What all the researchers and meditators can find common ground in, perhaps, and what’s ignored by the deluge of meditation apps and casual recommendations is this: Meditation is powerful. It’s a skill not to be taken lightly, and in the right circumstance can provide incredible benefit, and in others, harm.
I read this article with great interest as meditation can be very helpful for so many of us. However, to think that the practice of meditation is going to be easy or somehow will magically change or cure your life without going through a bunch of potentially challenging stuff is naïve.
If meditation were a magic pill to calm and joy sans a lot of hard work – everyone would meditate their problems away. Like someone once said about running a marathon – if it was easy everyone would do it!
What do you mean Karuna? You espouse the benefits of meditation ad nauseum.
Based on my personal experience, when we find more stillness and internal quietude, we begin to notice our human experience in a more acute way. We are constantly bombarded by loud noise, bright lights, chatter, sensory input, etc. In addition to noticing the external “chatter” of our daily life, upon engaging a meditation practice we also begin to notice the unrelenting negative nagging voice that talks at us throughout the day.
In short – we become more aware of our surroundings – both internal and external. Our newly found mindfulness draws us into present reality more frequently and that can quite frankly feel overwhelming.
Meditation definitely can bring up our stuff – the really big hairy scary stuff!
After finding stillness and quietude in our meditation practice, things that have always existed in our minds and bodies may finally have an opportunity to surface! It’s as if our whole life we’ve spent on a snowy hilltop made of ice and suddenly we realize that we are actually living on top of an iceberg where 70% of our life experiences have remained unseen and unrecognized up until now.
We may feel emotions and pain in our body that has long been suppressed and so forth. Memories may come flooding up for us. Our heart-mind may open up to the felt-sense sadness of the human condition and we may find that it feels raw and tender at the most inexplicable times.
In 2017, I spent two out of four weeks in a month-long retreat remembering every crappy thing I’d ever done to another being in my life; and vice versa! It was emotionally and physically difficult, but on the other side was a deep understanding of the shared human experience, deep-seated compassion for myself and others, and I found the often-elusive power of forgiveness.
By approaching life’s challenges on my cushion – using wisdom, compassion, and forgiveness, I find myself now better equipped for daily life; I am more grounded and can show up in more authentic ways in my relationship to myself and others. This wasn’t easy in during my retreat nor is it always easy now.
What made this profound uncomfortable transformation possible was the fact that I have not one but four amazing meditation teachers to lean on during times when I am not sure about an experience – whether it is physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual.
I cannot emphasize enough the absolute necessity of having a meditation teacher and a sangha (meditation community) to lean on as a practitioner – new or seasoned. Apps and recordings and books play an important role in your meditation path, but having a well-qualified teacher is critical!
The reason that we offer live online classes on Mind Oasis is so that as a practitioner you have access to a guide whom you can ask questions and from whom you can seek guidance as your time on your cushion brings about changes in your body, mind, and life.
The “negative” experiences outlined in this article could have been mitigated (note that I am not saying prevented) with a skillful teacher who could have told these practitioners – “normal” “not normal” “you may want to seek therapy” “you’re suicidal? Please stop and let’s call a professional” and/or “slow it all down.” A well-trained meditation teacher is going to suggest a student not sit every day for 45 minutes if they are experiencing certain thoughts or physical sensations, etc. They might instead encourage other practices that involve somatics and nature. A good meditation teacher will also ask a practitioner to look very carefully at their diet and exercise regimen to balance changes in their body. They are not shy to tell you that you need therapy for the issues you’re facing in your life!
An experienced and well-trained meditation teacher is an indispensable tool in your meditation tool box. They can help you avoid the pitfalls and to remain in the “middle way” – neither too wound up nor too lackadaisical. They can help avoid profound misunderstandings of how meditation works, expectations around what a practice should and shouldn’t look like, and how disorienting it can feel to experience our world through the new lens that a regular meditation practice may produce.
Group meditation is also a critical component to your meditation practice.
Committing to a once or twice/week practice with a group from the very beginning, can be extremely helpful. When you practice with other meditators, you can ask your meditation community what they have done to mitigate uncomfortable experiences – which might include taking a break or meditating less or seeking medical assistance! They can also extend a lot of empathy and compassion your way as realizations come about during your sitting practice. Like most things in life, community is key.
Seeking a meditation teacher and group meditation community to support your practice? Mind Oasis offers 17 free 30-minute drop-in meditation classes each week online on Meditate on the 8s. A smiling well-trained meditation teacher is there to greet you along with fellow practitioners. Each class involves a few minutes of movement, connecting with your body, breath, and mind; and using your breath as your anchor. There is always time allotted for discussion and inquiry.