Meditation is More than Calm
“I started meditating recently. Today was my fourth time actually, about 20 minutes long. I was fine afterwards, calm, like I had been the 3 times before. I decided to go running afterwards. I got home and tried studying thinking the meditation plus running would have calmed me down enough to do so. I noticed right away I was super angry, agitated, rage filled against my girlfriend, extreme anxiety, paranoid, it felt uncontrollable- I couldn’t focus- and I’m always under control- I’ve never had anxiety or feelings like this ever. I’ve had anxiety before but it always passes and never to this extreme. It lasted about an hour and then slowly started tapering off. I’m still suffering from anxiety even as I right this. I’m scared to try meditating again.
You see I started meditating in the first place because I thought it would help with my anxiety and depression from fibromylagia. I’m 24, relatively active but I started getting depression and anxiety when my fibro symptoms developed. Never tried meditating before this but the first 3 times I felt genuinely calm after, I felt actually really good. This last time freaked me out. Having googled it, I’ve read they say people with severe depression might not want to try meditation. You see I wasn’t actually angry when I meditated- it was only after that this happened- I don’t if running with music caused it?.
I’m wondering if I’m doing something wrong or if this is wrong for me. All I do when I meditate is count my breaths to fifty and then start over and do about 3 times total. Then I sit and try and block out everything/suppress any thoughts that come/quiet the mind so to speak. I don’t know… I don’t want to stop but if the meditation is causing it then I’ll have to there’s no way I can go another day and have that happen. What do you think Roger?”
Hi Will, Over the twenty four years I’ve been coaching people in meditation, one of the biggest obstacles has been people’s misconceptions about what meditation is – which has largely been created by the huge business that’s built up around it, which sells meditation as a kind of magical panacea for everything that ails us. This business of shysters and snake oil salesmen sell meditation through a plethora of key words, like: ‘calm’, ‘tranquility’, ‘relaxation’, ‘oneness’, ‘peace’, ‘enlightenment’, and so on.
They sell meditation with these words because they know we want these things. They know we want meditation to be an escape – a comfy place where we can forget we are alive. Which is why the same words are used to sell anti depressants and heroin.
Now, I’m not saying calm, tranquility and so on will not happen if you learn how to meditate – they will. Anyone who persists with a practice of meditation will experience these things, and more, in time.
But these things are not the destination of meditation – they are simply side effects, inherently meaningless and transitory as you progress – different bends in the path, that’s all.
But anyone who begins a meditation practice with the expectation of these things as a constant result of meditation, is doomed to failure.
Why? Because each of these expectations is a distraction from the most essential part of meditation – the experience of NOW. Sitting down to meditate with an expectation of calm or peace or relaxation is like driving a car while staring at a photo of your destination. Very quickly you’ll run off the road.
There are three basic principles I’ve always emphasized when I’ve written about meditation, or spoken about it – because these three principles are core elements of efficient, and effective meditation.
- Acceptance of what is happening as it happens NOW.
- Let go of what is happening as it is happening NOW.
- No expectations of anything other than what is happening NOW.
It doesn’t matter what meditation method you’re using, if it doesn’t help you to enact these three core requirements, meditation will not be effective.
Meditation is not about calm or peace or any of the cliches and catch-words we’ve been sold. These things are possible by-products of meditation, but they are not the purpose or the destination. They’re simply what the snake oil salesmen think we want. Put simply, meditation is a way to stillness. Mental and physical stillness. That’s all. Well, I say that’s all, but in actual fact, that’s everything. Because everything we need comes out of stillness.
- Out of stillness comes rejuvenation, as the body, released from the stressors of a nagging, worrying, excited mind, heals and re-balances itself. It does this naturally, on its own whenever the mind goes still – which for us, is almost never.
- Out of the apparently empty space of stillness comes intuitive intelligence – that is, when the mind goes still without the usual fug of mental commentary, in that openness, the ‘source material’ of intuitive inspiration and understanding arises – often unexplainable, but valuable none the less.
