Meditation can change your life and your very sense of who you are. There is a reason it has been around for thousands of years and practiced by people from all walks of life and on all parts of the globe. There is a common myth about meditation, however, that often leads to a sense of failure and, consequently, an unnecessary abandonment of the practice.
The Myth: Meditation is supposed to calm the mind. Correct meditation will lead you to stop thinking. False! A feeling of calm and a quieter mind is sometimes a result of meditation, and a lovely one, but the purpose of meditation is not to calm the mind or your self. You have not failed if your mind does not become like a still pool as a result of this practice. It is the nature of the mind to keep generating thoughts, endlessly, whether meditating or not. Some people who have meditated for decades continue to house a wild animal, (otherwise known as the monkey mind) inside them. The purpose of meditation is not to change the nature of the monkey, not to turn it into a basset hound. Rather, the purpose is simply to observe the monkey -- to SEE what is happening within your own mind and your own self. That's it! Nothing fancy, but everything necessary. Noticing the mind jumping about -- doing its monkey thing -- is meditation. If the mind quiets as a result of being observed (which it often does), that's wonderful, but whether it does or not is of no consequence.
What changes as a result of meditation is not necessarily the speed and frequency of the thoughts that appear in our inner landscape, but rather our relationship with those thoughts. Through the practice of meditation, we become less identified with the ticker tape that runs through our head, less convinced that our thoughts hold some inherent truth or importance, and less committed to solving each problem/emergency about which our thoughts remind us. You could say that we lose a degree of interest in the monkey mind's song (or screech). Sometimes the mind quiets as a result of our lack of interest -- of our paying it less mind -- and sometimes it just screeches louder. Again, neither outcome is a testament to the success or failure of meditation, just something else to notice.
So what is the big deal, then? Why all this talk about meditation when (possibly) nothing about the mind changes as a result of it. What is startling is that everything can change as a result of not trying to change anything. It is counter-intuitive, really -- we do not set out with the purpose of changing who we are (or if we do, we simply notice that too), and yet who we are changes once it is simply allowed to be. What happens as a result of witnessing our own mind (without judgment or commentary) is that, over time, we realize that we are actually not that mind, nor the thoughts, beliefs, ideas, and all else that it spews out. We realize that the mind will happen on its own, generating content, with or without our participation. We realize that who we are, our very identity, is the one who is witnessing all that goes on, that monkeying about. The purpose of meditation is not to change our mind, but to awaken the self that is aware of it!