Is meditation for atheists and agnostics? Of course it is. And if anyone ever tells you that you shouldn’t practice meditation because you are an atheist, you should probably share this article with them.
Try telling someone that you meditate. They’ll probably say, “So, you’re religious…?”
It seems the world refuses to accept the idea of non-religious meditation. And in the twenty first century, that’s a truly ass-backwards mentality.
There are three types of people in the world.
The first is the devoutly religious individual. They believe in their one religion absolutely, and they’ll follow that religion no matter what, even if that religion causes harm to other people.
The second type of person is the strictly non-religious and non-spiritual person. These people hate religion and spirituality. They believe religion and spirituality are for the brainwashed. This mentality helps them to avoid being consumed by any one belief. But it also prevents them from taking advantage of the positive aspects of spirituality, of which meditation is just one.
The third type of person doesn’t force themselves to stick to one type of religion or spirituality. They’re not going to follow a book just because society tells them to. But at the same time, they’re open minded enough to consider that some aspects of spirituality might actually be good.
I’m going to guess that you are in the third group, that you are not religious, nor even particularly spiritual, but that you are open minded enough to believe that meditation could be helpful for you even though meditation did originate from a religion.
If you are this type of person then great, because in my humble opinion this is the best type of person to be. This type of person is open minded enough to consider aspects of spirituality, but also brave enough and independent enough to think for themselves. And you might notice that you have many of the strengths of spiritual people, even though you’re not devoutly spiritual. And you might also appreciate the importance of spirituality in life too.
It’s easy to see why the third type of person is best. It’s because they’re not forcing themselves to believe anything and, equally important, they’re not forcing themselves not to believe anything. They are the ones with open minds.
Buddha himself said he is not a God and that it was not necessary to follow his spiritual code in order to use meditation.
You can enjoy the benefits of spiritual practices even if you are not spiritual. Because… you know… basic freedom and human rights
The idea that meditation is religious is just one of the many myths and lies about meditation.
Even if you yourself are not spiritual you are still free to try some spiritual practices. And you can definitely get into meditation. There are types of meditation that you can do even if you absolutely despise spirituality and think its the dumbest thing in the world. We’ll get to those in a minute.
Even for non-spiritual people, there are some practices that began in spirituality and have become mainstream. Yoga. Tai chi. Martial arts. They began as spiritual practices. But today they aren’t really considered spiritual. People recognise the real-world health benefits of those things. And meditation is the same..
Meditation began as a religious practice. It was originally a Hindu practice. It began in Hinduism 4000 years ago. The Buddhists then took hold of meditation and created most of the meditation techniques that are used today.
So, meditation began as a religious practice. And you can read all about the history of meditation here.
But meditation has changed over the past four thousand years. Now that we understand how meditation works, it it is both a spiritual and scientific health practice. Spiritual and scientific. And that is one of the best thing about meditation. Because spirituality and science don’t agree on much. Tell the National Institute of Science that praying to God will change your life and you’ll be met with a few stiffly raised eyebrows. But say to them “Meditation makes me healthy, happy, and a better human being” and those same scientists will nod approvingly and say, “Yes, it does, we just finished proving that in the lab.”
That’s because meditation is now a scientific practice. And the fact that science approves of meditation really proves the point I want to make today: you can practice meditation if you non-religious and non-spiritual.
So. Say this loud and clear with me…
Is meditation religious and spiritual? It can be, based on the individual. It can also be purely a health thing. And if you are interested in practicing meditation without being spiritual, then I would like to hepl you. There are many different types of non-religious meditations that non spiritualists can use. And I’m going to share the best of them with you.
No matter what some religious people might try to tell you, you CAN meditate. Meditation is for atheists as well as for religious and spiritual people.
Let’s face it, science is the number one form of atheism. Scientists don’t do belief. They objectively study and measure everything. They don’t believe in God. Sure, some might not disbelieve, but they don’t believe either, because you can’t measure God. You can’t quantify God. You can’t put a label on God and say, “Here is God.” Scientists are the biggest atheists of us all. And if they advocate meditation, then clearly meditation is for atheists too.
But if meditation is for atheists, then a new question presents itself.
What if you’re an atheist who wants to stay away from any of the religious or spiritual connotations of meditation? Because meditation is still widely perceived as a religious and spiritual practice.
Even if you go around with the atheist logo tattooed on your body…
…people will still ask questions if you’re meditating.
