Home SpiritualitySpiritual Wisdom Truths of Tranquility: Dispelling Misconceptions about Meditation

Truths of Tranquility: Dispelling Misconceptions about Meditation

A man on the top of a mountain is sitting in a meditation posture while being in harmony with nature.

In the frenetic, ever-accelerating world we inhabit, where the clamor of external stimuli grows louder, the ability to find stillness within has evolved from a luxury to a necessity. The practice of meditation, once deemed fringe or unconventional in Western society, now plays a pivotal role in our shared pursuit of personal wellness. This dramatic shift in perception owes much to the pioneering efforts of Jack Kornfield, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Sharon Salzberg, and Joseph Goldstein. These trailblazing figures, through meticulous advocacy work, began paving the way for mainstream acceptance of these practices in the 70s, while endorsing them as vital tools for nurturing wholeness.

Recent surveys underscore the magnitude of this shift. With 17.1% of American adults now incorporating meditation into their weekly routines, the practice has transformed from being an eccentricity of the counterculture movement into a cultural phenomenon built upon reputable scientific research. Yet, in the face of this rise in popularity, a shadow of misconceptions continues to cloud the true essence of mindfulness-based activities. Even as we celebrate the newfound acceptance, it becomes imperative to dismiss the misunderstandings about meditation that obscure the practice’s true potential. 

Debunking 10 Limiting Misconceptions about Meditation:

An image shows a woman sitting, in a meditation posture, in a desert with sand dunes around her. This picture is used in Balanced Achievement's article on the misconceptions about meditation.Here, we’ve done our best to dispel 10 of the most common myths about meditation that limit practitioners’ ability to find inner stillness within. For new meditators, especially, understanding the truth about these misconceptions can help overcome the disheartening feelings that arise when believing these fallacies.

1.) Meditation completely clears the mind of thoughts:

One of the most widespread misbeliefs about meditation is that the practice should completely clear the mind of thoughts. In reality, the essence of meditation is not about achieving a completely blank mind, but rather, observing and acknowledging the thoughts that inevitably arise without engaging or passing judgment on them. This process is akin to watching clouds pass by in the sky, simply observing their forms without attempting to change or control them. Over time, with consistent practice, this mindful approach can transform our relationship with our inner dialogue, fostering a deeper sense of acceptance and understanding of our mental processes. The iconic American meditation instructor Sharon Salzberg tells us:

Meditation is not a matter of trying to stop thinking or make your mind go blank but rather to realize when your attention is wandering and to simply let go of the thoughts and begin again. It is a way of changing our relationships to our thoughts, so we’re not consumed by them, with no sense of space. Having a newly spacious relationship to our thoughts brings both peace and freedom.”

2.) Benefits only come from meditating for long periods of time:

The notion that significant benefits from meditation can only be gleaned from lengthy, sustained sessions is common but incorrect. While it’s true that extended practice can be deeply enriching for experienced meditators, someone just starting out can actually build their capacity for focus and tranquility more effectively by meditating for shorter durations multiple times a day. Additionally, regardless of experience level, taking just 30 seconds or 1 minute to pause and center one’s self in a moment of mindfulness is a great way to bring a bit of clarity and calm into their daily activities. The celebrated psychologist, meditation teacher, and best-selling author Tara Brach tells us about the power of sacredly pausing:

A pause by nature is time limited. We resume our activities, but we do so with increase presence and more ability to make choices. When we pause, we don’t know what will happen next. But by disrupting our habitual behaviors, we reconnect with the present moment and open to the possibility of new and creative ways of responding.”

3.) Meditation is strictly a religious or spiritual practice:

Meditation is often pigeonholed as a holy or devotional practice due to its historical ties with the religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. Yet, the truth is that meditation, at its core, is a tool for cultivating awareness and equanimity, and its usefulness extends far beyond the spiritual sphere. Its application in stress management, cognitive health, and even professional development has been widely recognized in clinical and scientific contexts, making it an integral part of many therapeutic interventions built upon the grounds of secularity. It’s certain that the universal benefits of meditation transcend religious boundaries, making it a powerful self-care tool for individuals from all walks of life. The famed creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Jon Kabat-Zinn tells us:

Meditation is simply about being yourself and knowing something about who that is. It is about coming to realize that you are on a path whether you like it or not, namely, the path that is your life. Meditation may help us see that this path we call our life has direction; that it is always unfolding, moment by moment; and that what happens now, in this moment, influences what happens next.

4.) Meditators practice to escape reality:

Another prevalent but misguided misconception about meditation is that individuals use the practice as a means to escape reality. The truth, however, is that meditative practices are far from serving as a form of escapism or avoidance. In fact, because the instructions encourage us to lean into the present moment and engage with whatever is before us at that time, meditation should be considered to be the complete opposite. By practicing meditation, individuals are able to foster a deeper connection to their inner and outer worlds and navigate life with greater attention. The immortalized Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells us:

Meditation is not to escape from society, but to come back to ourselves and see what is going on. Once there is seeing, there must be acting. With mindfulness, we know what to do and what not to do to help.”

