Is Meditation Evil? Dispelling 10 Insidious Meditation Myths And Its Impact From Kabbalah

There’s a big stigma about the so-called “spiritual dangers of meditation” even among Jews nowadays

Yet, our sages and prophets were all master meditators. After they studied the entire Torah, they went further, expanded their consciousness and reached the transcending wisdom (Chokhmah) from which they drew down to this world. In the Zohar we find this idea many times and this is one of the inner meanings of the word “Be’er” (Well), as we also find in Otzrot Chaim that Avraham and Yitzhak dug wells in their times. They were, in fact, doing the necessary Tikkun on the Shekhinah and as a result, bringing down “light” and wisdom.

The tradition of meditation continued until the time of the Arizal and Rabbi Chaim Vital with the introduction of Yichudim and Kavanot and then to the 4 “rivers from Eden”: The Baal Shem Tov, the Vilna Gaon, the Rashash (Rabbi Shalom Sharabi) and the Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto).

And then suddenly it fell to the sidelines in Jewish practice and became reserved to Tzaddikim and hippies. Even then it is still seen with bad eyes.

What happened that people think that meditation is evil?

To be honest, I don’t think I have an answer for that, except that this is probably part of the “descent of generations” (yeridat hadorot), which has been steadily going since Har Sinai.

Meditation and its benefits

Meditation is a centuries-old practice that offers a multitude of benefits for both the mind and body. While it may appear simple on the surface, its regular practice can have a deep impact on one’s overall well-being. Here are some of its readily-visible benefits:

  1. Stress Reduction:By calming the mind and promoting relaxation, meditation helps lower the production of stress hormones like cortisol. This can lead to a greater sense of calm and a reduced perception of stress, ultimately improving one’s ability to cope with life’s challenges.
  2. Improved Mental Clarity and Focus: Meditation enhances mental clarity and concentration. Regular practice helps train the mind to become more aware of thoughts and distractions, allowing individuals to stay focused on tasks and make better decisions. This heightened awareness can lead to improved productivity and creativity.
  3. Emotional Regulation: Meditation cultivates emotional intelligence by encouraging the observation of thoughts and emotions without judgment. This process helps us better understand and manage our feelings, reducing reactivity and promoting emotional balance. As a result, it can be a valuable tool for dealing with anxiety, depression, and mood disorders.
  4. Enhanced Physical Health: Meditation has been linked to several physical health benefits. It can help lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, and boost the immune system. Its calming effect on the nervous system can also promote better sleep, which is essential for overall health and well-being.
  5. Greater Self-Awareness and Mindfulness: Meditation fosters self-awareness, allowing individuals to become more attuned to their inner thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. This heightened mindfulness can lead to a deeper understanding of oneself and one’s reactions to external stimuli. With increased self-awareness, we can make more conscious choices and live in the present moment, reducing unnecessary worries about the past or future.

When we meditate we are essentially decreasing the cognitive functions of the body in order to explore either our inner selves (usually) or the outer world (as someone who walks meditating). We could aptly call it an “amplifier of reality”. It can be done as we are used to seeing (sitting, with our eyes closed) but it can also be done when praying with eyes open, listening to music and, with enough training, even while walking.

I like to compare this to sailing in a vast ocean. Our conscious mind is like a small boat in the middle of the ocean, our unconscious mind. To meditate is to dive in to explore its depths and find great treasures.

When we quieten our minds and make them less susceptible to the stimuli of the outside environment, we are able to perceive reality deeper and more clearly. Beneath the noise outside and inside our minds, there’s a wealth of knowledge, power and pleasure awaiting for us to tap into it.

It takes time, but it’s well worth it.

Is meditation evil? No, it's just a natural function of your brain

Whatever your program and capacity, just remember that the most important thing is to meditate on a constant basis, without being interrupted. You might want to set up a very soothing alarm clock besides you. This because when we meditate, we become more sensitive to disruptive stimule outside.

