Meditation and Letting Go: If You’re “Trying,” You’re Doing it Wrong

By Robin Byrne, Guest Contributor

Having “the TALK”…

“I’m really going to work hard at meditation this week, Robin” (ugh, have I taught you nothing??!!!!)

This is how my Meditation Mentoring session went this week with a lovely and dedicated student. I appreciated the commitment and enthusiasm of this student and really had to be gentle when his simple proclamation made me bristle a bit.  Why was I twitchy about this comment you ask? (Plus you are probably thinking with all the meditation she does should she be getting bugged? I’ll have to address this in a future post. It’s a good question.)

Working hard at meditation is like an effort to impress someone you want to like you; it usually backfires or doesn’t have the staying power needed to sustain a connection. Truth is that meditation doesn’t require any effort, only practice.

So I gathered my thoughts and had the TALK

You know, you really don’t have to work hard at meditation. Don’t try too hard is one of the first steps I was taught by my Meditation Teacher, Sarah McLean.  She says… ‘Trying…rarely works.  Meditation is a natural settling down of the body and mind, a relatively effortless pursuit’.”

 (Blank stare… followed by confusion, I could see how much he wanted this. After all it’s what we have been working on.  Learning to breathe, letting thoughts pass through, seeing the ways that a calmer and more resilient mind could benefit his over active and very busy head. He was committed to decreasing his anxiety through meditation and envisioning nights of solid rest. Oh! How he wanted this now! And here I was saying that he couldn’t work any harder at this to get better.  I wanted to tell him that he could work hard, keep trying, more is better, think yourself into the gap! But these are false promises.)

You know that you don’t have to stop all your thoughts in meditation, right? You have already told me that you are less distracted by the thoughts that you have while practicing and this is wonderful! You are beginning to experience the space between thoughts and the feeling of deep comfort and silence that exists under the busy-ness of your mind. I know you want more of this.  However, trying too hard to achieve a certain state in meditation brings your mind back into thinking about effort and that’s exactly the opposite of what meditation is designed to do! You cannot think yourself into a better state of meditation! The effort isn’t in thinking about getting better at meditation but more about creating a habit of doing the meditation! The habit is the exercise that strengthens the effects of meditation and this only comes with repetition. In this way of understanding meditation you realize that not thinking about doing it right is the effort that actually creates more of the experience you are seeking. I hope I haven’t lost you!”

We continued this discussion with the focus on creating the opportunity to practice without strain or judgment. It was in this increased understanding of how letting go of striving was in fact the exact effort he needed to develop in order to have a meditation practice where he could begin to attain the benefits he so deeply desired. Once the expectation that the goal of getting good at meditation was discharged, the reality sunk in that practicing meditation without over thinking it was what he needed to do to “get good” at meditation! This is completely oppositional to how we learn anything else! The Yogi’s term this is “effortless effort”, a concept we Westerners struggle to learn.

I leave you with this. Don’t try too hard.  You cannot think yourself into better meditation. Watch your thoughts and let them pass through, keep judgment to a minimum and most of all keep practicing.  Meditation will feel more natural and effective as a daily practice.

Leave a comment or question, I’ll be sure to get back to you.

As always, I wish you Peace.


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About the Author:  Robin Byrne is a licensed therapist and knowledgeable meditation specialist from Scottsdale, Arizona. Check her out over at!


  • Kathy Joyce
    Posted October 14, 2015 5:30 am 0Likes

    I agree. The key to successful meditation is just to become aware of your breath and allow any thoughts to enter your mind. Observe them as a bystander with no judgement. They will disappear in their own time without you making a big effort to keep them out.

  • Andrea Schulman
    Posted October 14, 2015 8:09 am 0Likes

    Exactly Kathy! You get it 🙂 🙂

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