In last week’s post, I shared about some of the (more pleasant or “positive”) shifts I’ve been noticing over the last two and a half months of meditating daily. I realize now (thanks to a friend and meditation mentor) that I didn’t really paint a complete picture of what’s been going on. So I wanted to take some time this week to broaden the picture and share about the downside of a daily meditation practice.
Because meditating daily isn’t (and hasn’t) been all textbook zen and perfect.
I also want to clarify that these observations are based on a decade-long practice of meditation and even longer time spent observing my thoughts and behaviors.
Additionally, it may help to consider last week’s post to be POINT, while this week’s post is COUNTERPOINT. Or light versus shadow. In other words, the things mentioned below are all opposite sides of the same coin. (I promise it will make sense as you read on. Well, I hope it does. 😂)
While meditation has helped me be more present, that awareness has come at a cost. Meditation often brings to the surface old stories, memories, and beliefs about oneself that aren’t exactly pleasant. It can be incredibly painful to face things about yourself that you don’t like, or to see yourself through new eyes, so to speak. The discomfort can often be too much and even cut off a regular practice at the knees. I know it has derailed me on more than one occasion.
I may be less reactive as the result of meditation, but I am still reacting. And not always nicely. To make matters worse, I am painfully aware now of the impact that reactivity has on those around me. Some days I feel like an absolute failure because of those responses and spend the entire duration of my meditation beating myself up and reliving those moments over and over again.
Also, whenever I start meditating after a hiatus, I don’t feel zen and at peace. I feel angry and unhinged. Which seems counterintuitive to why I’m doing it in the first place. I have to remind myself that this is what happens when I clear away the muck of everyday life and that this, too, shall pass. It’s definitely derailed my practice on several occasions as it’s become too uncomfortable to bear.
Most of the time, I sleep better. But sometimes, I don’t. In fact, it keeps me awake for hours because I’m stimulated and energized. Those nights are always difficult because there isn’t a switch I can flip to just shut it off.
Ah, being connected with my physical body. Being more in tune comes with a cost. I can no longer ignore how I’m feeling and why, but I also can’t always figure it out. And when I want to make another choice, the guilt and second-guessing that comes with it can be a bitch. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished to just be able to bury my head in the sand and not deal with food issues or physical pain, but have come to accept (for better or worse) that this is my path in this lifetime.
Yes, I am able to see my thoughts for what they are but that does NOT mean that I do anything about it because observing and acting are two very different things. And also, what happens when I don’t? Does that mean I’m a failure or that there is something inherently wrong with me because I’m choosing NOT to do what I know is best for me?
I always love the insights and connections that come from connecting the dots, but there is also the realization at how my thoughts, behaviors, and actions have created my current reality. I am THE DOT that connects everything in my life and I am also responsible for the outcome, whether I like it or not. That can be a difficult pill to swallow, particularly when I’d rather put the blame elsewhere.
As a full-blown skeptic and someone who has to see it in order to believe it, connecting with my intuition was a scary proposition. I actually thought I was going crazy — like, I-was-starting-to-hear-voices kind of crazy — and didn’t know what to make of the experiences I was having. It left me feeling really alone and like I had opened Pandora’s Box. I was also having intense physical reactions to meditation (think: dry heaving and rocking back and forth) but whenever I would talk to people about it, they would look at me like I had 10 heads. That definitely made me question myself and my experiences.
Yes, it feels amazing to lighten the load. But the reality is, it’s kind of fleeting because the act of letting go always brings more stuff up to the surface. When I worked with a Naturopath all those years ago, she likened it to peeling away the layers of an onion. No fail, whenever I thought I had worked through all the layers, a new one would always come up and need to be addressed. Meditation (and any form of personal growth, for that matter) is exactly the same way. Just when you think you’ve worked through all your demons, something happens and it can feel like all the work you’ve been doing is for naught.
Also, while I’ve been feeling more at peace overall, it hasn’t been THE way I’ve felt throughout the process. In fact, there has been a lot of struggle along the way. Struggle to find my rhythm, struggle to hunker down and quiet my mind for even five minutes, struggle to get past the physical tension I’m holding in my body, and struggle to acknowledge and accept the parts of myself that I deem to be “bad” or shameful.
To quote Sharon Fennimore, the friend and meditation mentor that I mentioned in the beginning,
Sometimes we can’t feel peace at all, but we still sit with what is. By sitting with both the difficult and the joy, we learn equanimity over time. We learn that our emotions and feelings and difficult experiences come and they also go. Good or bad, there is constant change.
I also love this reminder from Sharon about the benefits of a regular meditation practice:
The real benefit of regular meditation are the brain changes that occur and the impact on our liver and endocrine systems that regulate the type of hormones and chemicals we create in response to stress. Whether we enjoy our meditation or not, we get those long term benefits when we practice regularly.
Regardless of what side of the coin we’re focusing on, meditation has been one of the most important tools for transformation in my life. It has taught me more about myself and opened up more doors — to my mind, my intuition and guides, and also to my heart — that I wouldn’t trade any of the struggle or discomfort.
In fact, it is often through the struggle and discomfort that I learn the most about myself and how I view the world.
I’d love to hear from you!
Do you ever struggle with meditation or any other tool that has been touted as being good for you? What do you do when you find yourself in that place?
Leave a comment below or shoot me an email and let me know.
This post was original shared with my newsletter and is Part 2 of a 2-part series on meditation. You can read Part 1 about the benefits of a daily meditation practice here.