When I began meditating in 1984, most people I talked to about it would stare at me blankly, then quickly change the subject or shake their head and walk away. These days, discussions of meditation and mindfulness appear everywhere from business and medical journals, to addiction and trauma recovery groups, to education conferences. In this article, you’ll learn why so many are turning to these techniques and how to avoid common misconceptions, dangers, and potential pitfalls.
By recent reports, you might think meditation and mindfulness are a “panacea” (cure all) for everything that ails you. Programs are sprouting up in hospitals for pain management, in prisons for inmate reform, and in military, police, and emergency response settings to help handle intense situations and recover from PTSD therapist.
These techniques are used as a support in psychotherapy-for addiction and trauma recovery, defusing self-sabotage, increasing self-awareness, and taming self-criticism. They are increasingly sought after for dealing with the stress of living in our fast-paced, threat-sensitive world. To feed this demand, countless apps promise to bestow the benefits of these practices at the push of a button.
Yet, with the rise in popularity of mindfulness and meditation, I’ve begun to see some contrarian headlines, such as “New Study Shows Meditation Doesn’t Make You Happier, More Creative,” “Meditation Not a Panacea,” or “Christians Should Be Wary of Meditation.”
As a meditation teacher, I hear beginning students say things like:
• “Meditation was supposed to be relaxing-but it made me irritated.”
• “Meditation was supposed to feel good, but it made me more stressed out.”
• “I thought meditation would help me sleep, but it gave me nightmares.”
• “I thought meditation was supposed to help me accept myself, but it made me more self-critical.”
• “I am more aware of my impulsiveness than ever. How is this helping me?”
What’s going on here?
(Hint: Meditation doesn’t “make these things happen.” It reveals them. Meditation and mindfulness make you more aware of what’s happening in your subconscious mind.)
Let’s demystify meditation and mindfulness by defining them clearly, so you can assess their function and effectiveness, understand misconceptions, and avoid dangers and potential pitfalls.
Meditation and Mindfulness Defined
By meditation I mean, “Mindfully focusing your attention on a specific focal object for a period of time.” It’s about training your mind to consciously focus your attention. It’s that straightforward.
A focal object in meditation can be the sensations of breathing, a mantra or focusing phrase, the stream of your thoughts and feelings, the presence of God, a blank wall, or a candle flame. Focusing on chosen focal objects develops your ability to pay attention, be present, and fully engage with what you are doing.