Monday, March 3, 2008

Meditation Myths and Half Truths #1

Myth #1: One must be able to keep a still mind to meditate.

Well, if that were true, there’d be no meditators worldwide! Minds are meant to think--that is their job. It takes little effort to imagine where we’d be as a species were our minds geared toward emptiness. We need these active brains of ours to do many of the tasks an abundant human life requires--language acquisition and communication, problem solving, effectively meeting the demands of our day, engaging future challenges--to name a few.

An active mind is simply performing the task for which it was designed: thinking. The bugaboo, of course, is that these busy minds of ours can impede other endeavors that are also essential to a rich human experience. Enjoying a precious moment fully. Relinquishing struggle. Letting go into the Sacred. Trusting. Accepting what is.

This is where meditation comes in. Meditation is, in part, the practice of learning to be right here, right now. The truth in this myth is that minds do need to learn to be still if important experiences in life--of life--are to be fully savored. Minds can learn this and they will, with a little coaching. But to believe a quiet mind is a prerequisite to growing a vibrant meditation practice is erroneous. It is also harmful, as it seems to be the most common reason folks give for not meditating--and in the process, missing the bounty such steady exercise can bring.

Imagine taking this notion into any other activity. How many brain surgeons, skiers, mechanics, artists, parents--and the list goes on--would there be if folks believed they had to already be accomplished in their field before entering it? It is just as ludicrous to assume one needs an already still mind to begin to meditate, or to continue once the first blush has passed.

What one does need is a method of working with the mind and a way to conceptualize the process. Sally Kempton, in The Heart of Meditation (see the Resources section of my website,, shares a friendly view of the mind’s busyness that works magnificently for me. She describes our individual minds as infinitesimal manifestations of the vast mind of the Infinite. The force that breathes the galaxies into and out of existence finds simply another expression in our small brains, ceaselessly spinning their own creations.

Wow! Suddenly, I was able to call a truce in my struggle with my frisky mind. Of course it is a monkey, swinging from vine to vine! Fashioning lianas out of nothing is simply another expression of the creative force that supports the whole Universe. I got it!

This conceptualization brings me to my cushion with a more benevolent perspective of my mind’s shenanigans. I am more warmhearted toward the thoughts that inevitably arise, and much less likely to shove them harshly away or berate myself for not being a ‘better’ meditator.

This doesn’t mean I let the creations of an energetic mind run roughshod as I sit. I make a conscious choice to suspend creating--just for now--so that I might more fully receive. Thoughts do, indeed, arise; however, as I withdraw the energy of my consciousness from them, they just as quickly dissolve. I come back to simple, quiet awareness...again, and again, and again.

When I do so gently and with good humor, the tenor of my thoughts seems softer as well. They seem to get that I’m not out to obliterate them, just to infuse a bit of balance. We’re kinder, more neighborly these days, my thoughts and I. The edges of an inner peace are tasted from the get-go.

As I learn to approach the inevitable fabrications of my mind with grace, something new is occurring. At times I am able to maintain my larger awareness while a thought comes into existence. My consciousness at these moments does not shrink into the narrow confines of that thought; rather, it is able to hold the thought within a larger panorama. When I can maintain an awareness of the cosmos, there is no need to blot out the planet of a particular idea or begrudge its orbit around the sun of my ego. I am able to simply be with this manifestation of the Dance. These moments are still rare, and all the more precious because of it.

So, while it is certainly true that, with practice, our minds learn to be quieter for longer periods of time, it is absolutely NOT a prerequisite for meditation. A commitment to staying with the process is. With that commitment, meditation becomes similar to any other relationship: it grows and deepens over time, and opens onto vistas one could not have anticipated.

My mind leans toward the meandering and the rowdy. She’s not the attentive, straight-A student in the front row. No. She’s the one in the back of the room, alternately covering her notebook with doodles, passing notes, staring out the window, and hurling spit balls at her classmates. Though, I must say, with this friendlier view, even this student is settling down.

The point is, if I can meditate, certainly other persons on this planet can do the same. I’d love to hear about your efforts.


Loanne Marie

PS. For other Meditation Myths and Half-Truths in this series, please see Myth #2, Myth #3, and Myth #4. I'd love to hear about your experiences!

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Leia Marie