Q&A: Top 8 Concerns With Meditation
Meditation has found the limelight recently. With books, podcasts, and apps all aimed at getting people to meditate, it would be hard not to notice this craze.
But, some of us aren’t so easily convinced. And rightly so! Meditation is a strange thing. It’s alien to our regular, everyday experiences. It’s no wonder that people are skeptical.
In this article, I respond to some of the most common questions and concerns that people have with meditation.
#1 Will meditation take away my drive to excel at work, sports, hobbies, or anything else?
When we imagine what meditators look like, we often picture a hippy sitting on a cushion with a serene look on his face. We imagine that this person has no job, no goals, and no purpose. And worse, he’s OK with it.
This is a common misconception. Many successful people meditate. Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Kobe Bryant, Arianna Huffington, Jerry Seinfeld, Joe Rogan, Timothy Ferris, and Katy Perry are examples of big names that meditate.
It’s been my experience that meditation can help you excel by focusing your concentration on the task at hand. It can help you be less distracted by everything else going on in your world.
#2 I’m too impatient to meditate. It’s so boring!
People often balk at the idea of sitting quietly with their thoughts. I mean, when you can be entertained by videos on YouTube, movies and TV shows on Netflix, or your social media feeds, why would you choose to ignore all that and do something so boring?
We’re frequently captivated by what’s going on in the world around us. It’s interesting and exciting, and our fear of missing out is a powerful motivator. This seems to be the status quo for humans. But we often engage with the external world to the detriment of our internal ones.
It’s true — at first, meditation will be boring. You’ll want to do literally anything else. But this is just your mind rebelling against something new. If you stick with it, you’ll begin to see that your mind is anything but boring. There is an entire world of stuff going on in there that you might never otherwise notice. And engaging with that internal world will help you engage with the external one, too.
#3 Will meditation cause me to ignore negative emotions?
Meditation can seem very woo-woo, new age-y, and impractical. It’s often sold as a technique of getting rid of negative emotions and finding peace or bliss. But, is it a good idea to get rid of our negative emotions? Don’t they serve a purpose?
Yes, they absolutely serve a purpose, just as our positive emotions do. The concern that meditation will cause you to ignore your negative emotions is unnecessary. In truth, meditation will move you toward both negative and positive emotions.
Full disclosure: this will be uncomfortable. It’s in our nature to push negative emotions away. We don’t need meditation (or anything else) to do that for us. In time, meditation will help us see negative emotions in a more healthy light — we’ll stop fearing them, pushing them away, or ignoring them.
So, no, meditation won’t cause you to ignore negative emotions — but it will transform your relationship with them.
#4 I’m too busy. I don’t have time to meditate!
We all have busy lives. Between work, family, friends, exercise, household chores, and time to relax, there’s little time for anything else. There are already so many things we’d like to do if only we had the time!
There’s a wonderful Zen proverb that seems apt here:
You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.
Beyond it’s playful and light-hearted nature, this proverb holds some deep-seated wisdom.
We don’t think we have enough time because our minds are always somewhere else — either ruminating on the past or fantasizing about the future. We’re rarely ever fully present and this is a lost opportunity. Meditation can reduce this kind of thinking so that you can derive more value out of each moment. This is akin to giving you more time in your day.
And you don’t need to practice for an hour to see the benefit! Even a couple of minutes, practiced regularly, can make a huge difference.
#5 Will meditating make me a push-over?
When you hear people talk about meditation and mindfulness, they will often use words like love, kindness, and compassion. These are powerful words that can carry with them negative connotations. You might be concerned, for example, that if you meditate you’ll be more easily manipulated or that you won’t stand up for yourself.
It’s true that meditation can cause your perspective toward yourself and others to change, in particular, if taught alongside Buddhist principles. In the beginning, it’s easy to misunderstand or misapply what’s being taught. As a result, there can be a degree of naïveté among beginners.
However, as you progress along this path meditation becomes a shield from manipulation. Meditation develops the skill of mindfulness, which helps to remove the biases we have and the assumptions we make in everyday life. This provides clarity to our circumstances, making it more difficult for us to be manipulated.
As far as standing up for yourself is concerned, meditation helps to develop the skill of compassion, which can be directed to both yourself and others. Because you care about yourself, you won’t simply bend to the will of others. But, because you care about others, you won’t simply bend to the will of your wants and fears, either. Ultimately, meditation will help you strike a wiser balance between wanting what’s best for yourself and wanting what’s best for everyone else.
#6 I feel great, already! Why should I meditate?
Some people look at meditation as only a treatment for mental illness. They believe that since they don’t have a diagnosed problem, meditation won’t be of any use to them.
The question is, can meditation be helpful to everyone? That’s a good question that science is only beginning to answer. Recent studies have shown that meditation reduces stress, increases focus and concentration, improves self-esteem and self-awareness, controls pain, enhances compassion, and improves cognition. Unfortunately, the quality of many meditation studies is low.
Personally, meditation has had a profound positive effect on me. It’s not only made life feel better in general, but it’s also smoothed out the extreme lows that life sometimes deals us.
So, why should you meditate? Because no matter how good you feel now, meditation might help you feel even better tomorrow.
#7 My mind is too busy to meditate
When most people begin to meditate, they automatically assume that the point of meditation is to quiet the mind. So, when they sit to meditate and are immediately bombarded by thoughts and feelings they think, meditation just isn’t for me!
But, this isn’t the point of meditation. There is no quieting the mind. That isn’t how the mind works.
Instead, meditation is about observing the mind, watching what it does, and learning its patterns. And then, when we inevitably find ourselves lost in thought, we simply return our attention to whatever it was we were paying attention to in the first place. This is the practice. It’s simple but damn hard.
#8 Are there any negative side-effects of meditation?
Sam Harris, neuroscientist, podcaster, novelist, and long-time meditator, likens meditation to getting regular exercise. On any journey toward a healthier body, there will be pains and perhaps even injuries. But no one would deny the benefits of taking that journey.
Meditation is no different. It’s probably going to dredge up old memories, thoughts, and emotions that will be difficult to handle. It’s also going to change your relationship to your thoughts and emotions, and this can be unnerving. Effort, perseverance, and maybe even a little faith are required here to move through these difficulties. But you will move through them, and when you do you’ll look back on your journey and be so relieved and grateful that you took it.
Thanks for reading!