Is an Idle Mind Really a Devils Workshop?

Dear Everyone,

The article below addresses the idea of an idle mind being a devils workshop. Because of this the language I use to describe the path of meditation is somewhat in the traditional pre-rational terms of God/the Devil. Of course spirituality is a lot more subtle and nuanced than that, but I trust you will be able to use your discernment to be able to perceive the deeper points being indicated in the text 😉

Yours in the spirit of the ongoing journey,


Is an Idle Mind Really the Devils Workshop? Three Answers from a Mediators’ Perspective

Here in Singapore in the corporate work that myself and my wife do, we are regularly told that we are not allowed to use the word ‘meditation’ in our talks and workshops, or include it in any of the support literature that we give out in such workshops. The reason for this is that certain quite powerful religious groups are strongly warned against meditation, the idea being that an ‘idle mind is a devils workshop’, and so if you sit down and allow your mind to go blank for a while, good ‘ol Beelzebub is going to jump in there and inspire you to go astray. There is a certain amount of irony and sadness in this for me, as through-out history the great meditative and contemplative wisdom traditions have evolved to a large degree within the bosom of the major religions. But nevertheless asking the question “Does an idle mind make a workshop for the devil?” does give rise to some interesting things to consider as a meditator. Here are three responses that occur to me.

An idle mind or an idle no-mind?
If you simply sit around and let your mind think away without purpose or direction, then it is indeed true that it will start coming up with mischief! However, the purpose of meditation is not to sit still and just let the mind think away without direction. The fundamental purpose of meditation is to go beyond the concrete, thinking mind, and enter a state of pure awareness or pure being-ness. This state of pure awareness and being-ness could actually be described as a state of no-mind in the sense that it is empty of the normal discursive chatter and thoughts that fills most people’s mind. This meditative state of no-mind is actually a space where the “devil” of inappropriate thoughts cannot enter. It is in fact a space where we can encounter our own experience of the divine at our leisure so to speak. In this sense you could say that meditation is a way of creating a playground for God, rather than the devil!
Of course progress from our current state of busy-mind to being able create a stable experience of no-mind is a journey that takes substantial effort for most people, and in the journey from busy-mind to no-mind we will undoubtedly go through phases where our mind seems to be “rebelling” against us. However, this  is really no different from the effort that for example someone training for a running marathon might go through. The effort to “get in shape” takes consistent effort and a willingness to bear a certain amount of pain and difficulty. However, once you have stable experience of no-mind it is there for you for the rest of your journey through life and beyond. Certainly a possession worth pursuing, and definitely not “of the devil”!

Talking and Listening to God
A simple but profound saying from the Christian contemplative tradition; “Praying is talking to God, meditation is listening to God”. We want to build a relationship to the divine by telling it what we want in our prayers, but we also need to be prepared to listen to what it might want to say to us in response!
Traditionally the divine speaks to us through the “still small voice within”, and if you really want to hear clearly what is “being said” so to speak, stilling the mind and heightening awareness through some form of contemplative or meditation practice is pretty much a pre-requisite for qualified success.

Meditation as the gateway to both the superconscious and unconscious minds
Now then, meditation is said to be the gateway to the divine, or put another way, to heightened states of subtle awareness that give us access to experiences of the “superconscious”, or that which lies beyond the rational mind.
However, it is also true that meditation relaxes our conscious, rational mind enough for aspects of our unconscious or pre-rational mind to rise up into our awareness. Put another way this means that sometimes in meditation we can find ourself coming face to face with all of the negativity, damage, anxiety and fear that we normally repress and keep out of our conscious mind by “keeping busy” and making sure that the volume level in our mind is turned up high enough to drown all of this scary stuff out!
So, in this sense it can sometimes seem like when we meditate that someone is deliberately placing thoughts in our mind that are triggering all of our buttons, and really doing their best to make us as uncomfortable as possible! This is especially true if you have a lot of repressed material in your unconscious mind (and this is also a reason why meditation is most often not advisable for people who are not mentally stable, they need to build basic mental functionality before they attempt to solve their problems through meditation).
What is actually happening here is that when we meditate, we are activating our body-mind’s natural capacity for self-healing. As a result, over time all that is emotionally and mentally damaged and sick, and that needs healing will start to come to the surface. This is not the devil trying to tempt us, but our own inner damage coming to us in the hope of being healed and loved back into health!
So, this is actually quite an extensive area of exploration that it would take a few articles to explore (you can look under the section on “shadow meditation”on my website for more), but the basic point is that we build stable experience of the divine within us not just by learning to access superconscious states of mind in meditation, but just as importantly by becoming aware of all that is damaged, anxious and neurotic within us, and being prepared to “get our hands dirty” a bit, and love ourself enough to heal that which within us is calling out to be healed.

© Toby Ouvry 2012, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Tobyas the source and include reference to his website


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