What they don’t tell you about meditation

The below was written over the past month, as I did a (mostly) daily regimen of 15 minutes of meditation based on the various books about Buddhist meditation I’ve been reading.

1) at first it’s like a sitting still exercise: avoiding the irrepressible urge to jump up and DO whatever it is you just thought of, is quite a chore. I’ve been at it for two weeks now, and I no longer jump up. But I do still find myself doing a few little chores that are within reach of where I sit.

2) it’s not linear: dreaming off is sometimes easy to avoid, sometimes there’s no avoiding it: I dream off, and know it.

3) ‘ just observe your thoughts’ – well, there is nothing ‘merely’ about it. Dreaming off and observing your thoughts are so far mutually exclusive. The mind becomes still when I observe, but it’s not easy to keep observing.

4) one needs a timer, otherwise keeping track of how long you’ve sat still becomes the main distraction.

5) meditation can be scary. Practicing meditation for the past 3 weeks or so, 15 minutes a day, probably had some correlation with me getting a sense of aware stillness today. At first I was like, what’s going on… But as it continued it became more and more scary. I’m not sure what the scary thing about it is. Perhaps it’s that old Krishnamurti standup: fear of the unknown. Luckily for me, as I thought about writing about it, the stillness became less, though it’s back as a awareness ache if that makes any sense.

In another way it is comforting to know that the meditative awareness I lost by not paying enough attention to it in my twenties, came back after only a few weeks of meditating. Not that I expect it to stick around, there is something singularly unpredictable about spiritual experiences of any kind.

6) Meditation can be addictive, especially if you hang in there consistently for at least a month.

What they did tell me, but I did not realize they’d told me before I tried:

7) Meditation is boring

Comment Zen

This is personal stuff I’m sharing. I’m not asking for advice of any kind: not psychological, spiritual or even on meditation itself. I want to invite you all to share your own experiences meditating and hope you will feel safe doing so.

27 thoughts on “What they don’t tell you about meditation”

  1. Katinka, I’ve enjoyed your posts, so thank you! Regarding meditation, there have been many times when I’ve shared your sentiment about meditation being boring. It has taken me a long time to still the mind, and even now, the stillness comes and goes. That being said, when the stillness comes, so much more comes along with it. I think of the top of my head as a lid. When I’m thinking or caught-up in self-talk, the lid is closed. When my thoughts stop, the lid opens to the divine. In my humble opinion, meditation (i.e. mind control) is the key that unlocks the door to enlightenment, the key to a higher awareness, and a more evolved consciousness. It is one of the best communication devices that I know for connecting to the world of spirit. It has also been great for self-healing and I often find it more rejuvenating than a great night of sleep. It takes practice but meditation is so worth every second of boredom. I wish you effortless meditation! Light, Love and Joy, Elizabeth Rose http://www.diamondlantern.com

  2. I like the apparent paradox between meditation being addictive and it being boring at the same time. I’ve never heard anyone describe meditation as scary before, that’s very interesting. I do agree that (what you seem to be doing is zazen) zen meditation can be quite boring. Personally I find Tibetan meditations to be much more stimulating and let you cultivate compassion in a easier manner. I enjoyed your blog!

  3. In meditation, is boring a positive experience or not? To my mind, boring might be a very good thing because then you have no expectations. Me, I’ve had so many interesting experiences in meditation, I’ve come to build up a few expectations which limits the practice. No expectations of meditation, and life, can be a great thing. I like your idea of just letting be what is.
    Light, Love and Joy, Elizabeth Rose, http://www.diamondlantern.com/

    1. Dear Katinka,

      Respectfully, my experience has been that once one has mastered a meditative technique (there are several) to a certain extent, then the experience of meditating has nothing to do with boredom.

      One definition of boredom is unresolved tension. This is definitely not any kind of criticism of your experience (all experiences are valid!), but is intended as a “seed thought” to assist you in the meditative process.

      Meditative “thought” can be of an entirely different quality from normal cognitions. It is my wish that you experience a type of meditative “thought” that conveys the depth, value, and reality of spiritual existence to you. Then your boredom in meditation will dissipate and you will want to return to that state in order to deepen it.

      Please believe that this is possible for you, and that you clearly deserve such experiences, seeing that you have contributed so much to others through your on-line presence.

      Best wishes for a spiritual, meditative, and joyous New Year!


    2. The way I understand it, in meditation (and perhaps throughout life) it’s a mistake to label anything as positive or negative. The boring of it just is. Just like other experiences just are.

