Drop the “only”

1 Comment

People who are reporting on how they’re getting on with learning meditation often say they meditated, but it was “only” for 20 minutes or “only” for 15 minutes.

I’ve said similar things myself. But that word “only” bothers me. The word “only” is a great way of taking something you’ve done that’s good and making yourself feeling bad about it. Compare “I exercised three days this week” and “I only exercised three days this week.” Or “I gave $10 to charity” and “I only gave $10 to charity.”

You see how without the word “only” there’s a simple statement of fact, but it’s a statement that you can feel pleased about. And well you should. Exercising three times in a week (or even one time in a week) is great! Giving $10 to charity is great! And yes, meditating for 20 minutes or 15 minutes is great.

Add the word “only” and you feel bad, as if you’d done something wrong. It’s as if it’s bad to exercise, or to give money to charity, or to meditate. And if you feel bad about doing these things, how likely are you to want to continue with them?

When we’re saying we “only” did such-and-such an amount of meditation, we’re implicitly saying that there’s some amount (more than we did) that’s acceptable. And of course we didn’t reach that acceptable level.

Well, sure, meditating for 30 minutes, all other things being equal, is better than meditating for 15 minutes. But if we’re doing 30 minutes of meditation instead of 15 minutes, we’re not going from “bad” to good” but from “good” to better.”

Those 15 minutes (if that’s what you did) are way better than doing no meditation. And that’s what we need to remember. Any amount of meditation is a lot better than no meditation. So compare what you did with that, rather than some mythical amount of meditation that you didn’t do.

So I’d suggest that you watch out for that “only” and instead rejoice. Rejoice that you meditate at all. You’ll be far more likely to establish a solid meditation practice if you rejoice in doing 10 minutes than if you castigate yourself for only doing 20.

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Excellent essay. I agree that meditation of any length is beneficial and should never be qualified.
    Part of the issue of “only” is a bit of ego, of one-upsmanship. It can be be a little bit psuedo self-depreciation to call attention to yourself. Meditation isn’t competition.


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