. . . and don't be surprised if I bust your expectations!
Joe asked, "I have a few questions relating to meditation, when i meditate i just sit
with my eyes closed for around 20 minutes , and just try to be aware of what
my body's doing, and watch thoughts passing. I was wondering whether this
type of meditation practice, comes under the ones you mentioned as being
designed for monks to alienate themselves from society and life in general."
Lorin sez: Joe, don't worry, that kind of witnessing is not a monk meditation.
What makes a meditation alienating from life is if you treat thoughts and impulses as alien impulses that need to be gotten rid of. Just read any Buddhist material to get the feeling of this.
What we "householders" do is cherish thoughts and emotions, even difficult ones. We don't try to get rid of them, but welcome them. We forgive ourselves for having anger and pain because those are side effects of mixing it up with life. You can't be intimate with other people without having them trigger all your issues.
Meditation gives calmness in the midst of dynamism. For non-monks, working and having ambitions and going forth and daring to live gives rise to an intense desire to meditate. Then when we take time for ourselves, we plunge into meditation, greedily. It is a swing between opposites.
People who have jobs and friends – or want to – need to encourage desire, encourage the impulse to jump up and go do stuff after meditating.
If you get bored, there are two directions you can go: you can work harder and get more tired, so that meditation feels like an incredible luxury, and you can intend meditation to be more interesting and beautiful. You do this by making the focus of meditation be about what you love.
In meditation, you are the gardner. There is no one plan to follow.
If you are a monk, plant death. The whole idea of being a recluse is to disappear, to go away.
If you are not a monk, and want to make a gift to planet earth and to other people, make yourself rich inside so you have more to give.
Re: How to rehab ourselves from doing the wrong type of meditation?
Re: How to rehab ourselves from doing the wrong type of meditation?
I see in myself most of the mistakes listed on your site, e.g, the "Dilation" thing, inability to bond, unwillingness to compete, weakening of ambition and passion, and long-term depression.I now consider myself a "recovering Buddhist", and tend to see Buddhism as maybe having been started and continued by dysfunctional people.
My question is, what is your opinion on the path for people who have psychiatric disorders, for example debilitating anxiety and agitated depression, who spend a lot of time just
trying to tolerate existence. Have you seen improvements in these types of people?
I have seen improvements and there is a small literature on the subject link, and for example, link, but I am not convinced that there is any one type of meditation or program that is good for everyone. The best research, by the way, and the least creepy approach to meditation is that presented by Harvard Medical School/ Massachusetts Hospital Mind-Body Medicine program, MBMI.org. Herbert Benson really tried, in his own way, to NOT found a mind-control cult. And he did the best research ever on the physiology of meditation.
Also, the field of meditation is full of bullshit, cons, and organized failure – and it is getting worse. As the scientific research shows the power of meditation, more and more con men are arriving to exploit the situation. Kind of like the internet – most email is spam, flooding your inbox with junk, and trying to fool you into giving them your bank account password. But just because the email is, worldwide, 90% spam and viruses, created by criminals to take control of your computer and steal your identity, that does not mean that the internet is bad. It is just wild, like a jungle. There are predators – lots and lots and lots of predators, and they want to steal your life force.
So, SOME of your anxiety is well-founded. There ARE things to be concerned about. And at the same time you are thinking that Buddhism was started and continued by dysfunctional people, maybe you have something to learn from them – just see them as they are. Buddha, for example, had panic disorder – he fled in panic when his first child was born. He took a look at his wife sleeping, and snuck out of the palace and went out into the forest to starve himself. Let's call a spade a spade : he abandoned his family, ran away, and starved himself. That is pretty sick. He almost starved himself to death, but then a girl offered him a bowl of milk and for some reason he drank it. In ancient Asia, if a mentally ill person survived and taught something, they make them a saint and memorize what they said.
I would rather see you find a group – is there such a thing as Anxiety Anonymous ? – and find out what works for people who are in a similar situation as you. Then start to develop practices which you can tell help you. Your question has prompted me to read around at anxieties.com and they have a lot of good information. And do as Buddha suggested – don't believe anything anyone says. Check it out for yourself, and don't even bother to check out a claim unless you know the person and you can see that they have a good life. In your case, see if you can find people who used to suffer from anxiety – who used to be the way you are now – and have recovered.
One approach to meditation you could use is something like "self-soothing." Since there are thousands of different meditations, just make up things that seem meditative, and do them in a way that works for you. For example, we all have to do SOMETHING with our time. We all have to take walks. So why not have a "walking meditation" practice in which you pay attention through your senses to the beauty around you?
If you have anxiety, that may mean that even if you are taking a walk, anxious thoughts intrude on you, call your attention. You can help balance the situation by focusing more on your external senses, by practicing paying more attention to everything you are seeing, smelling, hearing, touching. The anxious thoughts will still be there, but they are there with a huge amount of real-time sensory data about how the world really is.
Think about that for a minute. You turn up the dials on the senses that inform you about what is happening in the real world, all around you. You allow your internal senses to go ahead and report their noise – like a faulty car alarm – blaring away that something is wrong. Whatever the anxious thoughts are. But you have changed the balance, you keep coming back to the external situation.
Then, consider . . .
Are you working with a psychiatrist?
Are you taking any medication?
