for an extended period of time is like asking ourselves to be a master of monks in a single sitting. Sure, with practice those moments of stillness may become longer. But even if they don’t, it’s the act of interrupting the flow of our mind which is the real art of meditation.
Focus on the journey, not the destination, and meditation will deliver to you all its amazing gifts.

The Gifts of Regular Meditation

Regular meditation destresses our body. It reduces adrenaline and cortisol levels (these are our fight/flight and stress hormones). In fact, researchers have shown that meditators experience a nearly 50% reduction in cortisol levels.
Meditation makes us a calmer person. It increases endorphins, our happy hormones (which also combat pain), and it increases gabba (without which we end up anxious, nervous and unable to sleep). In fact, meditation is just as good as physical exercise at increasing endorphins and gabba levels in our body!!!

Meditation helps us access delta states of consciousness – the same states we access in deep sleep, thereby increasing both melatonin and human growth hormone production, in order to keep us rested, youthful, and with a super strong immune system.

With so many benefits to the body,
why wouldn’t you meditate?

The most common reason I hear is, “I don’t have the time”. One of the first types of meditation I ever learned was Transcendental Meditation. It’s a 20 minute meditation, done twice a day. At the time, I had the same thought enter my mind. “I can’t spare 40 minutes each day to meditate! Get real!! I lead a busy life!”
But you know the fascinating thing? I practiced Transcendental Meditation for 3 years without missing a single meditation session….and I found that it gave me time, rather than taking time.
The “me” who was present after 20 minutes of meditation was the best version of myself. I was able to move through the day with great clarity and manifestation powers. I was less easily side-tracked by the inconsequential, and I was focussed and productive.
So should you study Transcendental Meditation? That’s entirely up to you. There are many types of meditation styles available to us, and they all have one thing in common - a resting place for our mind. 
We have something to bring our mind (aka our dog) back to after it’s run off into the woods after the thoughts.
That could be a candle. It could be a word (we call this a mantra, and it’s often a Sanskrit word that we continue to bring our mind back to). It could be a song. It could be someone’s voice as they guide us in a visualisation. It could be the feeling of the air going in and out of our nostrils. It could be our awareness of the pause between our out-breath and our in-breath. It could even be a moving meditation, where we focus on the feeling of our feet touching the earth with each step.

There are so many different styles of meditation, it’s like wearing a new dress every day of the year. And we’re all different, so the style that works for me may not necessarily be the style that best suits you. So choose a style, and explore it for a few months. Then choose another style, and so on.
Give each style the time it needs to show you its gifts. Like a precious flower opening, these gifts may not be immediately obvious, and will need some time to reveal themselves. Practice your meditation regularly, and with your whole heart. Ignore those thoughts that say it’s a chore, and instead bring gratitude to your practice. And cheer yourself on for every moment of stillness that occurs for you, even if it’s a millisecond. Eventually, you will find your “happy place” amidst these different meditation practices, and know which one works best for you, your body and your lifestyle.
After years of regular meditation, the greatest gift it’s given me is the ability to pause before I react. When something triggers me, instead of running off after that trigger like our untrained dog, I’m able to pause. I can sit in the void, in that empty space. And by doing this, other (higher perspective) thoughts and awarenesses come to me.
These empowering thoughts show me why this challenge has entered my life, what I have to learn from it, and how to manage it. These thoughts also show me when something is “not my problem”, ie. it’s purely someone else being triggered, and so I can more easily hold space while they work their way through it, without being sucked down the emotional drainpipe myself.
This means that instead of constantly reacting to life’s triggers, I am able to maintain a grounded balance through 99% of my life’s emotional triggers, and be affected by only 1%. That’s an amazing gift to have. Can you imagine what our world would be like if everyone had this gift? We would spend so much less time caught in emotional dramas, and instead be able to “see” each other and our real needs with such clarity and compassion.
What a beautiful world that would be. Together let’s create that world of joy and harmony through our passionate daily meditation practices.