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.