Meditation is Boring & People Who Do it Are Crazy. ~ Noah Daniels

Via Noah Daniels
on Aug 7, 2013
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(Photo: Pinterest)
(Photo: Pinterest)

A couple of weeks ago, I spent one of my few summer weekends sitting on a cushion, staring at a small patch of floor.

I didn’t play golf with my friends, as I might normally do. I didn’t see art or a movie or a concert, I didn’t read the Sunday section of the New York Times, I didn’t open a book. My Saturday and Sunday weren’t spent doing any of the exciting or relaxing things I might normally do on a sunny summer weekend. Instead, I spent my two precious days off from work indoors, alternating sitting on my ass and walking in circles. For hours and hours and hours.

Whenever I tell people that I’m not going to be available over the weekend because I’ll be on a meditation retreat, it seems they usually assume I’ll be blissed-out in a mental spa, or laying on a hammock at some swami’s idyllic estate, or engaged in some kind of new-age therapy session.

When they tell me that it “sounds nice” and wish me a “relaxing time,” I usually just say thanks and leave it at that. Because to explain what I’m actually doing for those two days cut off from the world—silently sitting on the floor and walking around in circles—well, how would anyone understand why someone would ever want to do that? It sounds a little crazy. Hell, it is a little crazy.

And I know the second I say the word “meditation,” people get all kinds of ideas that I’m tuning in to some mystical plane, or shutting off my mind, or riding the snake to Valhalla.

But the truth is, I’m mostly just staring at the floor while all kinds of thoughts come whizzing into my brain.

I hate to spoil anyone’s illusion (okay, maybe I don’t), but that’s what going on in those hallowed meditation centers, or at least in most of the good ones. We sit on our butts for twenty minutes without moving. Then we walk silently in a small circle for twenty minutes. Then we return to the cushion to sit again. Then we walk. Sit. Walk. Sit. Walk. It goes on and on and on and on. Can you imagine anything more boring?

And that’s the naked truth: meditation is boring, and the decision to do a weekend-long meditation retreat is to choose to be bored out of your mind for an entire two day period, rather than enjoy the fruits on offer in the wonderful outside world. And sure, you may catch some relaxation or humor or bliss during the retreat. But also pain (both physical and mental), struggle, annoyance, anger, but mostly Boredom (yes, with a capital B).

Why on God’s green earth would anyone choose to do this?

Here’s why. Because if you (and I do mean you) do this for long enough, diligently working with the technique (though you may feel like you are consistently failing), if you just keep sitting and walking, sitting and walking, sitting and walking, then something will happen.

And here’s where things get slippery: it’s not entirely possible to explain exactly what happens, but not because it’s something exotic and mystical. It’s just because words can never accurately describe a real experience.

What I’m talking about is not your mind shutting off and entering into some calming plane of thoughtless being. It’s not your soul merging with the great Universe, whatever you imagine that to be like. It’s much more ordinary than that. And it doesn’t solve all your problems. It doesn’t mean you’ll never again feel anxiety or irrational anger or self-consciousness or self-loathing (though it may help with all that).

What happens is that you get a sense of who you are, who you really are, behind all the stories and machinations, behind the neuroses, behind the habits and beliefs, behind all the things that make up the person you pretend and wish that you are. You get a sense of your authentic self. And all the sanity, clarity, goodness, humanity and home-ness of being in touch with that authentic self.

I can’t satisfactorily describe it—I can only put myself in a position to experience it. So I sit and I walk, and I sit and I walk, and I sacrifice 20 minutes of precious sleep every morning to stare at the floor, and I give up an entire summer weekend to hole-up in a room to do it over and over again: sit and walk and sit and walk.

And people will think it’s a little crazy. Hell, it is a little crazy.

But once you have a true experience of why you’re doing it, you know that spending your time any other way is even crazier.


