It’s Not About Relaxation

I think for this post I’ll get back to basics. It’s in response to a question a friend asked me the other day … a very, very … very … basic question which nonetheless, is one of the most important pieces in the meditation puzzle. 

He asked me what the difference is between relaxation exercises and meditation.

A seemingly simple question, but one that is entirely understandable nonetheless, given the way meditation is trivialized by the Western media as simply an easy and efficient way to relax – a kind of natural high. 

Even well educated people, on finding out that I meditate, tend to come up with the same desperately banal question:

“So … what is that? You relax, like … uh … sleep?”

In keener times I used to try to cram a whole meditation lesson into 5 minutes to educate them, because their ignorance seemed so … not offensive, so much as sad … to me anyway. Now I just say, “No, it’s something else,” and leave it at that. 

Most times then they change the subject – or they ask another question: ‘So if it’s not relaxation, what is it?’ 

My answer to that question is what this post is about

Meditation is NOT concerned with whether you’re relaxed or not. How you are is how you are – and neither in its ancient origins in Asia, was it ever about relaxation. And the expectation that relaxation will occur, can even become an impediment to efficient meditation.

For sure, relaxation may well occur as result of meditation – as it might in just about anything in a life – but it’s not the objective, nor is it even considered an important part of the process by those who understand meditation.

Neither is ‘calm’ all that important, though, like relaxation, it well might occur – or it might not. Doesn’t matter either way. For sure meditation is easier if one is calm and relaxed, and more pleasant but, like life itself, it does not require these things to happen. To use an analogy, calm and relaxation are not the peak of the mountain one climbs in meditation – they are simply small parts of the way up. 

One of my teachers once told me: ‘Struggle is good! When you struggle in meditation, the mind learns more.’

This was a great relief to me, because though each year I came to the monastery thinking that this time meditation would go smoothly, only to find as the week passed, myself struggling as boredom, restlessness, daydreaming, remembering, wanting, itching and aching all came visiting.

There was no calm, and I didn’t feel relaxed at all, so I felt like I was failing terribly – (though not as badly as the Englishman in the hut next door, who used to beat his head against a wall, muttering: ‘Thinking! Thinking! Thinking!!!!”)

So it was reassuring when my teacher laughed and added, ‘calm is for when you are dead,’

Nevertheless, it took many years of practice me for me to lose my conditioned expectations of calm, relaxation and bliss, and see meditation as what it actually is.

So then, what is it, if meditation is not anything to do with these things?

The short answer is, meditation is a way of retraining the mind to use its attention more efficiently – to be more discriminating about what it pays attention to. This causes the mind to function more smoothly, and process our life more efficiently – particularly when it comes to our emotional reactions to the friction of life. And though increased calm, relaxation and creativity may well occur as a result of this, they are not indicators of success or failure. 

In fact, as I have said in previous posts, there is no success or failure in meditation.

Unlike every other activity in our life, from sport to work to sex, meditation has no performance indicator. We simply do it. And that act of ‘doing’ slowly changes our mental habits, to create a mind that is more agile, clear and able to see beyond its conditioned reactions.


‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.


BEING STILL’ is available on Amazon as a paperback ………….. AUD $26.40 (incl. GST) 

‘BEING STILL’ is also available as a Kindle ebook ………………………………………..AUD $11.99 

‘BEING STILL’ the audiobook (including all exercises) ………………………………. AUD $25.00 

(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)