While meditation generally seeks to nullify all outside influences in order to turn to our inner world, a mildly disturbing noise can be a huge startle and make us lose focus. If that happens, it can take a long time for the practitioner to calm down and get back to the state he was in.

However, like any next level wellness trend, it has also been the subject of various myths and misconceptions that can deter people from exploring its potential. Let’s dispel some of the most common myths surrounding meditation and learn some Kabbalistic teachings about it.

Myth 1: It is a Religious Practice

One of the most widespread misconceptions about meditation is that it is tied to a specific religion. While it is a central practice in various spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, it is not exclusively religious. Meditation is fundamentally a technique for training the mind, and it can be practiced by people of any religious background or those who consider themselves non-religious.

In fact, secular forms of meditation, such as mindfulness and Transcendental Meditation (TM), have gained popularity in recent years, allowing individuals to enjoy its without any religious or spiritual affiliations.

I already wrote that Jewish meditation was very strong in the past.

Myth 2: It’s only for spiritual or “enlightened” people

Another common myth is that it is reserved for individuals seeking spiritual enlightenment or those who are already highly spiritually evolved like huge Tzaddikim. This misconception often discourages beginners who feel they are not spiritually advanced enough to practice meditation.

The truth is that meditation is for everyone. It can be practiced by beginners and experts alike, with varying levels of experience. As mentioned in the introduction, it is a versatile tool that can be tailored to individual needs, whether it be stress reduction, improved focus, emotional balance, or simply a sense of inner peace.

Really, you can only gain from it.

Myth 3: It requires hours of daily practice

Some people believe that effective meditation demands hours of daily dedication, making it impractical for those with busy schedules, especially when it comes to balancing Talmud Torah and Mitzvot. This myth can be intimidating and dissuade individuals from trying meditation altogether.

The reality is that even brief, regular meditation sessions can yield significant benefits. Just a few minutes of daily practice can lead to reduced stress, improved concentration, and enhanced well-being. It’s more about consistency and quality than quantity.

By the way I should add that when people actually study Torah properly, they are actually meditating in a sense since they are absorbed in it. Yet, while Torah study is vital, thoroughly clearing the mind in order to enhance its capabilities is still good for a lot of people.

Myth 4: It can lead to negative mental states

There’s a misconception that meditation can bring up painful memories, unresolved emotions, or even lead to mental instability. This myth may deter people from exploring it out of fear of facing their inner demons.

In truth, meditation is a tool for cultivating self-awareness and emotional regulation. While it may occasionally bring up challenging emotions, it is a safe practice when approached mindfully. Many techniques encourage practitioners to observe thoughts and emotions without judgment, helping them develop a healthier relationship with their inner experiences.

I’d also add that sometimes we must experience bad mental states in order to then fix them. There’s are a few technique that use meditation to remove energy blockages that I teach my clients.

Myth 5: It’s a quick fix for all problems

Some people believe that meditation is a magical solution that can instantly alleviate all life’s challenges and difficulties. This unrealistic expectation can lead to disappointment if immediate results are not achieved.

Meditation is not a quick fix, but rather a gradual process. It takes time and consistent practice to experience its full benefits. However, over time, it can significantly improve mental and physical well-being, providing valuable tools for navigating life’s challenges.

DALL·E 2024 01 09 12.50.28 An image of an ancient Jewish carpenter working with wood in his workshop in ancient Jerusalem. The carpenter is depicted in traditional attire of the

Myth 6: It requires sitting cross-legged in silence

We all have this idea of meditation being a solitary activity, with practitioners sitting cross-legged in absolute silence. This rigid image can be discouraging for those who find it uncomfortable or impractical. I don’t like sitting in that pose as well.

However, there are many techniques and styles to suit different preferences and lifestyles. I’ve already explained that you can meditate while studying Torah, but it’s also possible to do it while walking, listening to guided meditations, or even lying down. Remember, ultimately meditation is a way of expanding one’s consciousness.

