Guided medtiations are all the rage because of their ease and speed. But guided meditations are bad substitutes for proper meditation. Here’s why…
Guided meditations are one of the most popular ways in which people start meditating. Most newcomers approach meditation from the same angle. They’re looking for a way to relax and unwind, perhaps a way to quieten their thoughts and feelings, to help them overcome complications that have arisen in the mind. They hear about “guided meditation”, recordings that they can listen to that will take them on relaxing journeys designed to lead them to tranquillity. And indeed, guided meditations are one of the most relaxing meditation techniques.
There is one very important thing you should note about guided meditations, though. While they are very good at relaxing you, they should not be used as an alternative to traditional forms of meditation.
But first… If you’ve not tried guided meditations before you might be wondering precisely what they are.
Guided meditations are really audio journeys; you listen to an individual describing a relaxing scene and your mind relaxes. Simple. Here’s a little example.
An example of a guided meditation
Close your eyes. Listen to your breathing. Hear your breath coming and going, up and down, as tranquil waves stroking on a shore. See that shore. The skies above are blue. There’s a gentle swooshing of the waves. The sun is warm on your skin. You feel the warmth spreading throughout your body, relaxing you. Your toes curl on the hot sands. The warmth spreads up your ankle to your knees, and continues up your body, right to the crown of your head. Your whole body is warm and relaxed, and your breathing is slow and gentle, matching the rhythm of the waves…
This is a classic guided meditation, a poetic and relaxing journey that leads you to relaxation and peace.
I personally used guided meditations for a short period of my life many years ago. I’d had a truly rough time, breaking up with my girlfriend, leaving home, staying in a rundown motel room, staring at white plaster walls wondering what had happened to my life. In the midst of turmoil I left (or rather “fled”) Canada, my then home, for England, my old home. And somewhere in the middle of it all my mind snapped and I suffered from what would later be diagnosed as an “Extreme stress reaction”.
The thoughts in my mind came like turbulent waves crashing on rocks. Holding myself together took my every strength. This was one time when I simply wouldn’t have been able to practice traditional meditation techniques. I needed a “pill”. But I don’t believe in actual physical pills. So I took the spiritual equivalent of a pill, a series of guided meditations (like pills, guided meditations come in packages and require no effort).
Those guided meditations helped me to relax when I was at a real low. That’s the main purpose of guided meditations: Helping you out when you can’t help yourself out.
Unlike other types of meditation (which require effort and commitment), guided meditations are pre-made. All you have to do is put them on. That’s the benefit of them: If you don’t have the time, energy, or mental strength to invest in traditional meditations, you can just put your feet up and listen to a recording, and it’s all done for you. It’s twenty first century dharma: spirituality on demand.
To be fair, what guided meditations do, they do well. They do relax you and they are easy, and that’s the whole point. However, there are serious limitations to guided meditations, and guided meditations are bad alternatives to more serious meditation techniques.
There is one serious limitation of guided meditations: They require no effort. That’s both the best and the worst thing about them. They’ll relax you with zero effort, but because they require zero effort they don’t truly exercise your mind.
If you want to get fit and in shape you have to sweat. You have to put in serious effort to get the health and the body you want. The same is true for your mind. If you don’t truly exercise your mind you’re never going to be mentally strong.
There’s nothing wrong with a spa day. It’s relaxing and helps you to unwind. But it doesn’t make you fit. It’s just a fun excusion. And the same is true for guided meditations. They’ll help you to relax and unwind. But they’re never going to make you mentally fit and strong. Like a spa day, a guided meditation is a superficial treatment, a band-aid solution. It’s not going to make your mind truly strong. You need genuine mental exercise to do that.
That’s not a criticism of guided meditations. They’re great for what they are: simple relaxation. But they are not substitutes for traditional meditation techniques. It’s important that we all realise that as good as guided meditations are, they can never replace the real exercise, the traditional meditations techniques like Anapanasati, Vipassana, Bhakti and other powerful practices.
That’s the same for binaural beats, audiovisual media, and other meditation products. They’re great products and some of them will definitely help you to unwind. But they are also definitely limited.
Like a spa day, use guided meditations to relax, but don’t allow them to take the place of more serious practice.