5 Ways to Rethink Meditation If You’re Worried That It’s Woo-Woo

As someone who writes and speaks publicly about meditation, it may surprise you to learn that I did not tell anyone—anyone—when I started meditating. At first, I didn’t know whether the practice would work for me or what I hoped it would help me find. It was a weird little thing I did because I’d read some books and articles and I was so stressed and bogged down with overthinking that I was willing to try anything. But meditating seemed like a break from my personality—driven, logical, intense, goal-oriented—and so, I suppose, it seemed like a deviation even for a few minutes to do nothing with no particular goal at all. Why would I risk people thinking I was weird or worse woo-woo for something that was admittedly out of my character and might not even work?

Of course, for me, it did work and that’s when I started to tell other people in my life about it. I first admitted to my husband that I wasn’t actually “napping” but instead meditating when I asked him to mind our daughter so I could have some quiet for a few minutes. I then raved to a few friends and family members I could trust about how much it helped. Some had questions but nobody responded with judgment. So, eventually, I started writing and speaking about it and I was astounded to find that other professionals, colleagues, and even clients supported me and shared their own struggles with mental health or experience with meditation.

My experience has shown me that meditation isn’t woo-woo at all (or at least it doesn’t have to be) but many people tell me that it remains a stumbling block for them. With that in mind, here are my tips for processing the issue if you want to meditate but are nervous about being woo-woo.

1. You Don’t Have to Explain Your Practice to Anyone

I write and speak about meditation because it helped me and I think it could help others. But you have no obligation to talk to anyone else about your self-care practices. In fact, you may find benefits from keeping your practice to yourself. Meditation is about learning to be with yourself, so it stands to reason that keeping your practice to yourself may give you the space to let the practice work its magic. In addition, letting your practice be your own little secret for a while may make it more appealing because either it can serve as your own haven from the world or it may make you feel like some secret, rebel, meditating badass. In short, you don’t have to share your meditation practice with anyone else until you are ready, which includes fully processing your concerns about it being woo-woo.

2. Drop the Baggage.

To be fair, some people think meditation is woo-woo because there are so many ways to meditate. Religious traditions can attach practices like chanting and incense that can make some people feel excluded. Some secular figures have used the practice of meditation as an affectation to virtue signal or demonstrate their own spiritual superiority. And some others for their own personal reasons like to add things like crystals or intense affirmations to a meditation practice and those things might not appeal to you. Guess what? There is no monopoly on meditation. Just because some people do their practice in one way doesn’t mean that you can’t do it in your own way.

While I consider myself a spiritual person, I am also a deeply practical one. I frankly don’t have time for crystals and incense. My brain rejects affirmations, flowery language, and theatrical voices with great fervor. And, though I find chanting builds a sense of community when meditating in groups, it feels awkward to do it on my own. So generally, my practice is straightforward: I sit, I breathe, I notice sensations in the body, and I let the thoughts and feelings and distractions come as they may.

When done in this way, the practice of meditation isn’t weird at all. It’s simple, practical, and has been shown by research to be effective. So, one way to get over the worries about meditation being woo-woo is to consider what images, symbols, or cultural influences you think are intertwined with the practice of meditation. When you remember that the practice of meditation can be very simple, you may be able to drop some of the baggage that makes you feel it is mystical or strange.

3. Change Is a Little Bit Woo-Woo.

If you are exploring meditation, the odds are that you want some kind of change in your life. Though new things can scare us a little, it’s hard to get change without being open to new things. Even though meditation might scare you because it is different, that different approach, outlook, or way of thinking may be exactly what you need. In other words, the fact that meditation may seem strange to you at first is not necessarily a bad thing.

Remember that it is normal and common to feel uncomfortable at first when you start any new practice or learn any new skill. This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t do it. Though your mind is bound to ask questions like “Is this right for me?” or “do I really want to get myself into this?”, you don’t have to answer those questions right away. Only experience can give the answers to those questions. The good thing about meditation is that it encourages you to take note of your present activities, the thoughts in your mind, and the feelings in your body. If it’s not right for you, you’ll know. But if it is, you might just get the change you set out to find.