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Assistant Ed: Renee Picard/Ed: Bryonie Wise


About Noah Daniels

Noah Daniels is a Buddhist practitioner who has studied in all three of the major Buddhist schools. He currently practices predominantly in the Shambhala and Plum Village traditions. You can contact him at [email protected], or experience his aging, travel and dharma bum writing and photography at his blog.


12 Responses to “Meditation is Boring & People Who Do it Are Crazy. ~ Noah Daniels”

  1. Michaela Rosenberger says:

    No, I don't find meditation boring. I find it challenging. It is an opportunity to be present in one place at one time with my Self. It helps to untie the knots within. Then my breathing eases, my mind eases and my body, mind and spirit rests. And I am Home. But getting myself to it …. I am willing!

  2. On my first month long retreat, about half way through i went into an interview and told my teacher that I was bored. What he said was the perfect response." You just aren't paying close enough attention." And of course he was right. The more I've learned over the years to just pay attention to what is actually arising in my body/mind the less often I've felt bored. the experience of boredom is simply the experience of wanting things to be different, better, more stimulating then they actually are.

  3. Michelle says:

    I adore every word you have written here. Thank you.
    Michelle Margaret

  4. nickribush says:

    I guess you're just trying to be amusing but the article does give an extremely incomplete and misleading picture of what meditation actually is. And if it's boring, you're not doing it right. Scroll down:

  5. Noah Daniels says:

    Hi Nick. Thanks for the feedback. A couple years ago I spent a 6 week stretch at Lama Yeshe's monastery in Nepal doing lots of shamatha and insight practice under the guidance of their specially selected monastic teachers. Let me tell you, it was BORING! At times. Not always, of course. But at times, most certainly. That's the nature of the beast I think, for now anyway.

    What's "doing it right"?

  6. carissa says:

    Personally I often do find meditation boring and challenging (and many other things) but ,like the author states, it has also become essential to my well-being. And, what is the "right" way to do it?? Clue me in, please. Thanks Noah for a factual and entertaining read!

  7. I really like the article – actually, it describes a Zen retreat (sesshin) perfectly, except the sitting was for 1/2 hr (not 20m! ). Actually, There are three 1/2 hr sits, with only 7m of walking (kinhin) in between.

    This passage gave away the nature of the meditation style, but more than that, gives away the nature of the difference between Buddhist and Yogic style practices:

    "What I’m talking about is not your mind shutting off and entering into some calming plane of thoughtless being. It’s not your soul merging with the great Universe, whatever you imagine that to be like. It’s much more ordinary than that."

    That is to say, the unwillingness (on the part of Zen) to speak of such lofty ideas as "merging with the infinite."

    While it does tend to be boring, it doesn't have to be. One of my teachers referred to boredom as "the lack of presence." Ironic, as meditation is supposed to be the practice of presence! Regardless, it can be beautiful – but I would say, may we be unafraid to speak of "altered states" (I'm not talking about drugs, at all!) and merging with the divine!

    Not arguing with anything – like I said, from my experience, it absolutely describes the sesshin – just adding my input:) ~Dhanpal-Donna Quesada

  8. danielschar says:

    Great article! I am so jealous of the title! I wish I had thought of it!

  9. Thank you for this. I have been meditating for over ten years now. I would say that meditation is life altering. I see where I would have been without it and I see where I am. It is, in my view, critically important to the human experience, unless you like spinning your wheels in the mud (which is OK too, from a certain perspective). My practice began out of the confusion spawned from pretty intense suffering. Once I began to see a broader reality in the gap between the drama and the reality I found a deeper and more reliable joy. Meditation isn't magic. It's just a tool we can use to see.

  10. Heather says:

    Thanks for this Nick. Yes, meditation is boring! And then we just might see how ordinarily extraordinary this world actually is. To expect entertainment may just be fooling yourself..

  11. Peter says:

    Lol this is a shame because meditation is a explosion of beauty and intensity

    – its a mind that is fully engaged with life. Meditation there is no effort, most people put forth a effort and

    Train their brain, that is why you are bored, meditation has a quality of seeing that pure

    And explosive which is never boring.