Misunderstanding Meditation

Meditation is not always peaceful

He sits peacefully, while the eye of the storm stares at him. It was a metaphor I attempted to describe meditation, but my fellow participants in one workshop I attended took the phrase as an oxymoron. They thought that meditation is only an experience of peacefulness. They said that such description defies how meditation occurs. Actually, they were correct, because meditation is an act of getting in touch with inner peace. But on the other hand, they missed another aspect of meditation. This is common – I myself romanticized meditation in that way. Most people who have not tried meditation are usually taken aback because they thought that such deep peacefulness may render them insane. Some told me that they felt being eaten away by darkness and silence whenever they close their eyes and meditate longer than usual.

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I came up with this insight when I formally attended a meditation retreat called Vipassana, which means “seeing within”. A teacher from Burma named S.N. Goenka helped propagated this centuries-old Buddhist tradition of paying attention to what the body feels. Whether painful or pleasant, one attains wisdom on the awareness and equanimity one develops as these sensations arise and pass. The Buddha taught that these sensations come and go, and only by being aware of them without reacting against painful sensations or craving for pleasant ones. When you watch participants sit in silence for an hour or so, they would appear so peaceful. Yet from their point of view, such tasks is tedious, since they are not only bothered by physical pains, but also by emotional and mental chaos. However bothersome these pains may be, the goal is to develop utmost patience, complete acceptance and detachment from them.

Waging those wars with personal demons is hardly ever peaceful. Fears of all sorts, along with greediness and hatred strongly burst out from the mind and our bodies react against them. Our romantic views of meditation crumble down and the elusive peace of mind becomes more elusive. But for those who continue to meditate, all these disappointments dissolve eventually, because meditation trains the mind to wait and trust the flow of change. Meditation does not bring any magic or miracle we usually expect. It is always an act of facing the ebb and flow of our inner struggles, knowing that they are not lasting and they bring wisdom – and eventually peace – as they leave.

Meditation is one quantum leap to our most profound potential – to realize our true Loving selves.

Meditation is not clearing one’s thoughts

Most people thought that meditation is to clear one’s thoughts. I have heard people who find meditation so strange in their faith traditions always assume that as the mind is cleared, the demons are free to enter. The idle mind is susceptible to diabolic forces that may control the body to do unwanted actions. Some people feel afraid of losing their minds, others thought clearing the mind is a tremendous challenge. Seeing meditation like any of these is a disservice to its universal character. There is more to just sweeping away the dusts of our minds. Meditation is an experience how the physical and divine coexist in our consciousness. In other words, as we meditate, we are meeting God.

from Microsoft Image

The mind is the foreground of thoughts, and to erase the thoughts is to remove the mind altogether. In meditation, the attempt is not to delete the thoughts nor to remove the mind, but to become aware of their realities. Elevating one’s attention to this level creates a conducive state of stillness, one that is nonreactive to the incoming and outgoing possibilities. Thoughts are technically forms of possibilities and they may either affect us positively or negatively. We allow thoughts to flow like clouds, without any resistance and struggle, knowing that they come and go freely as they continuously change. Thus, meditation is not to clear the mind of thoughts but to clear our perception of how the mind behaves and produces thoughts. Witnessing this process without interfering it is almost an experience of divine awareness.

We misunderstand meditation as much as we misunderstand many things that are foreign and unknown to us. Some devoted religious followers think that meditation is a pagan practice and should not be taught and learned. We think it might replace old traditions of prayer and worship of one’s particular faith. In my first year of doing regular meditations, I was caught in confusion of finding God in this practice. In one of my meditation about seven years ago, trying to connect this practice with the concept of an all-knowing deity conjured up guilty feelings. Later, I perfectly understood that meditation and God are not just compatible, they are actually inseparable.

There are many forms of meditation coming from different religious and secular traditions. They may sometimes come with mantra, movement or imagery. Other forms require music or writing or simply full attention to whatever is occurring. Some seasoned practitioners might say it always matters to choose the right meditation, while others would encourage you to experiment and do whatever works for you. I feel that choosing the technique does not matter as long as you develop the right understanding of the purpose of meditation, and the right intention of cultivating one’s awareness, and ultimately, of one’s Love. Because the bottom line of meditating is not so much more on the elegance of it or on strict adherence to a certain belief or technique. Meditation is one quantum leap to our most profound potential – to realize our true Loving selves.

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12 thoughts on “Misunderstanding Meditation

  1. I love your article Rem! Very inspiring and enlightening. I myself have been practicing meditation for quite a time now, and I still sometimes get caught up with its romantic view. And reading articles like this one makes me realize what its true purpose is and makes me do it again and again. Thanks for reminding me!

    1. Just remembered your story, Gigit. In fact, I just had a thought of you while I was writing this. Thanks to you and for the insights of equanimity! =D

  2. This is a very nice article 🙂 …. Through meditation I learned how to deal better with LIFE’s up’s and down’s. The importance of every practice is how you use them in everyday life (The Art of Living). Learn how to die smiling and learn the art of living. May all beings be happy!

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