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Daily Connect: Meditation is Not Always Calm
Submitted by KimberlyBrown on Tue, 5/24/2011, 10:24am
Like many people, my initial experience with meditation was solely as a relaxation technique. I'm grateful to have learned its basic principles in my yoga classes, where we were taught to sit quietly and breathe calmly, and I sat like this for five or ten minutes a few days a week for many years.
I felt relaxed and rested during, and for a short time after, each session. Yet my thoughts continued to torment me, and I finally sought out different techniques in CBT and eventually, Buddhism, to deal with them. Since working with insight meditation, practicing mindfulness of body and thoughts, and struggling with Tonglen and Metta, I've had to come face to face with many scary and ugly thoughts and feelings about myself and others which were far from relaxing! This common misconception of mediation as peaceful and easy is promoted throughout popular culture, (Oprah does it in a bubble bath), where "mindfulness" has become a quick-fix cure all for everything from stress to bad grades.
In a recent article for The Guardian UK, Meditation is an Emotional Rollercoaster, the author described his experience at his first meditation retreat. Unlike the restful and worry-free vacation he had imagined, instead hours of meditating resulted in powerful feelings of sadness and grief. He was surprised such emotions existed inside himself, and even more surprised they were difficult to control and didn't abate easily. As he continued studying and practicing over the next decade, he came to understand that meditation has many effects and outcomes.
So when would-be practitioners ask about the benefits of meditation, I tend not to give a straight answer. Will it help you be less stressed? Reduce your pain? Make you think more clearly? Stop you from eating too much? Well, maybe it will help with all of those things, but there's no guarantee, and even if it does, you might find there are other effects too, like finding yourself questioning your career and relationships, or feeling increasingly unwilling to fit in with whatever herd you usually hang out with. You might discover that meditation opens you up to powerful surges of rage, disappointment, doubt, yearning or regret that you didn't know existed. Of course, none of these things are certain either, but they do happen. Most of them have to me, at some point over the last 10 years.
Instead of distracting myself from bad feelings, or reacting to them, or pushing them away, I've learned to simply observe them and notice their lack of tangibility and agency. Sometimes they disappear like water vapor, and other times they take new scary shapes or simply lodge in my solar plexus for while. Meditation isn't always easy for me, but I'm no longer doing it to relax -- I'm doing it to learn the truth about reality and my mind.
Peace to Everyone Everywhere !
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