4. Is Woo-Woo Really the Issue?

Sitting and watching my mind for a number of years has taught me that the mind is a tricky thing. It won’t always be straight with you about what it’s trying to do. Sometimes the mind comes up with stories or doubts to keep you from looking at things that scare it. As human beings, we don’t always want to get up close and personal with our habits and patterns. Those things can make us feel pain, regret, or even shame. They can push us into new situations and raise feelings we’d long since buried. Cleary, I can’t tell you whether that is true for you. But, it’s at least worth it to consider whether the whole “woo-woo” issue is even the issue at all.

Are you really worried about the practice being weird or looking weird to others? Or is your mind a little afraid of losing control? Are you a little afraid of changing or seeing that you need to change some things in your life? None of those fears deserve judgment. They are all deeply human and normal. Most of us know, of course, that making life decisions based on fear usually doesn’t make us happier. So, if the concerns about meditation being woo-woo are coming up for you, one thing to ask yourself is whether that concern is masking something else.

5. So What?

If all of these strategies still don’t help, there’s always the catch-all line from grade school: so what? Let’s say you give meditation a try and you end up loving it. You go crazy with it and you woo-woo it up. You chant, burn incense, add crystals, bells, and mandalas and you love every bit of it. You learn that you’ve had a secret woo-woo persona lying in wait your whole life just dying to get out.

So what?

Do these new tendencies mean you can’t be a good lawyer? Do they mean you will no longer be a tax-paying productive member of society? Do they mean you will have no choice but to grow your hair long, find a drum circle, and go live on a commune? I really doubt that they do.  

This isn’t to say that your concerns about meditation and questions about your identity don’t matter. They matter a lot. But, by asking “so what” to the concerns about being woo woo, you are not letting the label of woo-woo and the attempt to avoid it decide what you do in your life. Instead, you are considering the meaning of that label for yourself, assessing its veracity, considering whether it fits you and what you are doing, and deciding if it’s a deal-breaker or not.

Isn’t that the way we lawyers handle problems every day? Our clients present us with a set of facts and raise concerns and we don’t throw up our hands and give up. We study the facts, try to uncover and root out assumptions, and then we decide what approach to take. Decisions about what practices might serve our mental and physical well-being deserve at least that much attention.  So don’t let labels or vague worries get in your way if you want to meditate, instead ask what those labels and worries are about and you may just learn something interesting about yourself in the process.

In the end, I can’t tell you whether meditation is woo-woo or not. Meditation practices are varied and unique and what qualifies as woo-woo to one person may just be normal to another. My point here, though, is only to demonstrate that the concerns about whether the practice of meditation is woo-woo, weird, or strange are really a starting point instead of a dead end.

Doubts are a normal part of life, especially for us lawyers who are habituated to valuing our time highly and trained to think critically about everything. Though the practice of meditation may seem new and different to many, research indicates that it could offer your life and law practice many benefits. The only way to know for sure, of course, is to try it out with an open mind and heart. So don’t let doubts about being woo-woo get in the way. Examine that label and your doubts and focus instead on building a life that you want to live with whatever practices serve you best.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Is Meditation a Spiritual Practice?

A friend shared a meme recently which listed 4 buckets of self-care strategies, including physical, social, emotional, and spiritual. I was glad to see that it included meditation, but my lawyer brain fired up when I saw it listed meditation only in the spiritual bucket. Literally starting with the phrase, “Well, actually” my mind began drafting a response to my friend’s social media post to explain that meditation was not just a spiritual practice.

Rather than alienate my friend, however, I decided that a blog post would probably be a better forum for these thoughts. So, here it goes. Is meditation a “spiritual practice?” Undoubtedly it is, since various forms of meditation have overtly been part of numerous spiritual and religious traditions throughout history. Meditation also may be a spiritual practice for many individuals outside of the context of religious and spiritual traditions. In my view, a spiritual practice is one that establishes or promotes a sense of connection between an individual and other beings or the universe. Meditation has clearly offered that for me and the importance of that cannot be overstated.

But I rail against putting meditation only in the spiritual bucket for a few reasons. The biggest is that, as a lawyer, I am a super practical person. Emphasizing the spiritual aspects of meditation can therefore be problematic when it is done to the exclusion of other practical benefits. Sure, meditation can connect you with the universe. It can also help you not be troubled by your thoughts. In my case, it consistently reduces or abates my headaches and other physical signs of stress. And, it routinely helps me get over myself by letting me see that I need to apologize/ask for help/forgive myself/ease up/just let something go. Having experienced all of these practical benefits firsthand, I can’t put meditation into the “spiritual” bucket alone because it contributes regularly to my mental/emotional/physical/social wellbeing.

