Why are many men skeptical of meditation and spirituality?

Mario Canki PhD
February 20, 2024
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Throughout the years, I’ve noticed that men often tend to shy away from anything remotely spiritual. Their reluctance is caused by a number of reasons: some see it as unmanly, and are afraid it will make them weaker and less masculine. Others simply don’t think it will actually work, and lump it in with other questionable health trends.

A number of studies confirm the hesitancy of men I've worked with. A CDC report from 2018 showed a threefold increase in the number of people who practice meditation  (14.3% in 2017 up from 4.1% in 2012), and a PewResearch study showed that Americans who identify as "spiritual but not religious" increased by 42% over a similar time period. But despite the huge increase in interest in meditation and spirituality, another CDC study showed that while 16.3% of women said they practiced meditation, whereas only 12% of men did.

This is an important issue because men need some kind of mediation and self-reflection in their lives just as much as women. (You could even argue they need it more than women, since men are often not encouraged to understand or express their feelings.) Men are affected by depression at the same rates as women, but they are far less likely to admit they have a problem, let alone seek help out of fear that the simple act of asking for help is an admission of weakness. Instead, they have been conditioned, and feel they should simply “man up” and soldier on. Men commit suicide at a rate nearly 4x that of women, and it would be foolish to think these issues aren’t related.  

While it takes many forms, spirituality is ultimately about introspection and self-knowledge, and greater awareness of who we are, what we love, and why we do the things we do. The answers to these questions are the key to succeeding in a world increasingly afflicted by depression, anxiety, and a loss of purpose or meaning. 

It is in that spirit that I’ve compiled some of the most common reasons men have given me when voicing their skepticism of spirituality, and why they don't need to be worried at all.

They have a hard time understanding what spirituality and meditation actually are and what they require.

Misconception: “Spirituality and meditation require people to believe in strange doctrines and ideas like ‘being one with the universe.’ These beliefs conflict with my religious or political worldview.”

The Reality: Just as there are many different beliefs across traditional organized religion, there are many different beliefs that fall under the umbrella term of “spirituality.” While some spiritual groups may indeed have strange beliefs, the same can be said for some of the main religions. 

For most people, the spiritual journey is all about acquiring greater knowledge about yourself, an idea that is fully compatible with pretty much every belief system out there. Why seek out this knowledge to begin with? When we acquire this knowledge, we begin to appreciate and understand the purpose and meaning of our individual existence and its context. We all struggle with the questions of who we are or why we’re here, but knowledge is power over the misery of not knowing what it is we are meant to do. With the practice of meditation and self-reflection (two key aspects of spirituality), your purpose, meaning, and context of your existence start to become crystal clear.

Lastly, one of the main tenets of spirituality that often gives men pause is the understanding and appreciation of the connectedness of all life. This may sound like a lofty belief, but it’s actually firmly rooted in science. The study of biology and ecosystems shows just how closely connected all life on earth is. Removing a single species from an ecosystem can cause the whole thing to collapse. On a cosmic level, science has demonstrated that we humans are made up of the same physical matter that the stars in the Universe are made of. These facts do not take away from your individuality. Instead, they can actually empower your individuality with a greater understanding of yourself in the context of our collective environment.

Related: Spiritual Oneness: What It Is, How To Reach It, and Why Humans Are Wired by Evolution to Seek It

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They think meditation looks strange and “culty”.

Misconception: “People look odd when they practice meditation. I don’t want to look ridiculous doing chants or mantras in front of a shrine of Buddha or some other deity.”

The Reality: Meditation is simply the practice of spirituality. If spirituality is a road to be traveled, meditation is one of the vehicles that can accelerate your journey. It does not need to involve chanting, mantras, prayers, shrines, or candles. There are many different forms of meditation, but at its core, it is simply sitting quietly, turning your attention inwards, and beginning to acknowledge and welcome the hidden, positive parts of yourself. It is a practice that focuses and calms the mind, while also giving you greater self-knowledge about yourself, your desires, and your life’s path.

Meditation is simply the act of sitting quietly and gently focusing your attention.

A lot of different people practice meditation and spirituality, and some may appear odd to you. However, sitting quietly with your eyes closed is not weird at all – you can see people doing it every time you walk through the park or enter a church. Some are just dozing - others are in fact meditating. Some of us practice in privacy while others prefer more organized meditation groups, or a combination of both. You may wish to join a group whose philosophy and practice you agree with and find appealing. Regardless of the format, meditation is always individual and private, as it is about your innermost being and relationship with your Higher Self and the Universe. It is never about something outside of you, or the person you are sitting next to. 

Related: 5 Powerful Visual Meditations For New Meditators

They have a negative association with “new age” trends.

Misconception: “All of these new health trends are just money grabs that make promises they can’t deliver. I like simple, tangible things that have been proven to work.” 

