Yes, there are non-religious meditations for atheists and agnostics. And no matter what some hardcore religious people might tell you, you have just as much right to practice meditation as anyone else. If you’re an atheist, agnostic or, well, anyone else, you can meditate.
As a mindfulness teacher, I’ve taught non-religious meditation to atheists and agnostics for years. Many of the students in my online meditation lessons are atheists. And they are always happy when I share non-spiritual meditation techniques with them.
Let me show you the best non-religious meditations for atheists and agnostics.
Best non-religious meditations for Atheists
In my outrageously massive guide to different meditation techniques, I revealed all the top techniques in the world.
There are five excellent non-religious meditation techniques atheists and agnostics will love. I’ll share them in a sec.
But listen: It’s shocking how many people think meditation is spiritual.
Apparently, the world refuses to accept the idea of non-religious meditation. And in the twenty-first century, that’s a truly ass-backwards mentality. Now then, let’s get this straight: anyone can meditate! Yes, that includes you!
Try these non-spiritual meditations for starters
If you want to do absolutely non-spiritual meditation, start with these 25 mindful habits.
Go ahead. They’re atheist-friendly. Looked at that link? Those mindful habits are great ways for atheists to start meditating.
Mindfulness simply means doing one thing at a time and focusing on what you’re doing. That’s what it is, in a nutshell, it’s doing one thing absolutely. And surely there can’t be anything religious about that. Surely mindfully doing one is just healthy.
As Wellness expert Olivia Rosewood says, “[Mindfulness is] merely the momentary pause of thought. It is as religious as the holding of breath as you dive underwater.”
Meditation, however, is a little bit different to mindfulness. So, let’s take a look at some of the best types of non-religious meditation for atheists and agnostics.
1: Just breathe
I know those church-goers think they own everything. But they can’t own your breath. You can focus on your breathing without being religious. Obviously, JUST BREATHING is a non-religious meditation, right?
Just sit silently and focus on your breathing. This is an effortless practice that clearly is not remotely spiritual. And it is significantly beneficial for your health.
Here is a quick version for you to try:
- Sit comfortably with good posture.
- Make sure your back is straight. Roll your shoulders back then let them relax.
- Close your eyes.
- Now focus on your breathing.
- Observe the sensations of the breath entering through your nose, down your throat, into your diaphragm and back. Simply sit observing your breathing.
- If you find it hard to focus, count your breaths.
- If you experience thoughts or emotions, just remind yourself that they are only thoughts and emotions, and then continue focusing on your breath.
- Aim for 108 breaths. When you do this, you will promote parasympathetic nervous system activity, reduce amygdala activity, reduce sympathetic nervous system activity, and balance cortisol. Basically, it will make you relax.
You might wonder what a mantra is? If so, read my Beginners Guide To Mantras. Tells you all you need to know.
Mantras derive from Hinduism. However, they do not need to be religious. Mantras are simply words or sounds that are repeated. For instance, repeat the word “Calm.” There you go, that’s a mantra.
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).
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 mantra meditation for non-religious people. It’s called Acem . It involves reciting gibberish. No joke. Apparently, it really works too.
4: Mindful Art
All forms of art can readily be made into non-spiritual meditation techniques.
Take singing, for example. Simply pick your favourite song and sing it. Meanwhile, focus 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 focusing on that artistic activity. No matter what type of art you’re into, turn it into a meditation technique. All art can be done mindfully.
Silence truly is golden. One of the most beautiful meditations in the world is to focus on pure silence. Silence is infinite. It expands across space and time. When you meditate on silence, you expand your consciousness to stretch out across the cosmos.
These five non-religious meditations for atheists are all incredibly effective. And there’s not an ounce of religiosity between the five of them.
Is Meditation Religious or Just Science?
As Stephen Batchelor says in Confessions of a Buddhist Atheists, “[Mindfulness] is not concerned with anything transcendent or divine. It serves as an antidote to theism, a cure for sentimental piety, a scalpel for excising the tumour of metaphysical belief. (130)”
It is a little bit spiritual though…
There are many non-religious meditation techniques that don’t even go anywhere near belief (like binaural beats). However, the majority of methods do have their roots in Buddhist philosophy. Therefore, it’s hard to ignore the fact that it is a little bit spiritual.