If you tell someone that you meditate they’ll presume you are religious. That’s because modern society hasn’t quite caught up with the changing views on meditation. Believe it or not, some people still think meditation is evil and satanic, which is what most people in the West thought up to the 60s (when the Beatles started meditating). Four thousand years has left a stain. Now anytime people see someone meditating they instantly think “Religious person.”
We’re heading towards a point when meditation will not be seen as a religious practice, but we are not quite there yet. As neurological scientist Sam Harris says, “There’s going to come a time when we’re not talking about “Buddhist meditation”… we’re just talking about turning consciousness upon itself and what can be discovered by that process.”
We’re getting close to that point, but we’re not quite there yet.
So what if you want to meditate but you don’t want to be taken for a spiritualist and you don’t want to engage in anything remotely spiritual?
What it you want to do a meditation for atheists, a specific type of meditation that is 100% clear of all spiritual connotations?
It’s hard to answer that question without saying Zen. Because Zen is Buddhism and Buddhism is a religion. But the honest answer is Zen. Blue jeans Zen. Zen without dharma. Zen without Buddha. Just Zen.
I think the old proverb “When sitting sit” says it all.
When doing one thing, do one thing. That’s what meditation is, in a nutshell, it’s doing one thing absolutely. And surely there can’t be anything religious about that. Surely doing one thing mindfully is not religious, it’s just healthy.
Take a look at these 25 mindful habits. They are forms of meditation. And you already do them. Tell me, are they religious? (Leave a comment).
As Wellness Expert Olivia Rosewood says, “Meditation is merely the momentary pause of thought. It is as religious as the holding of breath as you dive under water.”
Here is one way to practice meditation without having people think you’re spiritual
If you want to try meditation for atheists, then you should probably drop the term “Meditation” and just call it “Mindfulness.” The terms are interchangeable, but the first conveys religious overtones where the second is the same practice without religiosity. Even though this is absolutely stupid because mindfulness actually came from a religion too (Zen Buddhism). But, to cut a long story short, when the term “mindfulness” came to the West is came as a scientific practice, not a religious one. So people tend to think of ‘mindfulness” as being a science.
So, who wants to try some meditations for atheists?… Oh, my bad, I mean “Mindfulness for atheists”?
5 types of non-religious, non-spiritual meditation for atheists
These meditations are all safe for atheists.
1: Just breathe
Breathing surely can’t be religious, can it? Just sit silently and focus on your breathing. This is a very simple practice that clearly is not overtly spiritual. But it is very good for your health. I’ve created a complete guide to breathing meditations (but it does contain a couple of spiritual terms, to give you a heads-up).
2: Non-religious mantras
Mantras derive from Hinduism, but they do not need to be religious. Mantras are simply words or sounds that are repeated. For instance, repeat the word “Calm.” Buddhists would advise you to recite a mantra 108 times, but just recite the word calm until you feel calm. It’s ridiculously simple but also powerfully effective. You could even call Nike’s “Just Do It” a mantra. It evokes an emotional response and if you repeat it enough times you will feel like “Just doing it”. And surely Nike is not religious (even if their name is actually based on an old Greek god).
3: Acem Meditation
You know when I said that mantras were originally religious, and that scientists don’t like religion? Well, as though to prove both points, scientists in Scandanavia have created a new type of meditation, which is very similar to mantra meditation but non-religious. It’s called Acem meditation. It involves reciting gibberish. No joke. Apparently it really works too. You can read more about Acem here.
4: Mindful Art
All forms of art can readily be made into excellent meditation techniques. Take singing, for example. Simply pick your favourite song and sing it while focussing your mind 100% on the sensations of your voice and breath reverberating around your body. Or painting. Sit outside somewhere beautiful, overlooking a lake, or perhaps a waterfall or mountainside. Now draw or paint the landscape while focussing on that artistic activity. No matter what type of art you’re into, turn it into a meditation technique. After all, all art can be done mindfully.
Silence truly is golden. One of the most beautiful meditation techniques in the world is to focus on pure silence. Silence is infinite, is expands across space and time. When you meditate on silent you expand your consciousness to stretch out across the cosmos. This really is an amazing meditation technique. Let me show you how to do it in my Guide To Meditating On silence.
These five non-religious types of meditation for atheists are all incredibly effective, and there’s not an ounce of religiosity between the five of them.
If you’re an atheist and would like to learn how to meditate, you’ll love my new book Welcome To Silence: A Practical Guide To Mindfulness And Meditation.
And be sure to read my introduction to the different types of meditation.