Lots of people wonder about the relationship between meditation and hypnosis, so I created a slideshow which is linked at the end of this post that describes the similarities and differences. But first let’s clear up 3 things about the subject of meditation, specifically the mindfulness-based approach.
#1: Many people assume meditation requires some sort of spiritual belief system… specifically that it’s for people who identify with Buddhism or Hinduism (I have no identity in that regard). But in fact mindfulness practice doesn’t have to involve religious or spiritual beliefs.
You can be a complete non-believer in anything and still benefit from meditation. Actually, I think mindfulness is perfectly suited for skeptical people because it is all about withholding judgment in the face of endless mental and emotional chatter, instead of being the gullible type who automatically believes whatever thought, or follows whatever feeling, which enters their awareness.
#2: Another thing about mindfulness that is often misunderstood: it’s not about the pursuit of calmness or relaxation! Trying hard to achieve a state of calmness or relaxation is a ridiculous concept, if you think about it.
So many people say “I’ve tried meditating but I couldn’t relax and I couldn’t stop thinking”… without recognizing that they’ve missed the entire point. If someone thinks this practice is about trying to be “relaxed and calm” or “having an empty mind by not thinking”, that represents a fundamental error in attitude and approach; it’s a non-starter to begin with.
This confusion is understandable because of a contradiction: mindfulness is very helpful to people who are overly anxious or stressed, so it’s often marketed as a method of achieving calmness and relaxation — but there is the bind: this leads people to incorrectly assume that they are supposed to stop thinking or feeling during the practice, and if they think or feel something (such as boredom, frustration, discomfort), that they are “doing it wrong”.
It’s more useful to think of it as a way to develop the skill of non-judgmental observation of your own mental/emotional processes (including, for example, boredom, frustration, and discomfort). With practice and over time, you can become less attached to internal dialogue and storytelling that leads to unnecessary drama and stress. But here’s an important distinction: it is not meant to stop internal dialogue and storytelling.
In a sense, it can be compared to the mental equivalent of a physical workout. Developing this non-attached perspective through practice can have measurable effects on physical brain structure, almost like building up a set of muscles… see this article: Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in 8 weeks
Participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress…
Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses.
The analysis of MR images… found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress.
Note that the participants in the study were not required to sit in a mountain cave for years. These structural changes in their brain occurred in an average of 27 minutes a day. An episode of the “Two and a Half Men” sitcom takes longer than that!
#3: Another misunderstanding about mindfulness is that it’s only for people interested in Deepak-Oprah-style “joy and happiness”; this is incorrect. Mindfulness is a powerful method for developing a ruthless focus on your desired objective, and being non-reactive to irrelevant distractions, such as other people’s judgments, opinions, and concerns. It’s the furthest thing from acting like a passive schlub who is too timid to pursue their own interests and ambitions.
This is why meditation and related practices such as Zen Buddhism have long been associated with warrior-poets such as the samurai, and modern killers such as ultra-successful hedge fund manager Dan Loeb, who says meditation is the first thing he does every morning.
No doubt, the fictional Gordon Gekko from “Wall Street” would include meditation as part of his regimen alongside his office treadmill and blood pressure monitor.
Bud Fox: But why do you need to wreck this company?
Gordon Gekko: Because it’s wreckable! I took a second look and changed my mind.
– Wall Street (1987)
Shunryu Suzuki: The basic teaching of Buddhism is the teaching of transiency, or change. That everything changes is the basic truth for each existence.
– Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (1970)
Mindfulness practice is essentially amoral — although it is rarely marketed as such — therefore it can be used to serve whatever purpose you have in mind. This means it is not just for those seeking “enlightenment” (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Want to know more about this topic?
Here is my brief slideshow that describes how meditation and hypnosis are similar and different.
There is a good audiobook on the subject by ABC News anchor Dan Harris: 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found a Self-Help That Actually Works… it’s an excellent account of how he came around to see the value of this practice, after he had a humiliating panic attack during a live broadcast.
Also, don’t overlook the usefulness of the “Mindfulness for Dummies” book just because it’s part of the “Dummies” line. It’s a very practical introduction to the subject.
For more information, visit the main website at http://www.centercityhypnosis.com.
(DISCLAIMER: Testimonials and customer reviews are not guarantees of similar results. Individual results may vary.)