Yes, myth. Now don’t get me wrong. I am a HUGE proponent of meditation. Meditation has been scientifically proven to strengthen the immune system, reduce blood pressure and the risk of stroke, minimize pain sensitivity, enhance cognitive function, and even grow a bigger brain. (I think doctors should prescribe meditation not medication.)
Meditation is the closest thing to a happy pill that I’ve found. However, there is one misnomer about meditation that I would like to clear up right here and now. Meditation is not always peaceful.
We typically picture someone meditating with that blissful, other world expression on their face. You can just see the peaceful vibes emanating off of them like heat radiating off of the pavement on a hot summer day.
It’s this image, this ideal that I think intimidates people so much that they don’t even try to meditate or, if they do start, they quickly end up very frustrated feeling as if they are failing miserably. The actuality of meditation, especially at first, may be nothing like this picture.
In the beginning, meditation is not particularly peaceful, blissful, serene, and/or calm. Far from it. When first beginning to meditate, a person is going to wonder what in the heck they are trying to do and if they are doing it anywhere near right. Meditation may feel terribly awkward, confusing, and uncomfortable, at first. It brings up all sorts of emotions and issues from the past and present into the current awareness. It can be emotional, upsetting, ugly – the exact opposite of peaceful.
When I first started meditating, I’d cry. And, I don’t mean just a few, dainty tears. I mean, whole body, shoulders-heaving, nose-running, can’t-catch-your-breath, wailing sobs. I would also have intense anger surface so that I felt the need to scream or pummel a pillow.
Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, wrote this poem about her initial days of meditation at an Ashram in India:
All this talk of nectar and bliss is starting to piss me off. I don’t know about you, my friend, but my path to God aint no sweet waft of incense. It’s a cat set loose in a pigeon pen, and I’m the cat-but also them who yell like hell when they get pinned. My path to God is a worker’s uprising, won’t be peace till they unionize. Their picket is so fearsome the National Guard won’t go near them.
This is not typically what you think of when you think of meditation. I’m here to tell you that this is a normal part of it. The almost violent regurgitation of emotions is what a person will most likely encounter when first beginning to meditate.
The purpose of meditation is to exercise a passive awareness of the mind objectively, become detached from the thoughts and feelings, and observe rather than identify with them. So, you just let the feelings bubble up – the good, the bad and the ugly – without labeling or judging them. I found this ridiculously difficult, at first, as does most everyone, but, therein is the beneficial work of meditation.
Building awareness of and detachment from the thoughts is the basic premise of meditation. In doing so, at first, all the scum, the past wounds, the old hurts, grudges and resentments are going to surface. It can be unpleasant, unsettling, scary, painful, and absolutely no fun to deal with. BUT it is good work essential to healing emotional wounds and becoming a whole, healthy, happy person. This is the magic of meditation.
As layers of the shitty stuff are peeled back, you can start to sometimes achieve that goofy grin that goes with glimpses of peace and bliss. To achieve this serenity can take years of practicing meditation and is not a steady state by any means. It’s not as if a person graduates from one level to the next permanently. When dealing with challenging or emotional issues a person dips back into the work mode of meditation and it can get ugly again at any time. That is the whole point, if you ask me.
Within reason, there really is no wrong way to meditate. Trying to meditate IS meditating as far as I am concerned. To me, any time spent with the awareness and intention to meditate is meditation. A meditation practice is fluid and is always evolving and morphing. You are learning. That is why it is called a practice.
I have been meditating daily for over five years now. On some days, my mind is crazy busy and cannot settle down with thoughts emerging like popcorn popping. On some days, I still express emotion. Just last night, tears rolled down my cheeks during my meditation session. However, I haven’t experienced the raw, powerful emotions since the beginning of my practice. On most days, my meditation session is calm, peaceful without much emotion. Kind of boring, but I’ll take it!
image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hape_gera/