What Meditation Really Is

I’ve never been into mediation despite its growing popularity and “trendiness” among entrepreneurs and the self improvement crowd. Meditation always seemed as though it was supposed to be some transcendent, out of body, or other worldly experience with chakras aligning and your “third eye” opens when you sit in a very specific “criss-cross applesauce” position with your fingers in a precise arrangement while you chant certain words or sounds. I even thought that meditation meant “clearing your mind” of all thoughts and having your mind be totally blank, which I think is next to impossible unless you’re dead and the only time I’ve ever come to a thoughtless state was when I was about 9 years old riding my horse Alfie. It’s never happened since I don’t believe it will. I don’t think that’s what mediation is. What shifted my perspective was a talk from Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor who works a lot with technology and human interaction.

During Sherry’s talk (about 4:15) she cited some research that had asked college students to sit alone without their phones or a book for 6 to 15 minutes. Before starting, the students were asked if they would decide to give themselves an electroshock during that 6 to 15 minute time frame of sitting alone. The students said no. But after about 6 minutes, they began to give themselves electroshocks. They couldn’t be alone with themselves.

And that’s what mediation is. Meditation isn’t all that “woo-woo” chakra alignment third eye stuff. I suppose meditation can include all of that stuff if you want it to and if you believe in it. But meditation, at its core, is simply being alone with yourself, your thoughts, and your feelings without any distractions or escape or “noise.” (Noise is what I call any trivialities in life whether it’s thoughts, notifications, TV or something I stumble upon online.)

I think the main reason for mediation’s growing popularity in Western society is because technology has become an emotional pacifier, simultaneously creating and quelling our anxieties and uncomfortable feelings. We lost the ability to sit with our thoughts and our feelings and technology gives us an escape. I remember doing this as young as 4 years old when my mom would leave for work at nights and my dad would be taking care of my baby brother. I would be incredibly sad without my mom and with no one else to play with and nothing to do, I’d put a tape into the VCR. It never really worked though and I soon learned that I the only way for me to truly escape my own sadness was to cry myself to sleep. I’m not sure if escapism through sleep is any healthier than through technology. But I will say that I don’t think it’s a total coincidence that naps are trendy among us young people nowadays.

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People say that mediation can help with focus, anxiety, depression and self confidence. Now that I have redefined what I see mediation as, this makes a lot of sense and it’s not because people are “aligning their chakras.” By learning how to be with oneself, without technology, we reduce our need for that emotional pacifier, we reduce our anxiety and depression. We develop self confidence because we learn who we are and we come to terms with that.

For me, writing is how I meditate. I use to think that meditation meant doing nothing other than sitting still and not thinking but I don’t think that anymore. I count writing as mediation because when I write, I sit alone with my thoughts and feelings, often late at night when the house is quiet, and as I write, I process those thoughts and feelings and I release them onto the page. I’ve been journaling since January 2017 and since then, I’m happy to say that the depression and anxiety I once experienced have all but been eradicated. Now I experience merely a shadow of the tidal waves of depression that I used to feel and this mild, brief feeling usually coincides with my menstrual cycle. It is no longer overwhelming and constant like it was. I’m not saying that journaling was the one and only cure because it wasn’t. There were a lot of other things I had to change to help myself from leaving the religion I once believed in to dropping out of college. But journaling helped tremendously.

For you, your type of meditation might be the classic sit and do nothing type of mediation. You may be aligning your chakras and opening your third eye. That is wonderful for you. Your type of meditation may be singing or quietly and aimlessly playing with LEGO’s (my counselor had me do this even though I was like 16). You may not even like to call it mediation. That’s perfectly alright. Whatever form of meditation you choose, I would just encourage every one to sit alone with themselves and their thoughts and feelings without any escape or distractions.

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