Can anyone meditate?

The short answer is “yes, more or less anyone can meditate.”

Sex, age, nationality, religion, previous experience, social conditioning, genetic makeup — these are all unimportant. In principle anyone can learn to meditate. You don’t have to travel to the Himalayas, give up all your money, find a guru, or spend hours every day in an ashram in order to learn meditation.

Forget any ideas that you have to be really “spiritual” (whatever that means) to practice meditation. You don’t need any “innate ability” to be able to meditate, any more than you need special powers to be able to learn to ride a bike or to use a computer. Some people take more naturally to meditation than others, but anyone can do it and benefit from doing it.

I hear people saying, “I can’t meditate. I’m too scattered and distracted.” But that makes little sense. That’s like me saying, “I can’t exercise. I’m not fit.”

Meditation can be challenging, but all it takes is a little effort, and the conviction that some things are worth persevering with. Sometimes your meditation practice will challenge you. At those times it’s best to remember that when you are growing flowers, there is some digging and weeding to be done as well. Other times it will be obviously rewarding, because the flowers have bloomed and you can see the results of the work you’ve done.

You will find that meditation benefits you even if you do as little as 10 or fifteen minutes a day (although if you do more, you’ll probably benefit more).

The most important thing is persistence — keeping at it despite the natural ups and downs you’ll experience.

The only caveats about meditation being for everyone are as follows:

  • While meditation can be beneficial for people who suffer from depression, it’s probably not a good idea for someone to learn to meditate at times they’re profoundly depressed. It’s best if they wait until their depression is in remission and they’re feeling more emotionally balanced. For experienced practitioners it can be a different story: if they have an existing practice and go through a period of depression, it might be helpful for them to keep up their practice.
  • People who have serious mental illness that involve delusions (psychosis and schizophrenia, for example) probably shouldn’t meditate, because doing so can accentuate their delusional perceptions, which they tend to understand as signs of spiritual attainment.

There are also people who have experienced serious and painful side-effects, including anxiety, depression, and depersonalization, as a result of meditation. As far as I’m aware those cases have involved people who have focused exclusively on mindfulness meditation, and whose practice hasn’t included a significant amount of heart-based meditation such as metta bhavana, and hasn’t included much in the way of devotion, sangha, or spiritual friendship — factors that provide a positive emotional focus for life.

I do recommend that anyone taking up meditation practice lovingkindness meditation as well as mindfulness of breathing, and that they try, as much as they can, to develop nourishing friendships in the context of a spiritual community — even if it’s an online one.

6 Comments. Leave new

  • Namaste.

    Thank you for this. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me as your post has inspired me to have a go at meditation once more. Being bipolar and adult a.d.h.d. (I refuse to capitalize any of that), it is sometimes SO hard to quiet my “monkey mind” and meditate. I give up before I get anywhere nine times out of ten.

    Yet, your article really spoke to me. Something in its simplicity and quiet, gentle urging reminded me that I must keep at this…for it is worthwhile. And, as a friend recently told me, nothing that is worthwhile is easy.

    Reply
  • One of my favorite sayings is, “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” That our meditation is imperfect isn’t a reason for not doing it — it’s a reason why we need to stick at it.

    Reply
  • I read your eBook on meditation techniques, it was very nice and helpful. I am a 21 year old undergraduate. I had damaged my left eye during an accident in early childhood, due to which today I cannot see clearly with the left eye. The images i can see are almost ninety percent blur. As a consequence Whenever i sit down to meditate i never being able to concentrate with the center of my forehead , i feel that everything has been shifted to the right portion of my body. When I close my eyes i see huge darkness in half of my body portion (left side) rather it is quite bright on the other half . It can be felt more on my face it is like someone has painted half of my face with white color and half with the black one. This situation embarrasses me a lot. I cannot be able to imagine objects on left.
    I need your help. Please tell me how i can overcome this problem. My other body parts are totally fit. How i could meditate. Please help.
    Looking forward for your reply.
    Have a nice day.

    Reply
    • Hi, Rohit.

      Many meditation practices, like mindfulness of breathing, involve the direct perception of physical sensations from within the body, and don’t involve our visual sense at all. Generally we don’t pay attention to the light we’re seeing through our closed eyelids, except perhaps to acknowledge those sensations as we begin the practice. So I don’t see any barrier to you meditating.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
  • please am in Ghana west Africa
    please teach me how to meditate..

    Reply

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