Meditation for Freethinkers: Top Three Concerns

Meditation for Freethinkers: Top Three Concerns August 17, 2020

If you’re a freethinker who would like to try meditating, here’s a few things you need to think about.

Image by S K from Pixabay

For Freethinkers, there are three aspects of meditation you want to be concerned with: The first concern is knowing the physical requirements; the “how-to” parts of meditation. The second concern is choosing a scientifically based form of meditation. And the third concern developing a practice that steers clear of any religious or philosophical baggage.

Physical requirements

There are specific meditation techniques that are proven to be highly effective. The basic technique is to sit still and contemplate, but other postures and variations apply. This seems easy enough until you try sitting perfectly still for minutes to hours at a time and focusing on your breath. In the thousands of years that people have been meditating, sitting and contemplating is still the preferred method of choice. So, learning the basics of posture and a bit of meditation etiquette is crucial to achieving great results. (Please see my post Meditation for Freethinkers: A Quick-Start Guide for some good tips.)

The science behind meditation

We are pretty much at that point in history where meditation has lost its aura of mystery. Meditation gone mainstream as a legitimate way of vastly improving one’s mental prowess. Consequently, there are many avenues to take towards realizing the benefits of meditation that are backed by solid science. One still needs to be careful, however, because there is still a lot of pseudo-religious forms of meditation that freethinkers will want to stay away from.

That said, one of the most common forms of meditation comes by way of the philosophy known as Buddhism. Buddhism has a rich and long history predating Christianity. Similar to Christianity, it has also splintered off into many divergent sects, many of which teach their own versions of meditation. Despite this fact, there is a commonly utilized, westernized version of Buddhist meditation known as Vipassana. This practice is also known as insight or mindfulness meditation. This westernized version of meditation incorporates and teaches some beneficial aspects of Buddhism that is relatively free of philosophical baggage.

Vipassana consists of incorporating two highly effective processes to meditating: It helps to develop pinpointed focus and concentration, and it increases a person’s awareness of their thoughts, beliefs and actions.

Western science defines this two-fold process of meditation as “focused attention” and “open monitoring.” Indeed, one of the fascinating components of Vipassana is the genuine science behind the practice. What this means for freethinkers is that he or she can reap the benefits of learning Buddhist meditative techniques without having to incorporate any dogmatic beliefs into his practice.

Religious or philosophical aspects of meditation

Here’s where learning how to meditate can be problematical. When you meditate the method you choose determines the kinds of mental skills you want to develop as well as those you may not want to develop. This is generally not a concern for someone just wanting to learn how to alleviate stress by learning breathing techniques. In inevitably though, anyone who seriously pursues meditation will encounter religious influences and other dogmatic hurtles. For example, karma and reincarnation are core Buddhist teachings. In general, Buddhist’s believe that by avoiding bad Karma one can reach enlightenment and escape living in a perpetual state of being reincarnated. Therefore, many Buddhist forms of meditation are geared to incorporating teachings about Karma into their techniques.

The challenge for freethinkers is to not discard meditation altogether due to its philosophical roots or association with new-age ideologies. So, if you’re thinking about starting, now would be a great time. Meditation can be a game-changer for freethinkers, specifically because it allows a person to look deep within themselves to isolate and eliminate any erroneous beliefs and perceptions they may have about life.

About Scott R. Stahlecker
Scott R. Stahlecker is the author of the novel "Blind Guides, “Picking Wings Off Butterflies,” and “How to Escape Religion Guilt Free.” He is a former pastor and previous owner of several hospice agencies. “I’ve spent roughly thirty years as a freethinker. Among the many things I’ve discovered is that there’s few non-religious websites that offer optimistic discussions about free thought; about its benefits for individuals and societies, or tips on how to develop freethinking skills. Which is why I created Thinkadelics; to engage with others on a range of topics — from newsworthy posts to in-depth features — which best articulates the joys of being a freethinker.” You can read more about the author here.

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17 responses to “Meditation for Freethinkers: Top Three Concerns”

  1. Liking your series. I’m an atheist who meditates. For me, it’s all about the breath and triggering the parasympathetic (“rest and relaxation/digestion”) part of the nervous system. I picked up this skill in yoga classes which were shockingly free of woo. The book Buddha’s Brain is also a good source to learn more about meditation and how steady practice can help keep you calmer.

  2. Thanks. I’m also an atheist as well and have been meditating for about 8 years. I got into it after reading Sam Harris’ book “Waking up.” It’s hard to find books on meditation that don’t have any “woo.” I meditate to relax as well, but it’s also a great tool for freethinkers. Thanks for book tip. Would you describe that book as one for beginners or intermediate level?

