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Healing Space | Why your meditation isn’t helping you cope

Whether it’s the pandemic fallout or news of Afghanistan, we take to meditation or mindfulness as a means of coping. However, if you’re not getting calmer; or worse, are getting more agitated, here's why.

August 22, 2021 / 07:38 AM IST
Illustration by Suneesh K.

Illustration by Suneesh K.

Note to readers: Healing Space is a weekly series that helps you dive into your mental health and take charge of your wellbeing through practical DIY self-care methods.

Meditation is like a pharmaceutical drug that’s effective when prescribed at a specific dosage, but pointless, or worse, detrimental, when popped as an over-the-counter pill. You may meditate anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour a day, and expect to feel benefits. Yet, you hit a low, lose your cool, find yourself anxious and agitated. Is it that the meditation is not helpful? Are you doing it wrong? Perhaps it’s more about sifting through some assumptions about meditation. Here are five common ones:

1. Every meditation is supposed to leave you feeling calmer: It isn’t.Healing Space logo for Gayatri Jayaram column on mental health Meditation is a means of experiencing your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations in their reality. It makes you self-aware as you witness your inner world. This locates and releases suppressed anxiety, anger or fear. You may not rise from meditation feeling calmer always.

2. Meditation is about feeling a high or a bliss: This is a common mistake people make. When you chase the highs, you also get the lows. If you are targeting a feeling of bliss, also prepare for the crash. Just like when you eat a sugary meal, you experience a sugar crash in three hours.

3. When I meditate my problems will go away: Meditation does not alter your reality. The Taliban won’t leave Afghanistan, the virus won’t be eradicated, and the bills won’t pay themselves. What it does instead is puts a pause in your reaction, allows you to see reality as it is, and equips you to handle it more pragmatically.

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4. If I don’t meditate for a day, I don’t feel good: Some find they can’t meditate without a guided meditation. This is a sign of dependency. Yoga practitioners learn aparigraha, a detachment from the practice. Meditation, a teacher or guidance shouldn’t become a crutch. Just like it’s okay to use a pill for a treatment, but if you find yourself becoming dependent on it, you should wean yourself off it.

5. Meditation can do no harm: Meditation is not for everybody. If you have existing anxiety, suppressed trauma or abuse, meditating can trigger a sudden release that you may not be equipped to cope with. It can also release excess energy, and you might find yourself becoming more irritated or unable to control your anger.

Meditation is a walkabout in the subconscious or unconscious mind. It has deep impact and we may not be equipped to handle what comes up. For instance, someone who is facing a financial crisis may be coping by living in denial, telling themselves things are okay, they will get better. When the truth of their situation is suddenly made clear, they feel overwhelmed. This can send them spiralling into despair. Everyone doesn’t need to see reality all at once and in the same way. You may need to ease into it. This is why trained therapists, guides and teachers will always calibrate how the technique is taught and used. It is best to begin meditating under supervision.

There are numerous techniques and schools of traditional or non-traditional meditation available. What you are comfortable with is the technique that will be most effective. When you meditate in a group or under the guidance of a teacher, you are able to compare notes, check whether it’s affecting you adversely, and remedy your technique.

Stick to a technique for best results. When you jump from one style of meditation to another, it’s like digging ten holes to draw water. If you dig one hole ten times, you are more likely to find your water source. An inner child meditation one day, guided the other, transcendental the third, Inner Engineering the fourth, and Sudarshan kriya the fourth is going to leave your mind stirred up in different ways.

The aim of meditation is tranquillity. We do not get elated nor deeply disappointed. We see that the ups and downs are part of the cycle of life. The Taliban have taken control before and have been ousted before. The economy dives, but it picks up. We go through bad phases but we come out of them too. This balance is more useful than a meditation-induced high. If your meditation can give you this, it is effective.

Healing Space Meditation box August 21 2021
Gayatri Jayaraman Gayatri is a mind body spirit therapist and author of Sit Your Self Down, a novice’s journey to the heart of Vipassana, and the forthcoming Anitya, a guide to coping with change. [ @G_y_tri]