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Other Journeys That Masquerade as Meditation

Every activity can become a meditation if you do it with awareness or concentration. For example, you can wash the dishes or drive the car or talk on the phone meditatively.

But certain activities become confused with meditation in the popular imagination even though they may have a totally different intent. Some people claim that simply reading the newspaper or watching their favorite sitcom qualifies as meditation — and maybe it does!

Here are some ersatz meditations that certainly have their place in the repertory of leisure pursuits but don’t generally offer the benefits of meditation:

  • Thinking: Although higher-order contemplation or inquiry plays a part in some meditation techniques, it bears little resemblance to the often tortured, conflicted process that usually passes for thinking. Besides, thinking tires you out, whereas meditation refreshes you and perks you up.

  • Daydreaming: Daydreaming and fantasy offer their own unique pleasures and rewards, including occasional problem-solving and a momentary escape from difficult or tedious circumstances. But rather than leaving you feeling more spacious and more connected with being, as meditation does, daydreaming often embroils you more actively in the drama of your life.

  • Repeating affirmations: This common new-age practice — a contemporary version of what used to be called positive thinking — purports to provide an antidote to your negative beliefs by replacing them with positive alternatives. Generally, however, the negativity is so deeply rooted that the affirmations merely skim the surface like froth on the ocean and never really penetrate to the depths, where your core beliefs reside.

  • Praying: Ordinary or petitionary prayer, which calls on God for help or asks for something, can be performed meditatively but has little in common with meditation.

  • Sleeping: Refreshing though it may be, sleep isn’t meditation — unless you happen to be an expert yogi who meditates in your sleep. Research shows that the brain waves generated during sleep are significantly different from those generated during meditation.

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