5.) Practitioners have to sit cross-legged on the floor:

The stereotypical image of a meditator sitting cross-legged on the ground has perpetuated the belief that this lotus posture is a prerequisite for practice. However, in reality, meditation can be practiced by nearly everyone, regardless of their physical limitations or needs for comfort. The key is to adopt a posture that promotes a state of relaxed alertness, and we can do this just as easily in a chair as we can sitting uncomfortably on the floor. By sitting upright while maintaining an erect spine, and relaxing the other parts of our body, we can discourage states of sleepiness as we bring ourselves into the here and now. Additionally, because we can bring mindfulness with us anywhere we go, daily activities like walking, doing the dishes, and commuting to work can become our meditation practice. The celebrated American spiritual teacher Adyashanti tells us:

Meditation is not something restricted to times of formal seated meditation; it is most fundamentally an attitude of being—a resting in and as being. Once you get the feel of it, you will be able to tune into it more and more often during your daily life. Eventually, in the state of liberation, meditation will simply become your natural condition.”

6.) Only certain types of people can meditate:

 The myth that only certain ‘types’ of people can meditate serves to limit the recognition of meditation’s inherent universality. As an egalitarian practice, meditation is open to all, irrespective of age, gender, cultural background, personality type, disposition, or physical limitations. Its principles and benefits are universal, making it a tool accessible to anyone wanting to cultivate mindfulness and enhance well-being. Moreover, because the practice can be tailored to individual preferences, lifestyles, and beliefs, its versatility and appeal are more far-reaching than many think. The great Hindu sage Rajneesh proclaims:

Meditation is the only cure for all sicknesses that man is prone to; a single medicine. And I should remind you that the word meditation and medicine come from the same root. Medicine for the body and meditation for the soul. They both bring health.”

7.) Meditation always leads to peace and calm:

It’s a common belief that meditation invariably induces a state of peace and calm. In truth, the journey of meditation often brings us into contact with uncomfortable emotions and thoughts. Rather than a tranquility-producing panacea, meditation serves as a vehicle for self-exploration and understanding, helping us navigate our mental landscape with compassion and acceptance. It provides a safe and non-judgmental space where we can courageously confront our anxieties, fears, and other challenging emotions, promoting an increased understanding of ourselves. Oftentimes, it isn’t until we put time into these endeavors compassion that the blissful calm arises. The beloved Buddhist nun Pema Chodron reminds us:

Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we already are.”

8.) Meditation can quickly fix all life’s problems:

The notion that meditation can promptly resolve personal problems underestimates the nuanced nature of the practice. While it can certainly foster insights and promote long-term mental and emotional resilience, meditation is not a silver bullet to fix each and every challenge we face. It’s a journey of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and personal growth that unfolds over time. It’s more about learning to sit with our issues, observing them without judgment, and gaining clarity about their roots and influences, rather than providing a quick fix. Thich Nhat Hanh expounds wisdom on the subject:

Meditation is not meant to help us avoid problems or run away from difficulties. It is meant to allow positive healing to take place. To meditate is to learn how to stop—to stop being carried away by our regrets about the past, our anger or despair in the present, or our worries about the future.”

9.) Meditation is just daydreaming:

For meditation to be equated to daydreaming, there has to be a clear misunderstanding about the role focused attention and alertness play in one’s practice. Unlike daydreaming, which involves unknowingly allowing the mind to wander without direction, meditators intentionally aim to cultivate a state of present-moment awareness. It teaches us to steer our attention consciously, helping us to live more fully in the here and now, and reduce the automaticity that often governs our behaviors and thoughts. As a result, we become more attuned to our experiences, developing a more profound appreciation for the world around us and our place within it. The immortalized Hindu Swami Paramahansa Yogananda tells us: 

Meditation is ‘active calmness.’ Passive calmness, as in sleep or idle daydreaming, is essentially different from active calmness-the positive state of peace found in scientific meditation.”

10.) Meditation requires a perfectly quiet environment:

Finally, the myth that meditation demands a perfectly quiet environment is often a barrier for beginners. While a peaceful comfortable setting can be conducive, the essence of meditation lies in cultivating internal stillness wherever we find ourselves, regardless of the noise, temperature, or presence of other annoyances. The path of meditation inspires us to work through our mind’s unsatisfactory nature so we’re able to access an inner sanctuary of calm even in the midst of the hustle and bustle of daily life. Moreover, by training in mindfulness and equanimity, we come to realize that meditation is a way of being much more so than a state only accessible with absolutely perfect conditions. Sharon Salzberg adds to this by saying: 

Meditation is the ultimate mobile device; you can use it anywhere, anytime, unobtrusively.

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