Meditation Is Not What You Think It Is

Hi friends,

Recently I’ve been thinking about meditation in the 21st Century. Fair to say meditation, has changed since the times of Buddha, hasn’t it?

When Buddha taught meditation, he taught it as a way to gain insight (vipassana); specifically, insight to the mind. The Pali Canon states that meditation is a quite reflection in which we watch the workings of the mind in order to understand the mind. And this is backed by the words of S.N. Goenka.

The reason meditation was taught for insight was because there are so many aspects of the mind that people don’t understand.

Maybe you sometimes feel like you don’t understand what is happening within yourself, why you think some of the things you think, and do some of the things you do.

Meditation was originally taught as a way to gain insight into the mind so we could understand our inner workings.

Not anymore.

Ever since 2019, when mindfulness and meditation became a multi-billion-dollar industry, meditation has gone from being about understanding your own mind, to listening to recordings designed to help you relax (i.e, guided meditations).

Did you know that “guided meditations” aren’t actually meditation at all? Yes, I know what Andy Puddicombe from Headspace and all those other apps want you to think. They want you to think that meditation is about listening to a recording of someone talking to you and telling you how to relax.


In fact, meditation was never designed for pure relaxation in the first place. Nope. Meditation was designed to create insight into the mind so that we could all gain control of our inner workings. And now it is about going to your iPhone and playing a recording. Which is actually guided imagery and not meditation at all.

These app developers who tell us about the health benefits of apps lie to us.

Did you know that app developers (I’m talking about Headspace, Insight Timer, Calm, etc.) constantly publish research that they say proves their apps work. And yet, other than the research those companies pay for (which is obviously biased) there is no positive independent research that backs the claims of these companies. Indeed, in 2019 Harvard Medical School published research that shows that mindfulness apps are nowhere near as effective as traditional meditation.

How these companies dupe us is like this. They say that research shows that meditation is beneficial. And indeed, meditation is beneficial. However, that research is actually conducted on participants who are meditating in the traditional sense. It is not conducted on people using apps. The argument of these companies is that their apps teach meditation and therefore offer the same benefit of traditional meditation (you know, meditating without your phone). This is simply not true, because the meditators in scientific studies were not using apps, they were performing actual meditation.

This is backed by experts. Jon Kabat Zinn calls apps “McMindfulness.” Bodhipaksa has stated that you can not meditate while listening to a recording. And just go ahead and ask any Zen monk whether they meditate with their iPhone.

Meditation is not what you think it is. It is not about being on your phone. And it is time for the world to wake up.

I would like to ask you to put down your cellphone when you meditate. Step away from the apps. And actually meditate for real. Because the science shows that apps do not work, whereas legitimate, traditional meditation does.

It’s time we ended this McMindfulness fad and started meditating for real.


By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.

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