Why Does Meditation Make Me Cry?
Hi … been taking a break over the New Year and now I’m back. A few questions have come in over that time which I’ll address over the next few days. The first is as follows:
Question: There’s this strange thing that is happening when I meditate. Most mornings when I get out of bed I feel okay. I like to meditate after I’ve had a shower, so I have a shower and I feel good. But then I sit, and as soon as I start meditating I sometimes start crying and I don’t know why, and I don’t know what is wrong. Why does meditation make me cry?
We live in a suppressive culture. On every level our culture teaches us, from birth to death, to suppress what we feel for the greater good. To suppress our opinions in case they cause trouble. To suppress our emotions to keep things nice. And often even, to suppress our abilities so as not to stick out from the crowd.
And though for sure some emotional discipline is a part of growing up, all too often we’re not taught strategies to deal with intense feelings when they arise – particularly those of us who feel more intensely than others. We’re simply taught to suppress.
And as I said, this habit of suppression begins when we’re young – most often precipitated by the parents reactions to our first emotional outbursts When we become angry, fearful or excited in some way, our parents might tell us to ‘”stop that!”, or “control yourself!”, or “grow up!” However it comes, effectively we are being told to squash a feeling – a feeling that needs to flow so it can resolve itself.
In our child’s mind this creates confusion – after all, how do we stop something we feel so intensely? To us, the feeling seems unstoppable, so how then are we to obey our parent, and ‘grow up’?
In these first lessons of coming adulthood, in an attempt to obey our parent, we do the only logical thing to try to stop this intense emotion as commanded. We go to the only aspect of the emotion we can control – the most obvious – we go to the muscles, particularly in the face, neck and shoulders, and the breathing. We tense up against the crying, and inhibit the breathing in an attempt to stem the flow of what we feel.
We’ve all seen children trying to control their emotions – the quivering lips, the short sharp breaths high in the chest, the tense muscles in the face, the hunched shoulders, the stiff neck. How reminiscent these are of the stiff necks and shoulders and tight expressionless faces of so many adults we see around us.
And that is the beginning of a lifelong habit of suppression.
Because in adulthood, many of us continue these muscular suppressive habits as a matter of course – we’ve been doing it for so long we aren’t even aware of the effort we make to not flow with what we feel.
And this cultural expectation of control leads many of us to constrict our Self expression in all kinds of ways:
We stop moving our bodies.
We stop crying or laughing too loudly.
We refrain from yelling to express our joy or our fear.
And so on.
As we get older, our habits of control, if left unaddressed, become more entrenched to the extent that we lose awareness of the increasing effort it takes to control ourselves. We forget that we are tensing our body and controlling our breath because we’ve been doing it for so long – the tension is included in our mind/body picture of what feels ‘normal’.
All we know as we age is life seems to require more effort. We feel old. The muscles in our face set, causing lines to deepen. Our mouth tightens and becomes thin and our neck, shoulders and torso lose mobility.
And right at the core of these suppressive habits of control is our control of the breath. Our childhood habit of trying to control what we feel by controlling our breath is still operating – and for this reason, the breath is central to a lot of the deep-rooted tension in our bodies – including emotional tension
So then we begin to meditate.
And what are we doing in meditation?
First and foremost, I’m asking you to let go – let go of the breath, particularly the out breath.
Also, I’m asking you to notice tensions in the body – and whenever you notice these necessary points of tension, to try to let them go.
And for some of us, this naturally will lead to the emotional energy that caused us to tighten up, to suddenly express itself. So sometimes in meditation people feel like laughing, or crying – apparently for no reason. Because the story that accompanied the tension is long gone – there is only the tension itself now. And when that tension is released, so too the emotional energy of that tension spontaneously expresses itself.
So don’t question these instances where you suddenly cry. There is no reason – no story. Just allow the feeling to flow. It’s simply the mind/body adjusting to the release of long held tension.
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That made so much sense, trying meditation out for the first time and what you just said especially in the last two paragraphs really hits home.
Yes Jack, it’s a common occurence, though most people don’t talk about it, because they think it indicates they are doing something wrong.
As I keep emphasising, nothing is wrong in meditation. S long as we sti still, and use the meditation method to keep detaching from whatever arises, we will progress.
it is our attachment to the false holy grail of ‘calm and tranquility’, which we keep trying to force meditation to create, that keeps making us feel like were failing when we meditate.
In this, we forget that the mind and body take time to discover the stillness that meditation is helping them to access, and even more time to get used to that stillness and build a working relationship with it.
So there is no failure in meditation.
Whatever is happening IS the meditation, and the mind and body’s reactions to meditation will ALWAYS evolve through different mental and physical experiences – anger, anxiety, tranquility, sadness or even grief, memories of the past, happiness, peace, rage – all these layers of ‘stuff’ accumulated over a lifetime, will rise into the attention and then pass away – sometimes fast, sometimes slow.
The main thing is to use the meditation method like a surfboard, and surf each wave as it arises, treating the pleasant experiences the same as the unpleasant experiences.
The rule is, let go – let go of EVERYTHING, no matter what it is, even the act of letting go.
That’s the ongoing challenge of meditation.
That’s the journey and the destination.
There stillness lies.