The key is to find a method that works for you and fits into your daily routine.

Myth 7: It is boring

I used to think meditation is boring, but with time learned how to appreciate it, much like I thought tefilah (prayer) was boring when I didn’t understand what was being done.

Some people believe that meditation involves sitting in silence for long periods, which they find dull and uninteresting. While it can involve periods of silence, there are many engaging and dynamic practices available. I sometimes do the reverse breathing technique to get a boost of energy. I also wrote a few articles on Yichudim and Kavanot which are essentially Jewish meditative practices.

Myth 8: It is only about clearing the mind

Another common misconception is that meditation requires completely emptying the mind of all thoughts. People often think that if they can’t achieve this, they are failing at it. In reality, some types of meditation are not about eliminating thoughts but rather observing them without attachment or judgment. Acknowledging thoughts and gently returning your focus to your chosen point of meditation, such as the breath is a perfectly normal part of the practice.

Myth 9: You need special equipment or a specific location

Some individuals believe that meditation requires special equipment or a serene, secluded location. While a quiet and comfortable space can enhance the meditation experience, it’s not a strict requirement.

Meditation can be practiced virtually anywhere, and you don’t need expensive accessories. All you need is a willingness to sit quietly and focus your attention.

Myth 10: It is a cure-all for all physical and mental health issues

While meditation offers numerous benefits for mental and physical health as we saw, it is not a replacement for medical treatment when needed. Some people wrongly assume that meditation alone can cure serious health conditions or replace medical interventions. It is essential to consult with healthcare professionals for any health concerns and view meditation as a complementary practice to support overall well-being.

DALL·E 2024 01 14 12.57.09 A vibrant and colorfully enhanced scene of holy religious Jews from ancient times engaged in studying together in the middle of the desert with a m

Ever wondered why and how to meditate?

Meditation is a very central theme in the quest for transcendence, even for Jews.

Here I will present a simple exercise on how to meditate. This exercise can then be refined and expanded to suit each persons need. Let’s say there are many pathways one can go from it.

(1) Begin by sitting comfortably in a chair or couch in which you can relax and not be troubled. This is preferably done in an isolated room, preferably at night when no one will disturb you (turn off your cell phone).

(2) Clear all the thoughts from your mind. Have a strong intent to leave them away, but don’t force yourself. Just believe that it is and it actually is. Also, keep in mind that there’s nothing more important for you than to be there, in the present. All your assignments can wait, all your past doesn’t matter, and you have all the time in the world for yourself.

(3) Begin by taking deep breaths, consciously accompanying the air entering your lungs. In this level, you can start by filling either the lower or higher part of your lungs with air. If you want, you can also make the humming sound “mmmmm” when exhaling the air. Feel the sound coming from your throat. It’s very helpful to relax.

For curiosity:

This relaxing sound is associated with the letter Mem of the Hebrew alphabet, which in turn is associated with water (= MaiM in Hebrew, 2 Mems and 1 Yud between). In essence, this is what we are trying to accomplish; turn the turbulent waters of your mind into a peaceful pond. In contrast to the Mem letter, there’s the Shin letter which makes the word “Shhhhhhhh”. This other letter is associated with fire (= Esh in Hebrew), and is used to stimulate and awaken the mind.

(4) After a few minutes, when you feel comfortable (and see your thoughts are not disturbing you anymore), stop the humming Mem sound and begin breathing as long as you possibly can. Again, no need to force. If thoughts arise, gently push them aside. Remember to keep calm and just be centered.

(5) Hold your breath in your lungs for as much as you can but keep yourself comfortable.

(6) Expel the air softly and thoroughly, consciously sensing it emptying your lungs completely.

(7) Now hold yourself without air as much as you can. Then breath again and repeat this process a few times. Keep calm and focus on your mind. Often this will make your eyes enter REM (rapid eye movement) mode as they start moving fast, which is perfectly fine.

