Meditation: Frequently Questioned Answers

Many Websites have a Frequently Asked Questions list. I want to have the opposite: Frequently Questioned Answers where I challenge some of the clichéd replies I see posted in every meditation forum, like they are some sort of truth.

Things like:

No, you don’t have to meditate every day. Or meditate for hours every day.

No, you don’t need to sit with a straight back. You are not in the army

Thinking or daydreaming while meditating is bad

Meditation means just “watching” your thoughts without judgement

Clear Your Mind or Don’t Think during mediation

Meditation is for stress relief / Meditation helps you relax / You should feel calm after meditation

No, you don’t have to meditate every day. Or meditate for hours every day.

Related: You need to meditate for 20 minutes daily

It is nice to meditate every day, just as it is nice to exercise every day, work on your side business every day, learn new skills every day etc. So yeah, if you have free time, go for it.

But unless you are a hermit monk, you will have a million other things. Work and relationships and family will take up most of your time. If you decide to have kids, you will rarely get any free time.

And so, while aiming for daily meditation is good, the best way is to take 2-5 minutes of deep conscious breathing throughout the day, whenever you can.

Meditation is one of many tools we can use to work with our mind and challenge the negative stream of thoughts. (I’m using meditation in the way it is most commonly used, i.e., as sitting meditation).

For me, at least, journaling was more effective than meditation– because it allowed me better to come to peace with my thoughts. For you, it might be something else– mindful movement (Yoga or Tai Chi or similar). Or it might be practising Bhakti or Karma Yoga.

I mention this because there is a lot of shaming in the spiritual world, and people are made to feel bad for not meditating daily. And I’m like, I don’t want to become a fuckin’ monk, I just want to live an awesome life.

I wrote more on this topic here: No, Meditating Longer Won’t Get You Enlightenment Sooner

No, you don’t need to sit with a straight back. You are not in the army

This gets me every time. “Sit with a straight back! Or your meditation won’t work.”

And it always led me to wonder: Why? Why is a straight back so necessary? Some of my most spiritual experiences came when I was chilling out on the sofa.

I got bullshit answers like:

  • Because it helps with posture!

That’s nice, and I don’t fucking care? I came here to meditate and not get free physiotherapy? I mean, yes, a straight back is good for your health, but what does it have to do with meditation?

  • It opens the Chakras/Kundalini

Another bullshit answer. The thing is: most of what you know about Kundalini/Chakras comes from new-age books written in the 1950s/60s. In the ancient Hindu scriptures, the Chakras are closed for everyone and only open on spiritual enlightenment. While in the new age books, they say shit like “If your brow chakra is closed you will get headaches” and I’m like so I don’t need a doctor, can I just shove a “chakra healing crystal” on my forehead and call it a day?

The thing is: There is some truth to the new age teachings as well. But they have mixed Chinese medicine’s concept of Chi meridian points (the blockage of which can cause medical problems, at least according to Chinese medicine) with Hindu Kundalini concept.

This is a complex topic and needs a whole article to explain. But the short answer is: Not all of us are doing Kundalini Yoga, and it’s not like the Kundalini will just rise in the 5 seconds you sit with a straight back; otherwise all those soldiers marching in the parade ground would have Kundalini experiences.

I will accept that sitting straight makes it easy to stay focussed. But it is hardly the big deal everyone makes it out to be. Sit straight if you can, comfortably. Otherwise, don’t, as it isn’t a big deal. I’m sure your Kundalini can wait a bit.

Thinking or daydreaming while meditating is bad

No, it’s not. I wish I could expand more on this, but there isn’t much to say. When you sit to meditate, you will get all sorts of thoughts. Feelings and desires will come up. Some will be good, some bad. Some will be useless crap, like thinking about what someone said to you when you were 6 and why you haven’t filed your taxes yet.

To pretend that you are soooo spiritual that you won’t have any thoughts when meditating is like pretending you will look like Arnold Schwa-whats-his-name-ager after spending 5 minutes in the gym.

We are all imperfect; if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be in the human domain. Accept your humanness and do the best you can.

Meditation means just “watching” your thoughts without judgement

In some traditions, yes. But that doesn’t mean it’s a general rule.

I mention this as I was in a discussion with someone about challenging your negative beliefs and this dude just jumped in and started lecturing us how we are only supposed to watch our thoughts, not judge them, etc.

And I was like, bitch, maybe in your tradition; and don’t hijack our conversation to push your own guru/religion.

It’s one of those things: Sometimes watching your thoughts without judgement IS the best thing. Other times, you have to challenge them, using something like Katie Byron’s The work (which by the way, is an awesome technique. I recommend her book Loving What is to get started). It depends on the person/situation. And this isn’t a general rule, though it is pushed as one.

Clear Your Mind or Don’t Think during mediation

You no more stop thoughts from coming into your mind than you can stop clouds from floating in the sky.

I think the instruction above is trying to say: Don’t try to consciously think.

But again, that’s like saying: Don’t feel hungry at lunchtime. You can choose not to eat, but can’t choose to not feel hungry. Thoughts, like hunger or thirst, are not in our conscious control. At least not until you become a Buddha, and maybe not even then.

Meditation is for stress relief / Meditation helps you relax / You should feel calm after meditation

This is one of those things that gets to me (one of a million!). Meditation is marketed as this Happiness pill. Just pop one and you will be all blissed out! Why legalise weed, man, when meditation is like, free maaan! And it’s totally organic, bro!

A few years ago, every time I sat down to meditate, I would get ANGRY. Like mad as hulk, bat shit crazy angry. And I couldn’t figure out why. I had to stop meditation.

Luckily, I didn’t stop the Spiritual Path, and continued with journaling, self-compassion, self-forgiveness and more. Seems I had a lot of issues to resolve before I could sit “quietly” in meditation. Meditation brings up all the suppressed emotions out into the open; and unless you grew up in a family blessed by unicorn farts, you will have a lot of shit to work thru before you can be all blissed out.

Meditation is not a shortcut to happiness; in fact, as my experience showed me, it can do the opposite. Meditation can, after a lot of work, help you understand yourself, be more accepting and compassionate, but it is most certainly not a Get Happy Pill. I wrote more about this here.