Why Aren’t Our Meditation Courses Free?
Meditation is a beautiful, empowering thing. Its power to change people’s lives and foster a mindset of openness, connectivity and compassion across communities is one of the many reasons why we are so inspired to teach this practice.
Recently, however, we have seen a few people ask a pointed question: “why does it cost money to learn meditation?” Some have remarked that asking for a fee is not in the spirit of meditation, or could be construed as cynical.
We completely understand the line of thought that may lead people to this conclusion, and are open to everyone’s opinion. However, we felt this post would help to illuminate the issue.
Let’s use an analogy, albeit an imperfect one. You can argue that learning to dance is also a beautiful and empowering thing. It helps people to be healthier, express themselves and is a precious and sophisticated artform, something that should exist outside the base concerns of commerce. Like meditation, therefore, it would be possible to consider that ballet classes should always be free.
But the reality of our economic system is that ballet teachers provide a service. They must rent a studio, invest in teaching materials and contribute significant amounts of their time – not to mention the many years of their life it took to acquire their knowledge.
They can neither run their business or live at all comfortably in the world without some form of income; nor can they employ other teachers or rent a studio. It would be wonderful if a ballet teacher could pass on this gift with no recompense at all, and some occasionally have the capacity to do so. But for most teachers, this simply isn’t possible.
In an ideal world in which we aren’t so tied to the whims of an arbitrary economic resource – one which, we hesitate to add, is currently failing to serve genuine human need and potential, or reflect the availability of our globe’s natural resources – teachers wouldn’t have to make this compromise. We would happily instruct others with no greater expectation of reward than the pleasure we get in turn.
When it comes to learning to dance, taking art classes, or mastering any number of other skills, though, we are generally able to understand that an investment of time equals an investment of resources – and thus, the need to charge for classes. It’s because meditation is so close to people’s hearts, and often part of a profound spiritual journey, that we can find it harder to rationalise this necessity.
Here at Will Williams Meditation, we are motivated solely by our desire to pass on our knowledge and techniques; specific methodologies that have helped people lead more fulfilled and less anxious lives. But the economic reality of doing this (in London, no less) cannot be avoided.
In order to spread the message of meditation, we charge as little as we can for our courses and events. The economic reality of our location and situation dictate that without money to keep the wheels turning, we couldn’t realistically carry on teaching Beeja meditation, holding events, or spreading the word.
Our founder, Will Williams, hasn’t taken a wage for many years, and personally subsidises our meditation centre in order to bring Beeja meditation to as many people as he can. However, it would be deeply unfair to expect our other teachers and members of staff to work without a salary.
Volunteers only have very limited time to give, and with the ever-rising costs of essentials such as housing, food, and childcare, people cannot live on fresh air alone. We must also manage significant costs in our studio space, plus the hundreds of other hidden costs of running an organisation.
In order to reconcile this reality with the ideals of meditation, we take every step we can to make sure our students get the best teaching experience possible, and at the best value for money. We strive to ensure our prices remain as low as possible, and are more than happy to negotiate price plans for those who need it. In addition, we hold many free events throughout the year, including our recurring and well-loved Shavasana Disco.
After our courses, we hold regular free group meditations (which can be attended by people who have learnt Beeja/TM meditation elsewhere) and offer extensive complementary aftercare. A student can contact us any time they are looking for answers to their questions, or advice on how to develop their practice, and even if they are in need of emotional support.
We are not in it for commercial success, we are here to help all those who really need and want help. We discuss this issue an awful lot as a team, and one day we would love to produce an app which is free or extremely cheap to buy that mimics the teaching experience. But to do so would require an investment which runs well into the hundreds of thousands of pounds. For this you need investors, and investors expect a return on investment – and once again the question of economics raises its head.
At Will Williams Meditation, we also don’t feel we can teach this technique with effectiveness or integrity if we were to carve up this ancient and holistic wisdom into bite-size “taster” packages, add-ons and other such deals. If we can’t teach Beeja meditation properly, and in the form which is most helpful to people, it would feel far too much like a corporatism and westernisation of something truly special – a fast-food-style “start with 30 minutes free today and double up for extra enlightenment!” that guts the original meaning out of the technique. And we don’t feel this is in the spirit of what we feel called to do.
Unless some amazing technology comes along that enables us to humanise the learning experience and generate sufficiently strong learning outcomes, or some even more genius technique is found that can be taught via such cost-effective platforms, it will always have to be taught live, in person, with staff, and and all the other crazy stuff that goes into it. And because you need teachers, a space to teach in, and many other hidden things, it simply isn’t possible for this to be free.
We aim to support everyone in the practice of meditation, and will continue to strive for the betterment of all our students. Please feel free to get in touch if you want to discuss any of these points further – we always love to hear from you, and enjoy discussing questions from enquiring minds.
Note: Those questioning cost sometimes point to Buddhist centres who teach meditation. Here, whatever donation you can afford is enough for you to learn. However, it is important to remember that Buddhism is a religion, and similar to how you can walk into a Catholic Church and enjoy Mass for free, their services do not rely on set charges, as they will have many generous and committed donors.
Volunteers and monks work extensively in religions such as Buddhism, making their staffing costs low. Churches and religious organizations are also generally exempt from income tax and receive other favorable treatment under the tax law. Finally (although this isn’t inherently a bad thing and leads to lots of good work) religions are ultimately motivated by guiding people to embrace their own particular belief system – whereas our organisation is entirely secular.