  4. A wonderful monk named Tipten described how the driver of a small car was forced off the highway by a large truck. The driver in the small car thought the truck driver was a dangerous maniac who should be put in jail for his actions. Earlier that morning, at 4am, the truck driver had kissed his loving wife and child goodbye. After driving all day to earn a living, he became fatigued and for a moment, wasn’t paying attention to the road. When he changed lanes, he accidentally forced a car off the road. In his wife’s and child’s eyes, he’s a good, honest, and hard working man. In the eyes of the driver who was forced off the road, he should go to jail. Which is true? The Tibetan Buddhist teaching was that all situations are empty until we project our thoughts, opinions, and emotions upon them. Perhaps there is great truth, and no truth, in the boring-ness of meditation. :o) Elizabeth Rose, http://www.diamondlantern.com/

  5. Hello Katinka,
    I enjoy your posts and can relate to your feeling of spiritual unease that may result from meditation, in my case it resulted in my blog Finding God On The Train and journals full of meditation guidance. I come from the Unity New Thought approach that often mixes both prayer and meditation with the purpose of connecting with God in the silence. I find this gives you something to expect even if God does not show up. The benefits of meditation have been well documented in the book How God Changes Your Brain by University of Pennsylvania Neuroscientists Dr. Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman. After over four years of meditating on and off the the train I am completely addicted. Thanks you for sharing your experiences. George

  6. ‘Boredom: feeling weary because one is unoccupied or lacks interest in one’s current activity.’–OED. Maybe interest is required to start meditating, and meditation does not make me weary or bored (or necessarily anything the whole time)–but overall, the opposite: refreshed and with equanimity beyond any more impermanent state like boredom. I agree more with Frank and think boredom may happen but it should arise & pass, perhaps with other states. Similarly to what he said, some eventual states (maybe not in a lifetime) in meditation can remove boredom for much of the rest of one’s successive sessions. That does not mean one will never bored again in life, but it changes things.

    Even when I meditated about an hour or more a day for a month I used no timer. I think I had a clock in front of me and opened my eyes every 20 – 60 minutes to check. Some Zen meditation is done with open eyes, but I prefer them closed to perceive the mind’s inner vision more clearly if it comes into focus.

    It seems you wrote about a couple dualities–dreaming & observing, and boredom/fear & addictiveness. It certainly can be addictive before and even after great events in it, but I think fear should also pass. In a book someone recommended me, _Mastering The Core Teachings of The B uddha_, it states fear is one of the stages in the progress of insight/vipassana and meditation. It was not always so, but I find that as stillness increases, fear decreases.

  7. Hey Katinka,

    I just found you. I look forward to reading through your archive. This post reminds me of Brad Warner’s HARDCORE ZEN, which I just finished reading. It is no bullpuckey approach to Buddhism that I find refreshing.My own stuff is more “rules I wish I’d followed” and “meditations” ala Marcus Aurelius, but I’m just starting to get my blinders off. It will be a long journey. Thanks for all the informed postings.


  8. Hello Katinka
    Appriciate your effort putting this blog together (if thats the term) very useful and very skillful in my humble oppinion.

  9. Awesome post! I think another thing that they don’t tell you is that one needs to drop our typical Western concept of ‘progress’, getting ‘better’ or ‘good’ at meditation. There’s not really a totally linear progression of skill. Over time it does get easier I suppose, but still, every meditation session is different. Today I might be completely distracted and not be able to settle my mind, tomorrow, I might ‘drop in’ easily for a good 20 minutes. You never know what will happen, but either way I think it’s important to not label the meditation session ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

  10. Hi Katinka,

    To follow the inclination to meditate, is to follow that intuitive nudge that seeks to fulfill a greater “dimension” of one’s true nature.

    What I have found in my meditations, at this point, is that they are not always the same. And rightly so, since my daily life varies from moment to moment and my time in sitting meditation is a continutation of that. They are both the same, a succession of images passing through the mind, eyes open, as well as, eyes closed.

    I see boredom as an inability to satisfy expectations, becoming discouraged and then giving up on the pursuit. All meditations, especially in the beginning, will not be the same. If we expect them to be, then we will be disappointed.

    There are many forms of meditation. What my teacher offers is a form of meditation that is natural and allows a freedom of experience. It can be done with eyes open, or closed.

    With eyes closed, I simply look at the light behind my closed eye lids. (It is there for everyone, relax into seeing it) Often it looks like speckles of light and dark. Sometimes it starts out as larger areas of light. Simply watch it. It will grow brighter, duller, it will move, it could be different colors. Everyones experience will be different.

    The main point is to be consciously aware that you are looking at the light. “Be aware, of being aware that you are looking at the light.” Images will come into view. Do not grab onto them, simply shift your attention back to the light. If the images are persistent, become bored with them, meaning, become “disinterested” in them. They will eventually fade.

    Post meditation is the same. As I walk around, I am aware that I am aware of what my attention is focused on. Life is NOT boring. What I perceive then, is life as reality, not as the illusion of an asleep mind.


  11. Katinka:
    Not to worry. It is normal for a busy person to have cluttered thought patterns when the first start to Meditate. It is a slow process to clear your mind and learn to meditate with a blank mind. Sometimes a little music, or white noise can help.

  12. Mind. No mind. Spiritual. Spiritual growth.
    Now meditation. Different meanings for different people.
    Meditation has been very many things for me over 44 years of on and off practice. All that you have mentioned and more.
    The best experience I had with meditation was a 3 month intensive retreat in the Himalayan foothills, quite early on, in 1970. I built up gradually to about 8 hours per day. By the last month I was in a state of ‘samadhi’ much of the time, walking above the river Ganga and in the hills, having verbal & silent conversations with various ‘holy’ men and women. I could see energies coming out of the ground. It was amazing. But then one bad journey back to the noise of Delhi in a taxi brought me down to earth with a tightened stomach and ‘samadhi’ fled like a chimera.

