Here is the full transcript of Vedic meditation teacher Light Watkins’ TEDx Talk: Debunking the 5 Most Common Meditation Myths at TEDxVeniceBeach conference. This event took place on February 22, 2015 at Los Angeles, California. Light Watkins is the author of the book The Inner Gym: A 30-day workout for strengthening Happiness. To learn more about the speaker, read the bio here.
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Light Watkins – Vedic meditation teacher
Raise your hand if you have meditated with success. Ah, a lot of hands dropped. OK.
Let’s just be honest. Meditation has a huge image problem and I’ve been in the meditation space for about 15 years, starting off as a practitioner and then I apprenticed my teacher, my meditation master for many years. And for the last eight years, I have been traveling around the world to different cities, teaching people from all walks of life the basic mechanics, the physiology and the biology of meditation.
And the general consensus is my life would definitely be better if I meditated but it’s too hard, I can’t quiet my mind, I can’t sit still long enough, I don’t have the time.
So I want to shed some light onto what I feel are the five most common meditation myths in our society. And I want to give you guys some tips that will help make your meditation practice instantly more enjoyable. And I want to show you how you can use meditation to literally create more time, to be more productive, and of course, to change the world.
But first, I want you to close your eyes and I want you to imagine in your mind’s eye a white polar bear and hold your attention on this white polar bear in your imagination, and then open the eyes.
OK, raise your hand if you got distracted and you thought about something other than a white polar bear any time? Now that was about half the room.
Close your eyes again, and this time I want you to let your mind roam free and you can think about anything you want to think about, as long as it’s not about a white polar bear. Whatever you do, do not think about a white polar bear. It’s very important. Go!
OK, open your eyes. Raise your hand if you accidentally thought about a white polar bear. Raise your other hand if you thought about it a lot. Almost everyone.
And that brings us to our first myth that I want to talk about, which is that I’m a bad meditator if I can’t quiet my mind. Now that white polar bear experiment that we just did was an actual study that was conducted by a Harvard psychologist who wanted to see, is it possible to suppress certain thoughts. Except they didn’t sit for a few seconds, they sat for five minutes trying to focus on the white polar bear and then for another five minutes trying not to think about the white polar bear. And just like you when they weren’t supposed to be thinking about the white polar bear they ended up thinking about it a lot and some of them were bordering on obsession, that’s all they could think about was the white polar bear.
And the conclusion from this study was two-fold. Number one, if you focus on anything after about five or six seconds your mind is going to naturally get diverted to another unrelated thought.
And number two, if you try to suppress your thoughts, guess what’s going to happen. You’re going to end up creating more of the thought you don’t want to have. So suppressing the thoughts does not lead to a very positive meditation experience.
Now what they started studying at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology are these styles of meditation called non-directive meditation techniques. These are actually very old meditation techniques but they’ve just started studying them. And these styles of meditation aren’t using the white polar bear method of suppression, instead those meditators are allowed to let their minds drift and wander from one thought to the next.
And what they found was that when you allow your mind to wander from one thought to the next you actually get to a very high degree of mental and emotional processing. The other thing they found is very interesting that a wandering mind leads to a rested mind. You activate this rest network that can actually get your mind and your body into a state of rest that’s deeper than the one you get when you’re sleeping at night.
So sitting comfortably and letting the mind wander is actually going to not only cause your body to rest but it’s going to bring a high level of orderliness and efficiency to your mind so the thoughts you’re having aren’t obstacles to your meditation. They’re symptomatic of your mind actually working on autopilot through the problems that you’re having in your life.
The next myth I wanted to dispel is this whole idea that there’s no correct way to meditate. We’ve all heard that before and it’s a bit tricky because I believe that all meditations lead to the same goal which is greater sense of inner peace and happiness. But there are definitely best practices that will allow your daily meditation to feel a lot easier and easy again is a subjective term. But here’s what I mean. I’m going to tell you a little story just to illustrate this.
And I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit this but I didn’t learn how to swim until about nine years ago. Long story short, I was hanging out on a beach with five women and we were surrounded by these volcanic rocks. And they wanted to go skinny-dipping and I was single at the time. So this was like a golden opportunity for me except I couldn’t swim and there was no easy entrance point to the water. So I had a dilemma on my hands.
And because I was afraid to admit that I couldn’t swim, my response to that suggestion was, oh, I’ll just hang back and watch your clothes. And so needless to say, the next day I signed up for swimming lessons. And I go to the pool and the coach asked me to swim across the 25-meter pool. And I get in and I start doing my best impression of what I think a swimmer looks like, except I was just dragging through the water and then I got about 5 meters out, I started taking water in, I could barely breathe and this twelve-year-old lifeguard almost had to jump into the pool to save me. And I was able to luckily get to the side of the pool before that happened.
But the teacher took me to the side and she says, “You know, you actually have the perfect body for swimming; you just need to get longer. And you need to torque your body like this and you need to kick like that, and you need to make sure you’re breathing in this way”. And she was teaching me the basic mechanics of the Freestyle stroke.
And when I’m teaching meditation and I asked someone to show me how you’ve been meditating and what they do is they do their best impersonation of a monk, right? They sit on the floor with their legs crossed. They bring their fingers together, they don’t know why; they just do it. And there’s — you could see their brow crinkling up here; they’re just straining. And I’m not saying that this is an incorrect way to meditate. For a beginner, your meditation experience is going to seem like my swimming experience. You’re just going to be dragging yourself through your thoughts and it’s not unusual for someone to come out of that experience feeling like meditation is too hard, it’s not for me.
So instead of sitting like this, I encourage people to sit like this. Sit comfortably. Have your back supported; use pillows. And what you find is that your body is not a distraction to the process. So if you’re brand new at meditation, you want to sit like you’re watching your favorite television show. And then if you employ those mental techniques of allowing the mind to wander and drift, you’re going to have experiences that are a hundredfold easier than anything you’ve had before.
Then you just have to do it consistently enough which brings you to the next point: I don’t have time to meditate. All right, you’ve heard this one a lot. There’s only one activity that I’m aware of that will actually refund you back the time you spent doing it, and that’s daily meditation.