I was checking on web traffic this morning and saw that a reader had been wondering if meditation and relaxation are the same thing.  This is a great question, and the answer that are running around aren’t always helpful in coming to a better understanding of meditation, or how to meditate. 

In a word, the answer to their question is “no”.  Meditation and relaxation are not the same things, but we can’t really leave it at that,  since they do impact one another.  It’s tough to say that you are really meditating if you are all keyed up, and one of the benefits of meditating can be a profound sense of rest.  But it’s no more true that they are the same thing than it would be true to say that sleep and relaxation are the same thing.  If you’re not relaxed, you’re not really going to sleep well, and sleeping well can have a person feeling very rested and relaxed, but they are hardly the same thing. 

I liken this to a claim that is bandied about the internet quite often: sellers of CDs which use sophisticated audio tones to produce specific states of mind often claim that you’ll be meditating like a Zen monk (or yogi, or Christian mystic, or whoever their preferred contemplative system is) with just the push of a button.   Personally, I love those audio technologies, and use them with regularity, but they do NOT make you meditate!  They use a phenomenon called entrainment to encourage a particular set of brainwaves in the listener.  There is value there, and the experiences can be wonderful, but they are not the same as meditating. 

 

The mistake made in each of instances, whether it’s equating meditation with relaxation or with the effects of these entrainment technologies, is a confusion between symptom and cause.  For instance, if I go out and run a mile, my body temperature will be elevated.  If I come down with a case of the flu, chances are good I will also have a higher temperature than normal.  But it should be pretty clear that going out for a run and having my body invaded by a virus are not the same thing. 

But that is exactly what is being claimed when people suggest that meditation is the same as relaxation or hypnosis or listening to the sounds of binaural beats (the entrainment technology).  Please don’t take me to be likening these things to a disease; they each have a good role to play in living a healthy lifestyle.  They just aren’t meditation. 

Wrapping up, I’ve spent these handful of paragraphs discussing what meditation is NOT.  In other areas, I’ll go into greater detail about what meditation IS, for those who are not already fairly conversant with that technology. 

Until then – vigilate!