It’s Not Wrong to Feel.
To all my regular readers, I’ve been away for a couple of months because my eyes were developing cataracts and I had to have an operation. It’s an amazing thing, for the world to be slowly disappearing into a blurry white mist, and then suddenly be able to see again – vivid and sharp. So now no more excuses, back to people’s questions.
This one from Harrison:
“I read your post titled ‘Why Does Meditation Make Me Cry’ and it really resonated with me. For some reason every time I meditate I feel strong emotions, sometimes anger but more often sorrow. The strange thing is I never know what I’m angry about and I never know what I’m sad about. This got me wondering if I were to meditate more often and for longer, would I eventually be free of these emotions. Am I just a well of anxiety, which will empty itself through meditation?”
Hi Harrison. You’re not alone.
That particular post is, of all 115 posts I’ve written for this blog, the one that is searched out and read the most. Even more interesting is that the second most popular post is ‘Why Does Meditation Make Me Angry’.
Every day these two posts are sought out and read. So it’s clear to me that meditation is having a similar effect on a lot of people.
The thing to remember in all this is, emotions are not palpable things. They are simply habits, as everything to do with mind and body ultimately is. What we like, what we don’t like, fear, happiness and so on – it’s all habits. Combinations of sensations in the body, and thoughts in the mind that are there because that’s the way we learn to be.
In fact, that’s all we are – just a big bundle of interconnected habits.
Most of our habits work for us – they’re automatic reactive mechanisms that help us negotiate the uncertain adventure of life. We experience anger, fear, sadness and happiness in sync with the circumstances that elicited them. And often, these reactions have to be tamped down – stifled – because they run up against social convention. Result being, the hormonal energy they create is retained in the body as muscle tension.
If we lived in more unconstrained times like our ancestors did, where dancing, singing and the physical exertions of hunting and survival gave these mental and physical tensions vicarious expression, natural catharsis would relieve some of the pressure.
But we don’t live in that kind of world.
In the locked down, heavily regulated environment we live in, there’s no room for us to express the more chaotic emotions that many of us feel. We have to drive within the speed limit and not yell or scream or laugh too loudly, or do anything that will make us stand out as different or mad or weird. We have to obey all the rules in the workplace and dress ‘appropriately’ and do what we’re told – be reasonable, calm and polite when we don’t feel like it, and pay our debts and be good parents and good citizens.
Result being, in the safe, secure padded cell we’ve created of our societies, we’ve become used to not expressing what we feel – to holding it in and pretending we don’t feel it at all.
What makes it all the worse is, we’re being constantly poked and prodded by the media and advertising to feel all kinds of emotions, particularly desire and fear, or outrage. So it’s understandable that these feelings are common.
Trouble is, because we’re so good at suppressing them, they displace and become grey states like depression and anxiety. Which is bad enough – but what makes it worse is the implied social view that if we feel depressed or anxious, something is wrong. So we distract ourselves from feeling them – papering over how we feel with drugs and comfort and entertainment, and all the stuff we buy. And we get used to pretending happiness even when we don’t feel it.
This is the way things are. It’s not bad or good – it’s just how it is. It’s how we’ve become – the trade-off we’ve made for safety and security and the material affluence we live in.
So it’s no wonder that when we meditate, and we let down our guard and relax around the breath, that we should begin feeling everything we’ve refused to feel in our daily life. And it’s only natural in the that in the un-distracted mind, that all these things will express themselves.
Thing is, there’s no reason or story for these feelings – they’re simply psycho-physical artifacts left over from events that happened so long ago the reasons why have become meaningless – habitual tensions we’ve forgotten about which, as they arise, we recognize as sadness, or anger, or anxiety.
All these feelings need to resolve is to be noticed, and given the space to be known, so the muscular tensions within them can unravel and let go. That’s why they show themselves. It’s simply the body seeking to be rid of tensions that have been ignored – and in meditation, it finally has the opportunity to do so. That’s all.
And your question? Will there ever be an end to these emotions?
Well, no. In the high-friction world we’ve created, with the barrage of stimulation we’re subjected to, at work and through the media and so on, all trying to get us to react in one way or the other – it’s only natural we will resonate with all kinds of emotional tension.
But when you finally accept these feelings as valid aspects of being alive, and pay attention to them during meditation, and allow them to unwind, as the tensions within these habits fade away, so too do their stories.
There’s nothing wrong with anger or sadness or fear. As I said, in the locked down kind of world we live it, it makes sense that they should be here. Just allow them to be felt during meditation, and your days will not be polluted by them.
‘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.)