What we know about meditation and mindfulness is generally positive, about how it improves our lives. But no one talks about the dangers. I have studied how these situations show up, and now offer some remedies for the most popular misunderstandings.
If we substitute the word “challenges” instead of danger, I think it’s being nicer to ourselves. So, for beginners it’s important to know about the six challenges all meditators face.
1- Danger of rigid posture and technique – For example, teachers attached to a particular posture (lotus) or method (chanting) of meditation are ignoring any beginners who find these practices uncomfortable.
Sampling these methods to discover what works for you is fine, that’s great. At least you will understand what doesn’t work! (We will soon see how discomfort can be part of a healthy approach).
If you feel uncomfortable in any technique, a knowledgeable compassionate teacher offers you modified or other techniques to suit.
2. Danger of “facing your buried emotions.” Approached correctly, with compassion and knowledge, this need not be unpleasant, but I learned this is the primary reason people stop meditating.
Beginners need to understand that approaching happiness sometimes requires exposing past hurts gently, going through the sadness bit by bit, eventually creating a clearing inside ourselves for joy and happiness to show up in.
Sometimes buried emotions come up all on their own when meditating. What should a beginner do?
Know that everyone has emotional baggage sitting deep within. To clarify, meditation did not create these emotions, they were already there, on an unconscious level.
For a time, perhaps years, these hard feelings have replayed (resentments) over and over again (ruminations) so when they come up we unconsciously distract our self, moving our attention somewhere else (denial) by going shopping, eating, drinking, smoking.
But when we use meditation to move inside ourselves we find although there is no escape, we now have a choice of reacting distractedly like we did (denial), or acting responsively in a new way (acceptance). Beginners discover having a choice is a healthy dimension of meditation.
Accept that many, many people before you have discovered when you follow the practice in meeting hard emotions, the emotion eventually disintegrates over time. Without this understanding and teacher compassion, beginners get scared and stall. Without knowledge and compassion you’ll say “This is not what I signed up for, I signed up for a joyous experience.” But it doesn’t have to be scary or sad when stored emotions come.
3. Danger of Insensitivity – What happens when we find a wave of sadness, a wave of pain while meditating; what do we do? Here we need to exercise self compassion. If a teacher says “you need to sit with it, you need to connect with it, you need to feel it“, then you throw yourself into the emotion without further preparation, it swallows you! No, this isn’t what you signed up for!
If it feels too much it is too much, so we take a step back.
Not stepping back from power shows a lack of self compassion, insensitivity to self. It’s very important to apply self compassion, to be aware of what you can engage with comfortably, what can be addressed later.
4. Danger of Spiritual White Light, Music of the Spheres etc. – You may have heard about meditators seeing “the white light”, an idea that spiritual transformation is expected, something attainable. If that does happen, wonderful. But actively looking for this will distract you from the many, many smaller benefits of meditation and mindfulness.
My recommendation is, if we approach meditation with a basic trust in the process, letting everything unfold naturally, that is precisely what happens. If we meditate regularly, then the changes that are supposed to happen, will happen.
5. Danger of Perfection – This links to expectations; how you want to show up as a proficient meditator, how you want the benefits of a year of mediation on the first week.
Some of us are born perfectionists, but we need to realize that keeping a straight back or not moving when you need to move, this is not helping us move forward. Self criticism for not being able to hold a pose or breathe in for 10 seconds is not serving us.
Some days your meditation will leave your feeling more peaceful and some days you will be relieved it is finished. So again self compassion. If we are not good to ourselves in this, then it becomes a chore – we quit.
6. Danger of misinterpreting “Non-attachment” – You hear in a class “approach in a non-judgmental way”. This is not disconnecting. Said again, non-attachment is NOT a total disconnect.
Non-attachment means learning to approach our relationships by not connecting with the drama that others present – you’ve heard it… not owning “he said, then she said….then they did….” Not taking ownership of the other’s drama is non-attachment.
Non-attached we are still deeply engaged, have great caring and love. Non-attached, we just let go of the drama, stress and anxiety in the storytelling, refusing to be sucked into the drama someone else has created. Putting loving detachment into relationships is being non-attached.
This powerful impact that meditation has on our relationship with life, recognizing things come, things go, he said she said, not owning other’s view of their world, this allows a level of acceptance and non-attachment. In non-attachment I am still deeply engaged with someone, have great caring for them and love toward them, so that if their things go out of control I don’t feel, “Oh my God what’s going on, I have to hang on to this…. I have to fix this for them.”
The drama and the anxiety and stress disappear in non-attachment because there is no drama connection.
And couldn’t we benefit from a little less drama in our life?
Peace and Abundance for All