"Is Meditation A Religious Practice?" & 10 Other FAQs

Recently we asked our content director Hiroko to share some of the questions she often hears in regards to meditation. She has kindly compiled her list below: 

 

I can't stop thinking when I meditate! How can I silence my brain?

The brain is ALWAYS in activity and always doing something. Its activity (measured in terms of electrical activity) constantly shifts from processing info, to worrying, to getting excited, to having a new idea. When we meditate, we are not aiming to stop the brain. That would be impossible. The point is to become better at noticing what is happening- in other words noticing when we are processing info, worrying, getting excited etc. and not judging or reacting.

I think meditation is too difficult. Maybe I am not cut for it.

Even Zen masters have wandering minds. Everyone’s brain gets distracted (or attracted) by streams of thoughts. This is a normal part of the meditation practice. The difficulty is trusting that this is what the process is all about, and letting go of the false myth that meditation is about not getting distracted.  You are cut for it if you can accept this.

Even after meditation I still feel sad, or I am nervous. Isn’t meditation supposed to make you happy all the time?

The goal of meditation is to learn tools to observe what we feel, think or sense and to build resilience towards it. The goal is not necessarily to feel happiness, or pleasure all the time.

Is meditation similar to relaxation?

Meditation can lead to relaxation, but they are not the same thing. In meditation we observe what is, and sometimes relaxation can be a by-product of that observation but the point is to learn to not judge or react to the internal experience.

Is meditation a religious practice?

Meditation is a form of practice that helps train the brain and the mind. It can, or cannot, be incorporated into religious devotional practices. Mindfulness meditation stems from a secular tradition. Incense and bells can be part of a ritual, and some of us find that rituals help sustain the practice. But the ritual is just an adjunct to the practice, and not the practice itself.

If I just sit and observe what is in my mind, will that not make me a lazy person?

Mindfulness practice supports a perspective in which I am better able to self-regulate and to observe what is happening inside of me. Using a car metaphor, it is almost as if I become better able to read the control panel of my car, so that I am a better driver, and I can drive my car to my desired direction more easily, readily, and with less effort.

 If I just sit and observe what is in my mind, will I not just become self-indulgent or selfish?

The kinder I am to myself, the fuller my tanks will be to give, support, and sustain others. The more I take care of myself,  the more resources, patience, kindness, and insight I will have to give to others.

Should meditation not be taught for free? Why do you charge money?

In the Buddhist tradition the teachings are given freely because they are considered priceless. The fees of our MOMENT courses and classes serve to pay rent, studio costs and support our teachers in continuing to offer their teachings. Every Sunday there is a generosity-based class to honour that tradition and open opportunities to those of us that find normal fees a limitation to the practice.

How do you measure the effects of meditation?

The body reacts to the stress we experience in the brain. This reaction is expressed in physiological changes such as increased heart rate, increased muscle tension, decreased peripheral temperature, increased peripheral micro-sweat, decreased heart rate variability, shallow, short breathing. These physiological reactions are measurable through sensors that can be placed on your skin.

With meditation, we learn to react differently to stress, without judging or over-reacting. This change in the response to stress quantifiable and can give an idea of our progress in the meditation practice, keeping in mind that meditation is not a competition.

How many times do I need to do it every day? What if I do not have time?

There is a quote (supposedly by Gandhi) that says that if we don’t have one hour to meditate then we should meditate for two. Meditation is a practice and cultivating this practice makes us better at it. (Just like surfing or cycling, or any other activity we want to excel at.) With meditation, the more we practice, the more fruitful use we make of our time, the more productive we become in executing the tasks we need to execute in our daily life (going grocery shopping, taking care of our children, gardening, writing an email, liaising with clients, responding to our boss etc.). So even if initially we might be under the impression that we don’t have enough time, we could actually observe that in introducing a daily meditation practice, we end up having more time. When we start meditating, we can start with a 5-10 minutes-daily practice. As we become more comfortable, we can increase the time we invest in it.