Free Guided Meditations
OVERCOMING FEAR OF MEDITATION
Written by Kristin Walsh on September 1, 2014
I thought, what if I’m bad at meditating? Maybe that would mean my soul was beyond repair. I also worried that my mind—under the unforgiving, scary light of the inward gaze—might look something like my body in the wall-to-wall mirror of a Filene’s Basement dressing room. So I didn’t exactly want to look.
I read a funny study from the University of Virginia recently. Left on their own for 15 minutes, a majority of men and a quarter of women chose to give themselves a painful electric shock rather than sit alone with their own thoughts. So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that many of us fear meditating for the first time.
“I was so freaked out, the only way I could start meditating was to do it for one minute,” a woman admitted to me the other day. “I figured I could do anything for one minute. I built up from there.” Many others report that they’ve wanted to meditate for years, but just… don’t. Others settle for something a little more comfy: they listen to relaxation CDs while lying in bed and dozing.
Of course, many of us fear meditation because we’re scared of what we might find when we finally close our eyes to look inside. Notice, however, that we have no problem doing this lying on a couch or sitting on a bus. This tells us that, for many of us, the idea of “meditation” is loaded with heavy assumptions and expectations. So here are five straightforward truths to clear those scary ideas away and reduce your fear of meditation.
1. Everyone experiences an unruly, distracted mind when they first start to meditate. In fact, there are nine traditional levels of meditation (first espoused by the Buddha), and the first level is literally just trying to put your mind on a virtuous meditation object. The next couple levels are about reducing distraction and staying on the object more and more—something akin to teaching a puppy dog to sit and stay. This means that even in the time of the Buddha, 2,500 years ago, people without Twitter or Facebook were plagued with unruly, distracted minds. This fact should be comforting. It tells us that we’re not flawed or bad or doomed to be poor meditators because we don’t have great concentration at first; we’re just human.
2. You don’t need to watch your breath. Contrary to popular impressions, the Buddha taught countless meditation objects for people of different capacities, and the breath is just one of them—and the most “neutral.” Different objects will click with different people, so it’s important to work with meditations that you feel personally attracted to and inspired by. If you dread the thought of just watching your breath, you may actually have inclinations for more spiritually charged meditation objects or more analytical ones. The reason we meditate is because we have problems and emotions—and now we're finally trying to get at their root by meditating.Test and find out for yourself by working with tried-and-true meditation objects beyond the breath through guided meditations such as those available from GoBeyond.org.
3. The aim of meditation isn’t to enter a mystical “blank” state. There’s a popular misconception that meditation means clearing your mind of everything and just being. Accomplished masters throughout the centuries have repeatedly warned against this type of meditation, countering that if clearing your mind was all you needed to do to reach enlightenment, then anyone who got drunk and passed out would have arrived. Instead, we need to develop a cognizing wisdom that penetrates beyond stories and fabrications in our mind. And that requires the development of problem-solving meditation techniques championed by the Buddha in sutras (teachings by the Buddha) such as The King of Concentration Sutra and by Buddhist meditation masters like Master Kamilashila (approximately 750 C.E.) in The Steps of Meditation and Je Tsongkapa, the founder of the lineage of the Dalai Lamas. So, don’t worry—the pressure to achieve a mystical void is off.
4. In order to meditate, you don’t need to morph into a person with no problems, confusion, or emotions. The reason we meditate is because we have problems and emotions—and now we’re finally trying to get at their root by meditating. So instead of suppressing problems in order to meditate, you can investigate your stories and beliefs through the lens of wisdom. Rather than being alone with your scary, suffering, ordinary mind, you get to go on a fun journey to understand how the enlightened mind works and then slowly make the switch.
5. You do need support and guidance—and you have it. To avoid the trap of just stewing in your problems while sitting in a meditation position, you do need some guidance. After all, you get help to learn the simplest of things. And if you are going to take on the human mind, you better get some really good help.
Seek guidance from experienced meditators who draw from authentic, tried and true teachings, so you can learn meditation techniques that you can trust, step by step. This will develop a solid foundation that will allow you to use meditation for its ultimate purpose: to remove ignorance—and the pain that comes from ignorance—and replace it with wisdom and love.
If you’re interested in overcoming your fear of meditation and learning from authentic sources in a non-scary way, I invite you to explore the resources available at GoBeyond.org. Every guided GoBeyond.org audio meditation is accompanied by a short, introductory teaching video, an inspiring visual presentation of the scriptural sources from which the meditation is drawn, and a bulleted outline of the meditation. GoBeyond.org provides these materials to give you the skills and confidence to build your own, solid practice over time. And there’s nothing scary about it.
Questions? Comments? Become a GoBeyond.org member and visit the GoBeyond.org Meditation Forum. We’re here to support you in developing your daily meditation practice. Please share this post with others who might benefit, and thank you for having the courage to meditate!
GoBeyond.org is a nonprofit offering meditation and life-changing wisdom
from tried-and-true, authentic scriptural sources in the Mahayana Buddhist and Yoga lineages. The co-founders recently completed a three-year meditation retreat after a combined twenty years of detailed study.
We help people of all backgrounds and faiths develop a daily meditation practice and clear personal obstacles to increase happiness.
Our approach relies on meditations and practices central to Mahayana Buddhism (The Greater Way) and Master Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. While wisdom and love belong to no particular tradition, the art of meditation has been best articulated and preserved within these traditions.
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