Practicing Non-Judgement:

My Response to People Who Bash Meditation

By Sylvia Maldonado, Founder & CEO of breathe bar

April 4, 2017

Since meditation has been a game changer in my life, I am on a mission to expose it to as many people as possible. So just a few days ago, I realized my dream and opened a meditation studio in Chicago called breathe bar. My journey to meditation began in 2011 when I enrolled in a meditation class at New York University. My interest was piqued, on a theoretical level. It sounded like great stuff but I wasn’t too keen on applying it to my life. Then in 2012, my doctor suggested I try meditation to better manage my stress levels and as a tool for self-care (a term that I wasn’t even aware of before that moment). My initial response was “yuck”. I had tried meditation many years prior, in 1997, and did not like it at all. I was convinced that I couldn’t meditate because I had so many swirling thoughts, and my mind would not slow down. When I told myself, “Don’t think. Clear your mind. Be zen now,” it only made the swirl worse, as you can imagine. I also didn’t think I needed meditation. I worked out regularly, ate clean, had a strong network of family and friends, and a good career. But I did have the nagging feeling that I was missing the larger picture, that I was taking care of myself in a superficial way by checking the boxes, but not in a fundamental way. I decided to heed my doctor and give meditation another chance. I thought it couldn’t hurt. After I sat on the cushion that first time, I was hooked.

When I meditate, I notice a great sense of calm, a quieter mind, and a more relaxed body. I feel that meditation has increased my happiness and compassion levels, and made me more even-keeled. Mind you, I still have my moments, as we all do, we’re human and will experience the good, the bad, and the ugly, but mindfulness has helped me be more responsive and less reactive, and has given me a greater ability to practice non-judgement. These are great life skills everyone can learn and cultivate. I have the opportunity to practice non-judgement frequently. The most recent opportunity was last week, 3 days prior to the Grand Opening of breathe bar. I was exhausted, exhilarated, excited and in full launch mode.

That morning, I woke up to a text from a relative. It read in part, “Sylvia, Meditation on God’s Word is God’s will for us. I pray that you can see with love the difference. . . All Eastern forms of meditation stress the need to become detached from the world.… Detachment is the final goal of Eastern religion. It is an escape… It leads to the “cosmic mind,” a false god!”

The gist of the long text was that meditation was bad = my business was bad = I’m bad. It was the last thing I needed to read or hear as I prepared to open my meditation studio. After my initial negative reaction to the ignorance and preachiness of the text, I took a breath and realized that this was an excellent opportunity to practice non-judgement and compassion, and to embrace a teachable moment. I’m making lemonade out of lemons. The text, and other comments I occasionally hear from well-meaning folks, provides a wonderful chance to set the record straight and clear up some common misconceptions about meditation.

Meditation is a practice, not a belief.

Nor is meditation prayer, nor does it conflict with a prayer life.

They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I have found that meditation has enhanced my prayer life. Meditation is focused attention on a single object, whether it be your breath, a mantra, or your body. Because of its ability to focus the mind, researchers have found that it improves attention, concentration, lowers stress levels, and is a power tool for well-being and overall health. That’s why companies from Google to Kellogg and Aetna all offer mindfulness programs in their workplaces.

Meditation does not stress detachment from the world.

Meditation stresses detachment from outcomes, not from the world. There is a big difference. For example, if your happiness hinges on B (external outcome), but you can only control A (internal — your thoughts, emotions, reactions), that is a recipe for disappointment. Focus more on A and less on B. It can be difficult to do, but it is a skill that meditation helps you cultivate, which results in increased levels of resilience.

Studies have shown that meditation has many benefits to your physical and mental well-being. I’m talking Harvard studies, and other science-backed research.

Google Sara Lazar, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School to read about the science of meditation, and how it can rewire our brains. It can also impact behavior. Researchers at The Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, founded by Harvard-trained psychologist Richard Davidson, PhD, are conducting mindfulness research with the Madison Public Schools and the Madison Police Department to study its impact within those systems. The Center also conducted a study to investigate whether compassion — the feeling of caring for and wanting to help others who are suffering — could be cultivated through meditation training using an online intervention (practicing a guided compassion meditation). After two weeks of daily online training, the team found that participants’ compassion levels increased. According to the Center, “Greater generosity in the compassion group was associated with changes in the brain’s response to human suffering in regions involved in empathy and increasing positive emotions. This work suggests that compassion is indeed an emotional skill that can be trained.”

The Center’s mission is to research and provide the tools to make the world a kinder, wiser, more compassionate place. By supporting academic institutions like the Center for Healthy Minds, which is providing science-backed solutions to promote well-being in our world, we can make a positive impact. Who wouldn’t support a practice that anyone can do, and that cultivates well-being and compassion, among many other positive things? In the meantime, I’ll be taking a breath and practicing non-judgement, especially with darling relatives.

About breathe bar

A movement bringing self-care, compassion, connection and community to life through meditation, breathe bar provides a grounded space to explore the impact meditation can have on your life. breathe bar features a studio with teacher-led meditation classes, on demand meditation in breathe bar booths, and more.

946 W. Randolph Street 2nd Floor

Chicago, IL 60607

312–809–0019 |

Hours: Monday-Friday 8am-8pm, Saturday & Sunday 10am-2pm

About founder Sylvia Maldonado:

Sylvia Maldonado is an Emmy Award winning television producer and former Peace Corps volunteer. In 2013, Sylvia joined her family business and positioned it for national expansion. She found that such a challenge provided the opportunity to deepen her meditation practice. The positive impact of her practice has led Sylvia to become a passionate believer who wants to share its transformative benefits to as many people as possible. The result: breathe bar. Sylvia believes that meditation shouldn’t be a hidden secret sauce- her goal is to demystify it, make it accessible, inviting and approachable.