    Even at the deepest, most still and self-less moments there was within me a tiny diamond hard speck, like the grit in an oyster… it was deep within the core, deep within the ‘hara’ (between belly button & pubic bone) and it would not dissolve.

    A few years later, my greatest teacher refused to teach meditation for years until he felt there were enough people grown up enough not to use meditation as an excuse to produce a condition in themselves, a temporary or worse a permanent condition of self-delusion which could range from quietism to being ‘touched by God’ and essentially losing all cognizance of everyday life. He did not explain, I worked this out for myself.

    I realised eventually that the pinnacle of yoga was not what I sought… that for me it was just a stop on a journey…. and it was a part of my journey.

    When this teacher did teach meditation it was a series of practices each with a specific, finite purpose. The most advanced meditation he taught was a 4 hour process and I never completed it. I only heard of 2 people who did. Two very disciplined people. After about 45 minutes I was ready to scream.

    I practised a bit of yoga, a bit of TM, a bit of 2 types of Zazen, and the one that I had learned from my great teacher, that of sitting on a chair and Denying Expectation for as long as…. this last one stood me in the greatest stead until…

    During the winter solstice time in 2009 I went on a Buddhist retreat to help me overcome anxiety, panic disorder & agoraphobia. I learned their 3 types of meditation, and I was very content to be on retreat. I had a couple of serious crises, did a lot of crying and then a lot of laughing, and learned the Tibetan Buddhist method of transforming energies. It helped me move past certain boulders on the path.

    I still do that a little, but mostly I sit with eyes close and deny expectation. Now I am going back to some of those meditations and contemplations I learned with my teacher. These include movements akin to tai chi or chi gung, but are based upon understandings and perceptions of human electromagnetics (inner and outer). Today I had a little breakthrough and found an inner essence I thought I had lost. Consequently I was able to walk out and not take the bus, but walk about a mile to the shops. I hope this means I have found my Way again.

    I do not think or feel that you are worried. Your eyes, general demeanour and radiation from your picture demonstrate calm self-possession, strong mind, with a hint of sardonic humour. I will not offer you advice, for you ask us not to.

    However I have one question:

    What is it that you want?

    Thanks for your blog.

  13. Hello Katinka,

    Thank you for sharing your insights about meditation,

    n°7 made me laugh (MAO) you´re so right! perhaps it could be just the opposite of it!

    my main distraction during my daily meditation practice is that sometimes my legs become numb and that brings too much discomfort to keep meditating, curiously, if my meditation is deep and steady my legs are just fine!

    sometimes I put a timer in order to know “when to stop” but mostly I don´t use timer at all and I do just fine, but on a practical matter it´s a very good advice thx!


  14. Let’s say that meditation is slowing the time stream (or stopping it altogether) to make it easier to see what is there in front of you.
    Therefore mediation is intentional focus. However what is there is going to be an unconsciousness. You don’t know what you are not seeing. That not yet seen view may come upon you like a mountain popping up suddenly around a blind curve, or a long slow growth along the horizon. Whatever is there, is there, though, and will appear sooner or later. Simply “paying attention” in life is a kind of meditation. So long as you don’t decide what something is, there will always be more to see. Sooner or later.

  15. My beginnings with meditation (about 8 years ago) were following the teachings of Charlotte Joko Beck (which comes from the Soto Zen school.)
    Although at first (for a few years) practice also seemed a bit “boring” to me, and at the same time somewhat “addictive” (I can understand what you say), my experience (and also the initial practice) has been changing over time.
    Slowly and almost without realizing it, intuitively and spontaneously, I was doing some variation of the technique I learned initially.
    One topic that used to be puzzling for me was something I call “attitude” during meditation.
    In the meditation technique I learned first (and in many of which I had read about) there is a very important element of concentration (even in the very act of maintaining the unchanging position of stillness in meditation there is some kind of “concentration”).
    However, over time, I discovered that what I am calling “attitude” can be maintained (and in fact I think even improved) regardless of body position and independently to the rhythm of breathing.
    That is, when we allow everything that happens during the meditation session to flow freely without trying to correct it, suppress it neither to have control about it and, at the same time, we are able to observe without intervening (judge, analyze or interpret) the depth of meditation increases dramatically.
    My experience is that it is in those moments when they occur what it is commonly referred to as mystical experiences (which of course are not at all boring).
    Initially, when having that kind of experience, it is pretty hard not to feel attachment, but eventually they become something normal (everyday stuff) and we can observe them without intervening.
    Later, some people around me became interested in meditation and asked me to teach them the technique that I use.
    The pleasant surprise for me was that some of these people have had a “breakthrough”, in relation to meditation and how it has affected their lives, faster and “easier” than how it was for me.
    Anyway, I usually say that each meditation session is like a box of surprises and that we never know what will come out next.

  16. I’m a big fan of meditation, having done it regularly for several years. I feel it has a very positive effect on my life and spiritual growth. I’ve never heard anyone say it was boring but then each to our own x

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