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Three Myths About Meditation, Busted



You know this one. Fill in the blank with your favorite excuse:

“I can’t meditate because…”

  • “…it’s hard for me to sit still.”
  • “…I have a lot of thoughts.”
  • “…I get sleepy.”
  • “…I’ve had a difficult life.”
  • “…I don't have time.”
  • “…Yadda yadda yadda.”

I literally hear some version of this, from at least one student, almost every time I teach meditation. The funny thing is, the people who say this always seem to actually believe that they are different from other people, uniquely challenged in the practice of meditation because __________.

Here’s the thing. You are not different. Your challenges are not unique. Everyone has had a difficult life. Everyone finds it hard to sit still. Everyone is busy. Everyone has a lot of thoughts. Everyone gets sleepy. Everyone in the history of the world who has ever meditated finds it challenging in one way or another. If it wasn’t challenging, it wouldn’t be a practice.

Imagine going to a cycling class, and telling the instructor, “I can’t cycle because my heart rate increases.” “I can’t cycle because I get sweaty.” “I can’t cycle because I’m not in shape.”

The real reason you think you can’t meditate is because you’re not used to meditating. Keep practicing.



This myth is closely related to the first one, and it’s usually the main reason people think they are so bad at meditation. Chances are, you plopped down for your very first meditation session and you were surprised to discover how wild and untamed your mind really is. You have thoughts! A lot of them! Perhaps you spent the majority of the meditation session thinking, and realizing you were thinking, and beating yourself up for thinking, and thinking about your thinking.

My standard reply to this is: “Welcome to the human race.”

Here’s the thing. You can’t actually stop thoughts. A Tibetan aphorism says, “Trying to meditate without thoughts is like trying to have tea without leaves.” What you can do, over time, with practice, is learn to stop taking your thoughts quite so seriously. You can learn to stop being hooked by every thought that comes along, and simply observe thoughts as they come and go. Meditation creates a larger sense of space in the mind, so there’s more room to accommodate everything. When thoughts are allowed to come and go – that is, when you neither follow them nor try to suppress them – they lose their power to define you or control you.

Thoughts are like stray animals: if you stop feeding them, they don’t come around as much.



You might be surprised by how many people stay away from meditation because they believe this myth.

At the beginning of a meditation class, I usually check to see who’s brand new to meditation. If I’m feeling mischievous, I say something like, “Okay, we’re going to chant ‘Hare Krishna’ for 30 minutes.” I watch their faces go pale for a few seconds before telling them, “Just kidding!”

Sure, plenty of people meditate in a religious way – following gurus, wearing special clothing, burning incense, chanting in foreign languages. Most meditation practices originated from religious traditions like Buddhism, if you trace them back to their historical roots. And you certainly won’t find any shortage of New Agey teachers and spiritual woo-woo when you look around at the meditation scene.

However, the same could be said of yoga. If you want to make meditation or yoga religious or self-consciously spiritual, you certainly can. But at heart, the practice is really very simple and ordinary. Meditation lets you relate more openly, more honestly, and more compassionately with your mind, your body, and your life. Step One in that process is slowing down enough to actually *see* what’s going on in your mind, your body and your life. And that begins with putting your butt down on the cushion, chair, or floor and engaging in a simple practice that grounds you in presence. Then you can let the qualities of presence, openness, and compassion transform your life, your relationships, and your actions.

If you find that to be a spiritual experience, then you have grokked the deeper meaning of spirituality, which has nothing to do with gurus, special clothing, incense, crystals, or mystical experiences. But that’s a topic for another time.

Enjoy your practice.



Dennis Hunter is the author of the forthcoming book The Four Reminders: A Tibetan Guide to Living and Dying Without Regret (2017) and You Are Buddha: A Guide to Becoming What You Are (2014). He teaches meditation classes and workshops at Equinox, Pure Yoga, and other venues.

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