Have you ever tried guided meditation?
As a meditation teacher, I’m asked about it every now and again.
I have a few problems with the theory of guided meditation, but before we get to that, I need to provide you with a huge disclaimer: I am very bad at leading guided meditation.
This might be part of my reluctance to it. I’m truly horrible.
I know this, and anyone who has ever heard my attempt to lead a group through a guided meditation session knows this. I always feel like I’m giving someone really awful phone sex—“Ooh, baby, I’m going to get you so enlightened.”
It’s embarrassing for everyone involved.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s address some other potential traps guided meditation can catch us in.
If, through meditation, we’re trying to quiet the noise within our minds, then how is adding another voice to the mix supposed to help? I have enough thoughts, voices and emotions distracting me from having a quiet mind without adding more.
Another problem I’ve encountered with guided meditation is that often times, I’m at a completely different place in the meditation than the instructor.
Say, for example, we’re doing a body scanning awareness exercise, where we’re supposed to start at the top of our head and scan down through our entire body. I might be scanning, and reach down to my hip or knee, when the instructor tells us we should be focusing on our shoulder area. Suddenly I feel that I’m doing the meditation wrong or that I’m going too fast. Even if I was feeling calm, clear and focused before the instructor told me to focus on my shoulder, now I’m filled with anxiety and concern.
The opposite can also happen when you’re just finding your groove in the meditation, and the instructor ends the session or moves on to something else you’re not ready for.
So often I hear or read that during meditation, our thoughts should just arise and flow naturally. Somebody’s voice coming out of your iPod, no matter how soothing it may be, no matter how many affirmations of Namaste it chants, will naturally change the flow of your thought process.
I recently went on a ten day Vipassana retreat where we learned this technique called Metta.
Metta is typically done at the end of your meditation to give away any merit and to spread loving kindness. Through the video discourse, S. N. Goenka told us we shouldn’t even attempt Metta unless we were in a calm and centered place, which is fairly easy to find yourself in after a good meditation session.
However, Goenka would then start to chant…a lot. The chanting bothered me so much that it destroyed the calm and peaceful state of mind I had preciously attained, and instead of sending out loving kindness, I felt like tense and angry.
Here’s a better example…Do you remember the movie Somewhere in Time with Christopher Reeves? In case you haven’t seen it (you should—it’s arguably Reeves’ best work, outside of Superman of course), Reeves’ character falls in love with a mysterious woman who lived about fifty years in the past. His plan is that, through self-hypnosis, he will travel through time to the 1920s, to meet her.
He buys clothes and currency from the time period, then locks himself in a hotel room to begin the process. He has a tape recorder with hours of guided hypnosis to help him travel through time. It doesn’t go well, and for days he lies on the hotel bed, listing to the tape recorder with no results.
He finally realizes that since tape recorders didn’t exist in the 1920s, the recording is what’s preventing him from traveling back through time. He abandons the tape recorder, performs the hypnosis himself, and abra-cadabra-shazam, he travels through time to find true love
One argument for guided meditation is that it can bring a wondering mind back on track to the practice.
While this may be true is some instances, there are better methods for snapping out of our monkey mind. Try a metronome, or set the timer on your watch to beep at random intervals. My cell phone provides a great tool for this because it beeps whenever I get a Facebook notification, text message or e-mail. All of these things occur randomly so I can’t anticipate them. Whenever I hear my phone beep, I take a breath and reconnect to the practice.
I’m not saying that all guided meditation is bad. It can be a useful tool when you’re first learning a new technique, or if you occasionally have a day where you know your focus is going to be all over the place (we all have those days), it can also provide a nice change in your practice and give you the opportunity to mix things up a little bit.
However, this should be a seldom used practice.
We have the ability to become attached to anything, and guided meditation is no exception. We have to be able to practice on our own.
I’ve heard it said that it’s good to think outside of the box—I laugh whenever I hear this. We can’t think outside the box because our thoughts are the box.
Trust the process and believe in yourself.
You can do it.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Darren Lamb
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Phillippe Put/Flickr