- Out of stillness comes awareness – that is, present time awareness of everything we”re usually oblivious too – sensations, feelings, emotions, inspiration and so on. Most of us spend our lives oblivious to most of what we are, simply because we channel almost all of our energy into paying attention to our reactions to things, rather than the things themselves. We feel so such, but get preoccupied with whether we like it or don’t like it. We conceptualize everything into languaged units, and then focus on that, rather than the reality of it. As such, we live in a parallel universe to the one our body is in – a ghost universe of ideas, reactions and concepts. But when our mind is still, this false universe disappears, and we naturally fall back into the universe our body is in – of reality as it is NOW. and sometimes that cane be socking, as we suddenly become aware of aches, anxieties and emotions we have long been distracting ourselves from.
So, to answer your question – why did you experience anxiety/anger when you meditated? Well, because it was already there – and perhaps you have been using your life, and the endorphins of running and all the other things you do, to avoid feeling it. And perhaps now is the time to feel it. Not think about it, or be afraid of it, or run from it. Just feel it. As it is. As it is happening. It won’t kill you after all. You’re simply sitting. it’s just uncomfortable, that’s all.
As you sit with the feelings, you might find it apparently gets worse. That’s good. It means the mind is getting to know it, after hiding from it for so long. So long as you stay with the feelings as they are, without reacting, the mind will slowly work it out. And the anxiety will reach a pitch, and panicked thoughts will yelp and squeal – but you ignore them and keep focusing your attention on the feelings ….
….and what you you find? So long as you stay in present time, feeling instead of thinking – the anxiety will rapidly fade away. And you will have taught the mind that one more life-demon is not so powerful – that it can be beaten – simply by being still, like an oak tree in a storm.
THAT is meditation.
Not escape, or the artificial calm of distracting yourself by counting up and down and trying to block out thinking. Meditation is knowing what is happening now, and using effective meditation methods to help let it go – whatever it is, whether it is anxiety, anger, frustration or boredom or whatever.
So then, we see that meditation is much more exciting than getting boringly ‘calm’. We see that meditation is a journey through the accumulated rubbish of reactive habits we have collected throughout our life.
Because each time we use the methods to go still, one by one, these habits that hurt us will arise. It is inevitable, because the more still we become, the more we become aware of everything that interferes with that sublime stillness.
And as we pass through them, they will make our mind agitated, and cause discomfort – but in passing through them we defeat them. One by one, as we pass through anxiety, fear, worry, anger, and in that stillness we feel their full force, and by maintaining detachment and fearlessness, we face them down. and in facing them down, we are released from the burden of our past just a little bit more.
Now Will, I have to say, I think the meditation method you are using, of counting up to 50 and then ‘blocking or suppressing’ thoughts is the WORST possible method you could use, and destined to send you mad if not bore you to death first.
Please don’t be offended … I’m just telling you straight.
Why do I think this?
Well, because for one, you will never stop thinking – in one form or another the mind thinks, that what it is designed to do – so you trying to ‘block or suppress thoughts’ is like standing in a river trying to make it flow backwards by flapping you hands in the water.
Far better for you to accept the thinking – but re-frame your view of it.
See it as ‘thought energy’ if you like – or water continuously flowing from a spring in the side of a mountain. practice ignoring the commentary, or narrative of what the thoughts are telling you, and keep watching it as a phenomenon – like looking at an interesting thing. As soon as you switch from involving yourself in what the thoughts are saying, and watch ‘thinking’ as an interesting occurrence, you will no longer be at their mercy. An the more you practice this, the less power the thoughts will have over you.
And secondly, you need a more constant main object to absorb your attention than counting up to fifty and back. I strongly recommend you pay attention to your breath – the flow of breath in and out of your body – the sheer physicality of it. In this, practice being fascinated with the breath, and in particular, all the ways you notice yourself inhibiting, or tightening up around the breath. Practice letting go of all the muscles around the breath, letting the body breathe on it;s own. And so on.
If you’re keen, then I strongly recommend you buy my meditation audio course – its only 50 bucks.
Otherwise, for you and whoever reads this, I’ll give you a basic meditation audio lesson, which usually I sell. I think it might be helpful.
You can download the exercise for free from HERE.
Hopefully, in the practicing of this simple exercise, you will develop a love and fascination for something I strongly believe is an essential part of a life. And finally, thank you so much for your question. It gave me an opportunity to address a couple of issues that, like you, a lot of people struggle with.
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)