One thing you could do is to develop, with your psychiatrist or psychologist, a set of practices that are helpful for your exact situation. He might encourage you to take up sports, for example, or bodybuilding, or surf fishing.
We all have to do SOMETHING every day. So why not, when you have a choice, do things that make you feel happier?
Then, if you are taking anti-anxiety medication, you may as well visualize it working, and meditate ON the beneficial effects. About 30% of the effect of all drugs is the "placebo" effect, which is really the mind-body effect. This means that if we "believe" in the drug we are taking, and believe in the doctor, then the drug is much more effective. The placebo effect is included in all scientific research – that is why they do controlled studies.
So – you could make up a prayer that the drug work really well, and have little or no side-effects.
The paradox of meditation is that relaxation BRINGS up anxiety – when we become more relaxed, we can FEEL our tension. It is like when close the drapes in a room, blocking out the full sunlight. If you have a candle on the table, then the little light of the candle shows up much more brightly.
Everyone feels anxiety when they meditate – it's the main reason people stop. I am talking about just regular people, with jobs and families. Meditation is their time to feel everything, and everyone hates having to face their fears and anxieties.
With you, I don't think you should impose any rules on yourself or have any external authorities, except for what you have already. Work with someone you trust, and step-by-step, little-by-little, build skills of having a good one minute, a good two minutes, a good five minutes, a good hour.
Self-LoathingDear Lorin, I happened upon your website after googling meditation and negative effect and was glad to read something which I could relate to. I have attended two courses of Vipassana meditation each lasting 10 days, these courses were taught by S.N. Goenka, I guess that youve heard of that organisation, they seem pretty big. I felt a very positive effect a week after leaving the first time. It really fixed my problem - which was an overactive mind of which I generally suffered from guilt and self-loathing.
I was at a pretty low point when I went there on the advice of a friend. But the effects were great and it kept me going for a year, during which time I started looking into the origin and beliefs of Buddhism, but never really getting into it. I didnt even meditate that much after either, I just didnt need to! I was quite skeptical initially, the cult-like atmosphere of S.N Goenkas practise didnt help things either.
So the second time was extremely intense, during the course I had many strong sensations and I honestly believe that (on the 5th day) I reached some sort of, dare I say it, highly enlightened/physical state that I can only compare to being on a mild acid trip. I had read somewhere before that this is possible and I hope that it didnt effect my judgement through wishful thinking. The most amazing similarity was the certain taste you get in your mouth, which I figured was just saliva but my brain recording and sensing the taste in its broken chemical form.
So needless to say by then I was pretty satisfied with the way things were going, in fact I was pretty euphoric. But then things went bad, not that bad, but certainly not fun. I started to experience a sensation in the back of my head which was like an electric charge going off every few seconds, SNAP......SNAP.........SNAP it was just too intense and it was continuing even while I was not meditating, I just couldnt turn it off. I didnt tell the teacher because the message was to accept it and it would pass, but I guess it got the best of me because I lost all concentration and the will to carry on meditating. By the last day I was doing everything I could to get my mind off the feeling but it was getting stronger, so hard I felt like somebody was hitting the back of my head with a hammer. I will admit that I got scared and was so happy to get away from the place, but the feeling stayed for another couple of days.
However, its the after effects that concern me most. Although I have become a lot more settled in life (married, less partying etc); mentally, I really feel that I am regressing to the way I was before. I am losing control of my thoughts more often, becoming irrational, bouts of depression and guilt and self-loathing aswell. I really pinned my hopes of salvation on meditation and now that I have nothing to believe in any more, I find myself getting pretty desperate for a new direction. I also do not want meditating to become a crutch for me either, otherwise I will feel like its a form of addiction.
I have contacted the teachers of S.N Goenka but I find them a little vague and impersonal towards the situation.
- HAMMERHEAD IN VANCOUVER
Good for you, jumping in and having an adventure with meditation. It really sounds like meditation has been having a positive effect on your life. The negative effects you are experiencing are probably from that uncomfortableness that made you want to start meditating in the first place.
There is one issue that concerns me - that of the repressiveness of some meditation techniques joining up with your pre-existing repression.
Look at your language:
"It really fixed my problem - which was an overactive mind of which I generally suffered from guilt and self-loathing."
"By the last day I was doing everything I could to get my mind off the feeling but it was getting stronger, so hard I felt like somebody was hitting the back of my head with a hammer,"
"I am losing control of my thoughts more often, becoming irrational, bouts of depression and guilt and self-loathing as well."
There is something going on there in what you call "An overactive mind." It may be time for you to explore what that is.
Are those sexual fantasies, or aggressive impulses? The desire to have fun? What? It sounds like there is a whole lot of your life energy tied up in the impulses behind what you are calling an overactive mind, and the desire to control it.
Meditation, particularly Buddhist meditation, can and often is used as a kind of drug or psychosurgery to obliterate or deeply suppress your emotions and reactions.
But what is going on there? What is it you are struggling so hard to repress?
All meditators can benefit from therapy or coaching. It does not have to be psychotherapy, where you sit in a chair and look across the room at an academically-trained clinician who has never meditated, and is paying attention to you through the peephole of DSM-IV, wondering how to categorize you and daydreaming of insurance co-payments.
You can also work with martial arts teachers, acting coaches, singing therapy, art therapy, dance therapy, tennis coaching – just find a passion to pursue, then get a coach who does that activity.