Meditation is Not What You Think

However you try to define meditation, it’s not that. — Swami Brahmananda


Ed & Deb Shapiro
Activist Post

Through many years of being involved with meditation we have seen how easily people miss the point, mainly because they take the practice and themselves too seriously. Many ‘try’ to meditate but their minds are so busy they get frustrated and quickly believe they are no good at it. Others turn into die-hard advocates of a particular method or technique and become like a salesperson trying to sell their produce.

Just like Yoga, people want to own meditation and to believe that their technique is the best one. They give it a name: TM or Vipassana or Mindfulness and sometimes make outrageous claims of what can be achieved, but that is not the point. Meditation is not a technique – being quiet happens by itself, not because of following the breath in and out, reciting a specific mantra or creating a visualization.

Teachers, through their compassion, created the many methods and techniques in order to help their students to concentrate and focus their minds, to be one-pointed. No one technique is better than another; they equally give our monkey minds something to do other than drive us bananas. Many of the practices known as meditation are actually concentration; they bring the mental energy together so the mind is less fragmented. But this is not meditation.


Meditation invites us to stop, just stop, breathe and be. Just as with a musician playing or an artist painting, when we stop trying to make it happen something occurs, like the radiant sun that suddenly emerges in a cloudy sky. But because we try so hard, we identify more with the technique instead of allowing the meditation to reveal itself.

The practice of meditation easily gets put in a box: “I will practice now, at this time, at this place and in this posture, and I will do this particular method.” But a method is simply an aide; it is not the experience itself. A hammer can help build a house but it is not the house. There is no doubt that through practice we can release stress and feel wonderfully peaceful, but genuine meditation is about waking up, where the mind is clear and free of obscuration.

This is not a mental process but an experiential one as meditation is an opening, a release of ego identity when all attempts to meditate, all striving, all doing stops, when there is no past or future, just radiant emptiness. It is being present – fully aware and present in every moment — and we can do that whatever we are doing and wherever we are. It is the freedom to be fully oneself without limitations or ideologies – there is just this.

Deb’s father, Richard, was on a Zen retreat where he was taught to temper his sensuality, not to give in to his senses or think of sensual things but to stay focused and single minded. While walking in the garden he then came across a pond laden with happily fornicating frogs. We think meditation has to be something special but true meditation is opening and expanding our perception, as if seeing with new eyes.

The technique becomes redundant when meditation becomes our natural state. It doesn’t matter what the technique is — when we drive to Rome the car is necessary but when we get there it is immaterial – what matters is the attitude and awareness that we bring to practice. The teacher is also more important than the technique. They must be skillful, peaceful and clear, regardless of the method or tradition they are teaching.

The moon trusts that the world will continue to go round on its axis, birds trust there will be berries and seeds to eat, trees trust the seasons will follow in the right order. Until we trust that things will unfold naturally then we are slaves to our doubts, fears and neurosis, to the constant chatter in our heads that says we are useless and don’t know anything. But we don’t make the sun to rise or set. The planet is in orbit and neither we nor Jesus or Buddha or any of the wise ones run the show. Our job is simply to surrender to the moment.

See Ed & Deb’s award-winning book: BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors Jack Kornfield, Jane Fonda, Father Thomas Keating, Marianne Williamson, Ram Dass, and many others.

Our 3 meditation CD’s: Metta—Loving kindness and Forgiveness; Samadhi–Breath Awareness and Insight; and Yoga Nidra–Inner Conscious Relaxation, are available at:

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