But maybe that really takes me to a different point altogether. Maybe the problem isn’t with calling meditation a “spiritual” practice at all. Instead, perhaps the issue is that all of these aspects of personal well-being – spiritual, emotional, physical, and social – are actually intertwined. As a pedagogical tool, it may be helpful to separate out these needs so that us wayward humans who often stray from the path of health and happiness can find our breadcrumb trail to stumble back to sanity. But the truth, as my meditation practice regularly reveals to me, is that these human needs are intertwined and interdependent. Thus, most wholesome activities can’t be put into one bucket alone, but rather support, cycle, and flow into all the others.

So, am I telling you to stop sharing that meme and others like them that separate out human needs into categories? Of course not. But as you share or view memes like these, it may help to just consider for a moment if they are 100% true and, more significantly, whether they are true for you. It may be even more eye-opening for you to think about the personal practices that you rely on to keep yourself well and whether they fit in just one, multiple or all of the “human needs” buckets. Considering this myself, I can’t agree that meditation is only a spiritual practice any more than I could agree that exercise is just a physical one. In the end, I think meditation is a human practice made for human needs, including those that are spiritual, physical, social, and mental.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Is the Hobby that Feeds Your Spirit the Same as Meditation?

When I talk about mindfulness or meditation, people frequently tell me that they don’t/can’t/won’t meditate but that their favorite hobby or pastime is “their meditation.” Some say “running” is their meditation. Some say “fishing”. Some say that they do “walking meditations.” I understand what all of these people mean. If I didn’t have a seated meditation practice, I’d say cooking and writing are my meditations. They are pastimes that make me feel connected to others, they connect my mind, heart, and body, and they both help my mind quiet down for a little while. But is this really the same thing as meditation?

This isn’t an easy question to answer because it really depends on what one means by “the same.” If you are talking about research-proven benefits, then the answer is probably “no.” Surely, research exists to demonstrate the health benefit of cooking one’s own meals, engaging in exercise, or even having hobbies. But whether that research would reveal benefits of the same kind that the practice of meditation offers is another matter. Indeed, the current research seems to suggest that various types of meditation can produce varying mental or physical health benefits. Thus, it stands to reason, that a different activity altogether may not truly be the “same” as meditation in terms of impact.

Another significant difference between meditation practice and other pastimes is one of degree. While certainly, favored activities like cooking, running, or fishing may unite the body and mind and even evoke a sense of spiritual satisfaction, that would make the pastimes far more similar to yoga asana practice than seated meditation. These practices may be excellent for managing stress and increasing happiness because they can help quiet the mind. Quieting the mind is one common benefit of meditation but it isn’t the only one.

For a style such a vipassana or loving-kindness practice, meditation will actually help you examine the mind. Since movement is minimized and even focal points restricted with these types of meditation practice, the meditator will almost inevitably be faced with their thought patterns and emotional reactions with no extra activity to distract their attention. As you can probably understand, the benefits of seeing these patterns include understanding oneself and increased agency in one’s life.

In other words, my opinion is that meditation is not the same as most personal hobbies, though parallels and some shared benefits undoubtedly exist. But does this mean that meditation is better than other personal hobbies? This, in my opinion, is a trick question. I think meditation might be more helpful to some people than personal hobbies in certain contexts, but I could also envision times when the opposite might be true. Thus, I don’t think “better” is an absolute answer. Moreover, my honest opinion is that one should not be choosing between meditation or satisfying personal hobbies. Instead, I think you should do both because I have experienced the benefits of both in my own life.

In short, when people tell me that their hobby is “their meditation”, I don’t tell them that they are wrong. I don’t think that I am better because I meditate. But I try to talk about and teach meditation in a way that people can understand the particular benefits it offers and that it’s available to them whenever they decide to sit down and give it a try. Until they do, I am thrilled to know that many people have hobbies that mean so much to them that they see them as akin to a self-care or spiritual practice.  It may not be the same as meditation but that’s not a bad thing. It just means other opportunities for benefits and personal exploration exist for you if the need and desire ever arise. 

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.