Stop sweating. Spirituality is NOT what you think it is. I challenge you to read my guide to the actual meaning and importance of spirituality. And then tell me whether you are spiritual or not (You will be surprised. Everyone I explain spirituality to says “Really?! That’s what it actually means to be spiritual?!”) So yeah, click that link. And if you are still not spiritual, no biggie.
Some people do consider meditation religious, but it isn’t a huge issue. After all, a lot of practices began as a form of spirituality.
Here’s a list of things that started out spiritual, as meditation did:
- Tai Chi
- A lot of martial arts
The reason is this: practically everyone in the world used to be religious or spiritual. Hence, any ancient practice will invariably be tied to a religion, including meditation.
In the West, the church was ubiquitous into the 1800s. It’s only recently that religion and spirituality have become less popular.  So inevitably, any practice that is more than one hundred years old will likely be tied to some spirituality. It’s not a big deal. People recognise the real-world health benefits of yoga, tai chi, etc., so those things are no longer considered spiritual. They’re just health.
You’d be stupid not to meditate.
Because there are more than one hundred health benefits of meditation. Are you seriously going to ignore all the health benefits of meditation just because some people think it’s spiritual?
Science and spirituality both tell us to meditate. And science and spirituality do not 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 it proves the point I want to make. You can do meditation if you’re non-religious and non-spiritual.
So. Say this loud and clear with me… I can meditate without being spiritual!
Non-spiritual meditation practitioners are one of the three groups of people who meditate
There are three types of people who meditate:
- The first is the devoutly religious individual. They believe in their one faith absolutely. And they’ll follow that religion no matter what, even if that religion causes harm. They will tell you that meditation is religious.
- The second type of person is the strictly non-spiritual person. These people hate theology and spirituality. They believe theology and spirituality are for the brainwashed. This mentality helps them to avoid being consumed by any belief. But it also prevents them from taking advantage of the positive aspects of spirituality. So, they think they can’t meditate.
- 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 useful. So they can meditate without it being spiritual.
Which do you think is best? (Comment).
Are you the open minded-non-religious-meditator?
Which type of person are you?
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 some meditative exercises could be helpful for you even though meditation originated from a faith [that much is just historical fact].
If you are this type of person, great. You’re open-minded. And you’re smart enough to appreciate the importance of spirituality in life too. Science has proven that spirituality is very healthy. And because of this, it is best to have an open mind to spirituality even if you’re not devoutly spiritual.
This is why the third type of person (above) is the best. 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.
So if that’s you, good news: yes, you can meditate without being religious or spiritual.
But if meditation is for atheists, then a new question presents itself.
What if you’re an atheist and you don’t want anyone else finding out that you meditate in case they think you’re becoming spiritual or religious?
Even if you go around with the atheist logo tattooed on your body people will still ask questions if you’re meditating, even in 2021. If you tell someone you meditate, they’ll presume you are religious or at least somewhat spiritual. That’s because modern society hasn’t quite caught up with the changing views on the practice.
Unbelievably, some people still think meditation is evil and satanic Most people in the West thought meditation was a sin until the 1960s (when the Beatles started meditating). Four thousand years have 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’re not 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 there yet.
So how do you stop other people from thinking you’re spiritual? Just call meditation “mindfulness”. The terms are interchangeable, but “meditation” conveys religious overtones where “mindfulness” does not. Even though this is absolutely stupid because mindfulness actually came from Zen Buddhism.
But, to cut a long story short, when the term “mindfulness” came to the West it came as a scientific practice, not a religious one, largely thanks to mindfulness expert Jon Kabat Zinn. Because of that, people tend to think of ‘mindfulness” as being a science.
If you do want to tell people you meditate without having them say “You’re spiritual?!” just say “I practice mindfulness” instead. And if you’re now ready to get started into meditation, or mindfulness, or “that conscious-focusing exercise that is not at all religious”, book an online meditation lesson with me.
Paul Harrison is a passionate meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison
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