Tried meditation the first time today simply because I wanted to learn how to still myself in a sometimes hectic life style- I didn’t think I was doing it right when my mind wandered, I imagined the sounds of traffic outside as the sea and I was sat at the edge, but i persevered ‘breathing in the positive and joy, breathing out the negative and complain’ after about 5 minutes I burst into tears! No idea why I asked myself why am I crying, but I stopped and felt ok! I discovered it’s common, I’m going to continue meditation because I think there may be more suppression to escape xx
Wonderful to hear … thing to understand is, emotions are simply physical tensions attached to a story, or, left long enough, they are physical tensions with the stories long forgotten … as such, they’re looking for a story. So often sadness, or anger, or even laughter might arise in the body, and the mind will automatically begin pulling up reasons why it’s there. But really, the reasons, or story, is irrelevant. Because the truth of the emotion is in its physicality. It is simply tension taking the opportunity to unwind in the open space you are giving it when you meditate. So whatever emotion arises, pay attention to the physicality =- not the story. And each time your attention returns to thinking, bring it back to how the emotion FEELS in your body. In this way, the emotion will unwind quite quickly, and you will be free of one more little bit of baggage.
All the best to you …
I strongly recommend you read my book, ‘Love & Imagination’ – you cvan download a pdf for free from HERE
Thank you so much for this post. I can’t stop crying lately. I need to meditate but meditation dissolves into tears, tone after time. After reading what you wrote I understand what is happening more. I have been suppressing & it’s built up… I will try to stop suppressing in my life and release the tensions. This feels life-changing. Thank you again.
I think it’s something a lot of people struggle with, without knowing what they’re struggling with, because the emotional tension builds up so gradually it’s always a part of an ever changing ‘new normal’. So when we meditate, and the body relaxes a little without us falling asleep, this stuff comes up. So its a good thing to give it its moment without taking it too seriously … cry its tears and let it go …
All the best,
I’ve been taking a seminar about meditation (and performance anxiety) in college and notice that I have burst into tears every single time I meditate, (There’s been about 3 times total that this hasn’t happened while meditating) and I’m trying not to judge myself, but it is distressing to cry so much, sometimes in front of my peers if the professor leads us in a meditation. I find there is a lot of truth in this article, but all the same it is difficult even when alone to allow myself to cry fully as I want to, I still try to hold it back, I still have this weird knee-jerk reaction in me that says crying is ‘bad’ or will make people uncomfortable.
Your knee-jerk reaction is understandable – but what you should remember is, people’s discomfort arises more from sympathy than embarrassment. Most people experience an instant empathy response when they witness emotional distress in someone else – and if they cannot do anything about it, they feel powerless, and that is an uncomfortable feeling.
Nevertheless, it’s good that this is happening, and it would be wrong for you to try and suppress how you feel. It’s temporary, and though it may take a few months to pass through, it will indeed quieten eventually.
What I recommend is, instead of waiting for the group meditations to practice, you try to create a habit of meditating each morning on your own as well. Insert it into your morning routine – get out of bed, bathe, then meditate. If you have time, try to meditate for at least 20 minutes. And if you don’t have time, just meditate for 5 or 10 minutes.
You will find in those meditations that you’ve woken up with tensions, both physical and emotional, which, if you had NOT meditated, you would not notice, and carry into your day … which is why you’re being blindsided by them in the group meditation.
Because you woke up with these tensions, they hide behind your sense of ‘normal’ – the range of feelings you woke up with. We all do this – the spectrum of feelings we wake up with form the day’s sense of ‘normality’ which we take for granted – until some exceptional event, (like the meditation class) reveals the fragilities we were not aware of.
So what I’m saying is, if you meditate on your own in the mornings, you will find that these tensions will show themselves – and you can, in the privacy of being alone, let them go by allowing them to express themselves without the added encumbrance of knowing people around you are witnessing it.
The other things is, try not to take the emotions too seriously – it’s just old tensions working themselves out. The stories they use will change – they’re not important. In the end, it’s very physical. So don’t start examining the emotions too closely – as you meditate, relax around the feeling of anguish, allow your body to cry the tears until it’s over, then walk out into your day feeling lighter than before.
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Thank-you. This satisfies my curiosity about my tears recently, while medidating. You have such a lovely way of putting things and can relate to the above, ‘ walk out into your day feeling lighter than before’ – that’s exactly what i felt, light and also a comforting feeling that through meditating, i was ‘home’.
I’m glad what I wrote connected.
All the best to you,
I have been meditating on and off for 2 years. this week I decided to be fully consistent after my 6th consecutive day I concluded my session, I didn’t feel particularly different. Then 5 minutes later I randomly started sort of laughing/crying. I felt this wave of relaxation and inner peace. this perplexed me because I am not a spiritual person nor to I believe In the supernatural but this experience made me ponder if this was a spiritual experience. interested to hear peoples opinions and story’s.
Thank you so much. I just tried diaphragm breathing for the first time – and ended up crying. Literally sobbing and I had no idea why. Your words hit home. I’ve surpressed everything for years. Grief, work, relationships ending. I have also kept my anxiety masterfully hidden from family, friends, colleagues – they all think I’m chilled, but truth is social situation, presentations, whatever it is, can be tough (though you would never know by meeting me).if I’m honest, I’ve always felt a bit of a freak for acting like this,
I have just been told my blood pressure is really high. I am fit, active, don’t drink, smoke – so left with genetics and stress. I think I am stressed but have never acknowledged it – if that can even be true.
Thank you again.
My pleasure …and regarding your predisposition to stress …I think anxiety is a natural response to the kind of world we’re living in. And our problem is, we are expected to live past it, to not acknowledge it, for fear of being seen to not be handling it … and after living that way for long enough, that anxiety becomes ‘normal’ …so we don’t consciously register it anymore, until we do something like meditation, or yoga, and it suddenly becomes noticeable …so keep doing what you’re doing. The first step to coping is awareness and acceptance, and letting go is the next step …and part of the process of letting go is feeling how it affects you …hence the tears.
Well done. Keep going.
PS ..please excuse any typos, I’m doing this on my phone in a car …