(8) Now, breath normally and keep yourself in that state for as long as you like. I recommend starting with 5 – 10 minutes. When you decide to cancel the exercise, be gentle with yourself and don’t rush back to this world so fast. Begin by moving your hands slowly, then your head and legs.

Explanation on the exercise

Meditation has many facets but what was presented above is a very good basis.

Each person has its own pace and capacity. When meditating it’s important not to force yourself to think anything, and to stop if you are feeling nausea, malaise, dizziness or any other disturbing symptom. Yet, try to nullify all outside stimuli and NOT scratch no matter what comes.

Meditation in the woods.

The meditative experience can be very powerful and can enhance Torah and Mitzvot. Like every skill, it takes time to be mastered, but anyone willing to do so will be greatly rewarded.

I won’t lie, though: While meditation is generally considered a safe and beneficial practice for most people, it’s essential to acknowledge that, in some cases, there can be risks or challenges associated with it.

Here are some potential pitfalls of meditation:

  1. Heightened Sensitivity to the Spiritual Realms: For some, deep meditation can lead to heightened sensitivity to spiritual experiences or altered states of consciousness. While this can be a positive outcome for some, it may also be disorienting or unsettling for others. People with pre-existing mental health conditions or a history of trauma may find these experiences particularly distressing.
  2. Increased Emotional Sensitivity: Meditation can make individuals more aware of their emotions and thoughts, which may lead to heightened emotional sensitivity. While this can be beneficial for emotional regulation, it can also bring up unresolved issues or intensify negative emotions, potentially causing distress if not properly managed. Learning how to treat them properly is crucial especially for victims of serious abuse.
  3. Isolation from Social Life: Excessive or rigid meditation practices can lead to social isolation. Some people may become so engrossed in their routine that they withdraw from social interactions, which can have negative consequences for their relationships and overall well-being. Balance is key, and it’s important to maintain connections with others.
  4. Meditation-Induced Anxiety or Depression: While meditation is often recommended for anxiety and depression, some people may experience an increase in anxiety or depressive symptoms during or after meditation. This can occur when repressed emotions or traumatic experiences resurface during meditation without proper guidance or support.
  5. Dissociation or Depersonalization: This is a rare case, but intensive meditation practices may lead to a sense of detachment from one’s own body or a feeling of unreality (dissociation). This altered state of consciousness can be disconcerting and may require professional intervention.
  6. Meditation Addiction: Just like any other activity, meditation can become addictive for some. They may use meditation as a way to escape from their problems or emotions, leading to an excessive and unbalanced practice that interferes with daily life. Jewish life is filled with Mitzvot that require you to perform them with full intent so one needs balance.
  7. Misguided Spiritual Pursuits: Some people may use meditation as a means to chase spiritual or mystical experiences without proper guidance or discernment. This can lead to a disconnection from reality or a susceptibility to manipulation by unscrupulous individuals or cults.

Final remarks

It’s essential to emphasize that the majority of people who practice meditation experience significant benefits, and the potential dangers mentioned here are relatively rare. I personally never had any problems.

But, to minimize these risks, individuals should approach meditation with proper guidance, realistic expectations, and a balanced approach. For Jews, it should never be at the expense of Torah study and Mitzvot, but enhance them. It’s advisable to seek instruction from experienced teachers or mental health professionals, especially if you have a history of mental health issues or are concerned about potential risks associated with meditation.

The cumulative benefits make meditation a valuable tool for enhancing overall well-being and fostering a sense of inner peace in today’s fast-paced world.

I hope to have dispelled some of the myths and the misconceptions of meditation. Please share this article around and write down your thoughts.

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Chaim Apsan

Chaim is a teacher and Kabbalah enthusiast. He loves helping Jews connect with true Torah teaching and enhancing their spiritual growth. With a focus on meditation, he guides individuals on transformative journeys of prayer, contemplation, and connection with Hashem. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and kids, and is committed to sharing the wisdom and power of Kabbalah in a genuine way.

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