You’re probably expecting that I am using the word “risk” as a pun for awesome.
Most writers would probably flip the script and say something like “meditation can be risky since it can change your entire world with new levels of enlightenment!”
That, however, is not what I am going to say! Meditation can be awesome. But for people dealing with anxiety, depression or trauma, meditation poses a legitimate risk. Even danger.
My goal for years has been to be a meditation guru. Yes, I literally meant guru! I read all the articles about how meditation actively changes your brain, makes you more relaxed, and enables you to deal with life’s uncertainty with more grace. So yeah…..sign me up.
But like with everything in my life, I dove in head first. This was my new “self-improvement” project. This would be the answer to all my problems. So I embarked on this new adventure like the typical hardcore Type A lady that I am. And what was my goal? To master thy self.
Except here is the irony. If I had actually known myself, I would immediately have suspected that a practice where I needed turn inward and just sit in the present moment would be greatly triggering. Did I put two and two together before it was too late? Nope!
End result: a deep depression brought on my insatiable need to be perfect. And it turns out that I have an actual fear of the present moment!
Well, that did not end smoothly! It took almost three days to get myself out of that depression. And I’m sorry to report that I am destructively stubborn, so I got to relearn this lesson several more times!
I came to realize that Vipassana or mindfulness meditation, where you rest your awareness solely on the “now,” is definitely not the starting place for me. In theory, it sounds amazing. You are to let all feelings and thoughts rise up and then pass by. If a particularly strong emotion arises, breathe into that sensation until it passes.
However, if you have intense anxiety or trauma, that strong sensation doesn’t really ever “pass.” In my case, the focused attention was like blowing fuel on a fire. And then that flame turned into a wildfire that burned the whole damn house down.
The “present moment“ has not always been an ok place for many of us. Yes, now that we’re adults, the present really is a safe place. We now have more tools and capabilities to endure each moment. Unfortunately, our primal younger brain still holds the reigns.
I finally had to accept my limitation with Vipassana meditation. It probably won’t be a limitation forever, but for now, I have stepped back.
If you have experienced similar experiences with meditation, please consider the following:
- Try a different type of meditation
There are a lot of types of meditations out there and different philosophies on which one is best. During my yoga teacher training in India, their only goal for meditation was to actually stop all thoughts completely.
Here are a few other meditation techniques that have actually been very helpful:
*Mantra meditation (“Sat Nam” or Truth is my Name is one of my favorites).
*Focusing on the 5 senses during meditation.
*Guided meditation (Tibetan bowls, Sound of the ocean, chanting, visualization~YouTube!).
*Focusing totally on the breath for the purpose of relaxation.
- Slow it way down
No need to dive in head first like I did. Instead just dip your pinky toe in first. In between your mantra or guided meditation, give yourself a couple minutes to see how it goes with Vipassana. If you freak out or find that you’re beating yourself up for not doing it “right,” just come back to your breath. Even if you feel ok during Vipassana, come back out of it after a couple of minutes in honor of self-care.
- Vipassana may not be for you. And that’s ok!
If you’re like me, you’d like to be the ultimate master of anything that’s good for you. And that’s ok to feel! That drive has probably gotten you far in life. But perfectionism has no place in meditation. In any of its forms. Perfectionism will bring you to your knees during meditation and humble the biggest ego. For me, I am at the step before Vipassana. I need more time learning to relax when quiet and more self-acceptance before I dive back into Vipassana. No big deal! Honestly, those will be pretty big accomplishments in and of themselves. And I am worthy of whatever time it takes to get comfortable with myself.
So……honor where you’re at! Just because Vipassana is triggering for you doesn’t mean you are somehow stunted on this spiritual path. The suggestions above are not “crutches” as I once thought. The mind is very powerful. Especially when challenged with a new and different way. So it’s best to give it something to focus on.
And if tools such as mantra recitation and focused breathing were good enough for the great Buddhist and Yogi masters through the ages, it damn sure is good enough for me too!
Respecting your story and who you are is really the ultimate form of meditation.