Meditation: haters going to hate
Surprisingly, I enjoyed reading the New York Times article about hating meditation, Can We End the Meditation Madness? Mainly because all their other articles were glowing reviews of new meditation studios popping up in Los Angeles and New York. Their earlier meditation articles were dripping with benefits and interesting personalities. One described a new meditation studio, Unplug, which sounded so enticing I travelled from San Francisco to Los Angeles just to experience a few classes. I wasn’t disappointed when I visited Unplug, it really was a different experience being in a modern meditation paradise.
Yet, since I have become a meditation teacher a few people have confessed that they can’t meditate. I think they are being polite and what they really want to say is that they hate meditating.
So, why do some of us hate meditation?
- We are used to distraction.
- We are scared of our thoughts.
- We find it boring.
- We are perfectionists.
- We can’t sit still.
- We feel lonely while meditating.
On the flip side, why do some people love meditation?
- They use the temptation of distraction as a hurdle to overcome. By retraining their mind they begin to ignore distractions. As evident in scientific studies of the brain, their mind becomes more focused.
- They don’t judge their thoughts. During meditation they are mindful of their thoughts but don’t over-identify with each one.
- They welcome boredom as a part of meditation. After a stage of boredom, they experience stillness, a state of having an empty mind. Meditators see boredom like sweat on a runner, not desirable but essential to get to the endorphins. Scientific studies have shown that meditators experience endorphins.
- They let go of the obsession for perfection. They have enough motivation to start meditating but then while meditating they let go of the need to be perfect. If thoughts arise, they bring themselves back to the meditation. They view the constant refocus as an essential part of meditation, not as evidence they can’t meditate.
- They get used to sitting still or else they select a moving meditation style like active breathing meditation or tai chi.
- To prevent loneliness, meditation-lovers will often join a community of meditators and go to meditation classes. Meditation is often not the reason for loneliness; it is just that when we are alone, we usually distract ourselves by watching TV, listening to music or doing some sort of activity.
In the NYT hating meditation article, Grant says you can get exactly the same benefits from other avenues. True, but you could say that for any sport or wellness activity. The key benefits between playing soccer and playing tennis are fairly similar but a sports scientist could identify specific differences in the physiological benefits. Same to for meditation benefits, there are even specific differences in benefits between meditation styles.
Is meditation for everyone? Yes and no. Sure, anyone can meditate but not everyone will want to. As dance teachers say, “if you can walk, you can dance.” Meditation teachers say, “if you can focus, you can meditate”.
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