The Reality:  As meditation has become increasingly mainstream, it has received more and more attention from the scientific community. Meditation and mindfulness practices have been at the center of thousands of new scientific studies across the world, testing the effects of meditation on every part of the human experience.  The results show a clear pattern: meditation can improve every aspect of your life, from improving the quality of your sleep and strengthening your immune system, to improving your performance at work and even giving you an edge in athletic competition. We’re well past the question of whether meditation works, so it’s more a matter of how to make it work for you. 

They don’t think they have time for meditation.

Misconception: “Maybe meditation works, but I don’t have time for it. I have to survive so I have to work and sitting around for an hour every day kind of gets in the way. I’ve got kids and a wife and dogs and household chores, so when the heck could I do this thing?”

The Reality: As Gandhi once famously said, “I have so much to do today that I will meditate two hours instead of one.” It may seem counter-intuitive, but putting aside the time to meditate can actually save you time in your day-to-day life. Meditation makes you more productive, efficient, and focused on your goals, allowing you to accomplish tasks faster often while doing a better job. Plus, it will keep you relaxed as you go about your busy day, saving you energy by reducing your levels of stress.  

It’s also worth noting that meditation does not have to take an hour, a few minutes each day should be sufficient to start with. Dedicating several minutes at lunchtime is another great opportunity to have a decent meditation.  

They’re reluctant of being vulnerable and expressing their feelings.

Misconception: “Meditation leads to expressing your feelings which makes you weak. People lose respect for you when you’re emotional, and it’s a mark of strength and manliness to repress and overcome those feelings.” 

The Reality: First, meditation is not psychotherapy and there is no need to express your feelings or to be vulnerable in front of a stranger. However, as a consequence of getting to understand yourself through this process, you may become more aware of your own feelings and desires. This is a welcome outcome as our feelings are part of our character. We may already be familiar with some of our feelings and others may be new to us. Understanding these feelings gives us the choice and freedom of acting accordingly.  

Second, being introspective and aware of your emotions is not a mark of weakness. In fact, the act of recognizing and confronting your emotions requires far more strength than simply ignoring them and pretending they don’t exist. In a similar vein, courage does not come from pretending you are not afraid, it comes from acknowledging the fear and continuing in a rational way, despite it. 

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They’re afraid that meditation will make me weaker, passive, and less masculine.

Misconception: “I need to be highly competitive for my job, and I don’t want to lose my edge. Being that passive will also dull my libido and make me less desirable to women.” 

The Reality: There is nothing about meditation that will make you look weaker or less competitive. In fact, meditation has been scientifically proven to give athletes a powerful mental advantage on and off of the field, and plenty of famous athletes including Lebron James, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Tom Brady, all practice meditation. It does make you less hostile and quick to anger, but those are not healthy masculine traits to begin with. 

Men strongly identify with their masculinity, and we do not want to be perceived as weak. Meditation is an inner journey, and our positive character begins to be expressed outwardly only gradually as we begin to change inwardly. But that expression of our inner change is positive strength as it reflects our best qualities. Having a strong moral compass, inner fortitude, knowing the right from the wrong action, and standing up for our convictions are all very real and strong masculine characteristics. For a simple example, think of standing up to a bully and protecting the victim, which takes compassion, courage, and moral conviction. That is a traditionally “masculine” action that others can only aspire to emulate.

Meditation does not make men less masculine.

And if you’re worried that your sex drive will decrease, don’t. A very simple and straightforward response is that meditation actually increases your libido. (This is also true for women.) Sexual energy is a very strong life force and meditation activates all vital energies in our physical body. Of course, if your libido is already strong, you will probably not notice any difference. Your relationship with women should not change, and hopefully, it will get better. As you become a more introspective person reflecting your inner strength and moral character, you’ll be a more interesting, well-rounded person in general.

They don’t understand the idea of the Higher Self.

Misconception: “Ok, maybe meditation works and I’ll give it a try, but this idea of a “Higher Self” is a bit too much for me.” 

The Reality: Think of your Higher Self as the better part of yourself - a part that you might not have access to, yet. It is an accumulation of all your positive qualities that make up your character and personality. This is not to say that we do not have negative characteristics – we all do - and these form the other half of our dual nature that also require work. However, considering that we are not aware of most of our positive characteristics and qualities, we first have to bring them to the surface of our awareness so as to recognize them, and then begin to assimilate them into our personality. 

These positive aspects are not hidden from us; it is that we are not aware of them, and this is an important distinction. In our culture, most of our life and activities are expressed outwardly, and we are not used to looking inward for answers. Meditation brings us to the recognition and dialogue with our Higher Self that starts a process of discovery and integration of our potential, which we can access and utilize it in our daily lives. It is similar to sports - we all have the potential to lift a hundred pounds or more, but this will require some training for most of us before we can accomplish the lifting.

Related: 9 Common Questions About the Higher Self