Research has shown that meditating can benefit one’s health, but some people seem to have negative experiences with the practice. One recent article describes how meditation “really sucked sometimes” for the writer when she first tried it. The article explains that meditation can come with expectations that it will cure every ill, and that these expectations led the writer to have a frustrating experience with the practice. The article also points out that in some cases meditation can exacerbate anxiety rather than alleviate it.
Why does meditation seem to fail some people when it works for others? Does it really suck?
Don’t Call It Meditation
Actually, I’m not convinced that the writer mentioned above was really practicing meditation when it “sucked” for her. Instead, I suspect that she, like some other disappointed meditators, might have been confused about what meditation is and isn’t.
Let’s be clear about what meditation isn’t. Sitting in a full lotus position on the floor with your eyes closed is not meditation, though it may look cool. Meditation is primarily about what’s happening inside of you, so whether you’re sitting on the floor or in a chair, lying down, or standing isn’t so important.
Focusing on your breath is also not meditation. Don’t get me wrong: breathing is a beautiful thing and definitely worth learning to appreciate, but focusing on the breath is a a technique to help us meditate, not meditation itself. If we practice the technique but miss the essence of the art, then our practice won’t yield results.
The Essence of Meditation
The essence of meditation is being in a meditative state of mind. You know you’re in the right state of mind when you are relaxed and focused at the same time. Getting into that state of mind is the crucial first step of meditation practice and where some practitioners may hit a wall.
To enter a meditative state of mind, you have to relax deeply and calm down the rational part of your brain, the part of you that has thoughts and worries (including worries about whether meditation will help you). The writer I mentioned earlier probably didn’t enter a meditative state of mind, which would explain why she was caught up in her own expectations and wasn’t enjoying her practice.
If you meditate for twenty minutes when you have lots of tension in your mind and body, then you are holding tension for twenty minutes. That might not feel pleasant.
But meditation need not be arduous. Entering the right state of mind can actually feel really good, sort of like chilling out in a hot tub.
In Shaolin Cosmos Chi Kung we use a technique called Standing Zen to relax and enter the right state of mind for our practice. This technique involves standing, but it also works with other postures. For practitioners in our school, Standing Zen is the doorway into meditation and ensures that we enjoy our practice and benefit from it.
You can learn Standing Zen, and much more, by joining a class.