Does Meditation Work for Everyone?

November 4, 2020

Does Meditation Work For Everyone?

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, meditation can improve psychological balance and assist with the treatment of illnesses.

Despite the unfortunate trend of obsessing over complicated techniques, meditation is the simple act of sustained concentration.

But does meditation work for everyone?

Does Meditation Work for Everyone?

Every human being is physically capable of meditating and benefiting from meditation, so the short, straightforward answer is that meditation can work for everyone.

With that said, it doesn’t work for a lot of people. 

Those who struggle with meditation often expect it to provide immediate, quantitative results.

If you’re wondering whether meditation works for everyone, you might be coming from a place of doubt, and that’s OK. We’re here to help you deal with those concerns and develop a mindset that should allow you to meditate.

Why Isn’t Meditation Working for Me?

Let’s start by critically examining the word, “work.” 

In most contexts, the meaning is related to labor or functioning. If something is broken, we want it to “work.” 

This kind of mindset is effective for technical problems such as a car breaking down. You take your car to a mechanic and engage in a transaction where you pay money and spend time so your car can “work” again.

For meditation, however, the pressure for something to “work” can, ironically, prevent people from being at peace and learning how to meditate. 

This attitude can be detrimental because it often comes from a desire for transactional self-help, the expectation that a certain amount of meditation can fix your mind, body or soul the same way a mechanic can repair your car.

We are using the “work” language in this piece because we want to meet you where you are and ensure our advice is clear. Nonetheless, we recommend gradually shifting your meditation vocabulary away from problem-solving and toward spiritual enlightenment.

The Motivation Factor

Another issue with the transactional self-help approach is that it ignores the factor of what the person’s motivation is. 

If you try a meditation app, for example, it will tell you that practicing a technique should yield measurable results, regardless of motivation.

These types of apps and short-term transactional methods target people who are open to spiritual bypassing, a term therapist John Wellwood coined in his 2000 book, Toward a Psychology of Awakening: Buddhism, Psychotherapy, and the Path of Personal and Spiritual Transformation.

Wellwood explained that spiritual bypassing employs “spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional ‘unfinished business,’ to shore up a shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings, and developmental tasks.” 

Remember that using spiritual language doesn’t make something spiritual, especially when it’s treated like a workout routine and not a path to enlightenment.

Here are some motivations that will likely inhibit you from receiving the long-term spiritual and health benefits of meditation:

  • Someone nagged you to try meditation, so you’re trying to get them off your back.
  • You hope meditation will help you more quickly devise a solution to a short-term problem.
  • You want meditation to make you feel better about a problem, but you don’t want to address underlying issues.
  • Meditation seems to fit in with other healthy lifestyle practices such as fitness and nutrition.

In the worst case scenario, these types of short-term goals can lead to frustration and the conclusion that meditation is “not working.” 

Imagine someone who meditates because they want to fall asleep 15 minutes faster than they usually do. 

They haven’t tried to meditate on why they are having trouble sleeping. 

Instead they doggedly believe that they will fall asleep faster if they do specific breathing exercises at regular intervals. This method does not improve their sleep, so they feel like meditation doesn’t “work” for them.

How to Make Meditation Work for You

A more powerful form of motivation is the pursuit of transformational self-help. This method involves exploring questions and goals such as:

  • I want to change who I am.
  • I want to accept who I am.
  • I want to be a better person.
  • What is my purpose?
  • Who am I?
  • What is virtue?

Truly spiritual meditation is the journey of answering these questions, as well as contemplating both yourself and the nature of life. 

How Long Does It Take for Meditation to Start Working?

It could be a minute, an hour, a day or a lifetime. 

The interval between start and benefit depends on your mindset, motivation, dedication and external factors. 

If you meditate to loosen a tight muscle, you might experience a change within seconds.

The difference between transactional and transformational self-help is similar to the old adage of giving a man a fish versus teaching him how to fish

To learn to meditate in ways that provide transformational self-help, you’ll need much more patience than what is required for downloading an app and trying a few exercises. 

It’s worth it, though. 

With enough practice, you won’t ever feel the urge to gain peace in a transactional way. Instead you’ll become a person who is at peace.