  3. @Scott; the book does a deep dive into the neurological and chemical changes that meditation introduces in the body. There’s a huge section that’s just a medical look at long-term results on the body that come from a meditation practice. It’s been years since I read the book–I picked it up at a Unitarian Universalist church, of all places. If you want freethought but still want a community, the UU church is a good place. <–not a paid advertisement.

    My yoga studio carried Mindful magazine, which is mostly non-woo and meant for the average person to learn about meditation and contains a bunch of articles written by a bunch of people with varying ideas about meditation. Through them, I found out about an attended a meditation seminar weekend that was really very good, but I haven't read the magazine in ages, so I can't tell you what's going on there.

    I'll have to check out "Waking up".

    As for my personal practice, usually I do a walking meditation because I find that helps regulate my breath.

  4. The book sounds like a good read, and about what I’m looking for in terms of offering good scientific data. “Waking Up” is more of an introduction to meditation. It might not be what you’re looking for since you’ve been meditating for a while. What I particularly liked about the book was that Harris offered some insight into “spirituality” from a non-religious perspective. Always a tough subject to tackle …

    Thanks for the info!

  5. Thank you, again, for the information.

    I went to a float spa today and spent my hour in meditation. This might interest you, at least to try. Unlike the coffins you see on tv, the place I went had what looked like a really, really large bathtub in a room that went absolutely dark. The water is skin temperature so you lose track of the fact you’re in water, and the super-salt-saturated water means everyone will float in it. Without the distractions of posture and temperature, it was easy to focus on the breathing and move into a deep meditation.

  6. I’ve been practicing bare-bones mindfulness meditation, with no philosophy or religion cluttering it up, for several months. The act of simply focusing and refocusing on the breath, or on a sensation in the body, is sufficiently challenging all by itself . Mandalas and Bodhisattvas and mantras need not apply.

  7. @Astreja; I focus on my breath and agree that’s sufficiently challenging. Off the cushion, I try to be mindful but that’s still a work in progress.

    A helpful saying I picked up somewhere that I try to keep in mind is, “When you wash the dishes, wash the dishes”. In other words, focus on the task at hand and not on the millions of distractions our monkey minds (or at least my monkey mind) throws out. For example, during the float, as I was settling into my meditation, anxious thoughts arose and I dismissed them and went back to the breath because I was there to float, not to obsess over whether I had unplugged the electric kettle. THAT is one of my biggest obstacles to overcome; the random, sometimes pointless, fixations.

    I circle back to the yoga studio where I first learned meditation; you would expect a lot of religious blather, but the instructors kept it secular. If someone is interested in learning or deepening their practice, it might be worth their while to explore a yoga studio or a Park & Rec yoga class and see what kind of offerings they might have. Buyer beware, because not all meditation practitioners are alike.

  8. I began meditating years ago at an American Zen center. While I still practice zen meditation (zazen), I discarded the woo decades ago. A good non-sectarian, non-woo based meditation center is the Springwater Center for meditative inquiry in upstate N.Y. It was founded by my late teacher Toni Packer. She left the traditional zen center where she began because of all the supernatural, faith elements and authoritarian structure. It is encouraging to see so many secular meditation advocates out there. Sam Harris, of course. Dr. Susan Blackmore is a long-time meditator also. I just found this blog. Great idea1

  9. It can be tough. Some days I’m totally focused and other days not so much. I’ve found that it takes me about 10 minutes or so of focusing on the breath before I reach a good level of focus. Once I get to this point, I turn my mind into other thoughts and ideas that I would like to better understand. And I’ve tried mantras, but they are a distraction for me.

  10. After I had been meditating for about a year I started reading some higher level books. I was surprised to find out how much philosophical dogma is incorporated into many forms of meditation. Karma and reincarnation are a couple of examples. But I had left a religion many years earlier, and wanted nothing to do with getting sucked back into another “system” to follow. So, I had to make some adjustments. I discovered that meditation offered me a way to really investigate many of the false ideas and beliefs I thought about life. Which is why I think meditation is a powerful tool for freethinkers.

    One of my favorite meditation books was written by actor Peter Coyote called the “Rainman’s Third Cure” It’s an interesting bio of his life as an actor, but also his decades long practice in Zen. I just did a google search on him, and most of the links and videos I found on him talk about Zen meditation.

  11. Today, I went to the beachfront with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!|

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