Meditation has gotten a lot of good press lately. It’s all the rage in magazines and lifestyle blogs, but if you’re running around in the same wellness circles, it could all just start sounding like a feel-good phrase to relax or “stay centered.” Light Watkins, a meditation guru based in Santa Monica, California, has been acquainted to the practice long before it became the new kale of self-care activities. Having practiced vedic meditation (a technique akin to transcendental meditation) for over 15 years now, he has seen firsthand the benefits that it can provide to recovering addicts and non-addicts alike.
We speak with him as he exposes 5 of the most common misconceptions people have about meditation and explains the real truth behind the practice.
1. Meditation does not require any training.
Many people are under the assumption that meditation is a free-flowing experience with no set structure, and though there is a fluidity to the process, Watkins puts an emphasis on the importance of proper instruction. “I thought I knew how to meditate before I was trained in meditation,” he says. “And then I realized how much I did not know and how much of it was counterintuitive.” Having taught meditation to close to 2,000 people, he sees firsthand the difference in knowing how to do things correctly. “It’s like a world of people teaching themselves how to drive a car,” he says. “It’s easy to figure out but to drive in traffic and know everything else that’s happening around you and how to integrate your personal skills into all of the noises, distractions and all of that—when you put the mind in that category, it becomes very difficult and even frustrating.”
2. Meditation is purely a science.
There’s a lot of talk about meditation as a science, and there certainly are studies that support it. However, people are not as familiar with what Watkins describes as the “art of meditation.” He says, “It’s like ballet or archery—it’s not something you’re going to necessarily get on the first lesson.” And just like any artform, Watkins is quick to remind that there are pitfalls and nuances to the technique that take time and practice to master.
3. Meditation is hard.
Meditation isn’t so much about learning and creating a new habit as it is about breaking old habits—and this is actually where the challenge lies for new practitioners. Watkins says, “Meditation is not hard at all; it’s breaking the habit of not meditating for years and years that people find difficult.” Most people don’t realize that the largest hurdle to cross in meditation isn’t the practice itself, but what Watkins describes as the “habit of control.”
4. Meditation is about the mind.
Since the goal of transcendental meditation is to transcend one’s thoughts, many people often think the practice is focused solely around the mind. However, Watkins explains, “It’s not really about the mind. It’s about the body; it’s about being connected to your heart.” One way to illustrate this is if we liken the thinking mind to a speaker. Just as a speaker is an output to whatever frequency it’s tuned into, the mind is also merely an output to the accumulated buildup stress in our bodies, which inevitably leads to negative or stressful thoughts. But when we meditate, Watkins says that the toxins come out through the mind. “It’s really about connecting to the heart,” he says. “Because that’s where you find that you make your best choices, you’re able to do the right thing a lot easier, and ultimately you’re able to sleep at night.”
5. Meditation mantras have magical powers.
Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of meditation is the idea of the personal mantra. People have all sorts of conspiratory thoughts about it. Does it hold some sort of special meaning? Does everyone secretly all have the same one? Watkins debunks these ideas and states that “the TM mantras are not associated with anything.” In fact, it’s crucial to the meditation that TM mantras are stripped of any meaning whatsoever. This is so the practitioner can use it as the proper tool that it is—a vehicle to a quieter state of awareness and, ultimately, personal development and transformation. He explains, “I think when you talk about the 11th and 12th steps of recovery, it ultimately leads to this realization of your true nature. You know, you are not your addiction; you are not your suffering. Who you are is a lot bigger and more expansive.”
Meditation is by no means a cure-all. However, it is the first step to helping an individual be self-sufficient and free—the same characteristics that addiction tries to steal away. By having a regular meditation practice, you’re creating an outlet for all the demands and pressure of life and getting that much closer to truly experiencing who you are in your true and highest nature: distraction-free, trauma-free and, finally, addiction-free.
Light Watkins is also the author of The Inner Gym: A 30-Day Workout for Strengthening Happiness. You can learn more about him and his work at beginmeditating.com.