Is meditation making me irritable?

January 9, 2013

Ideally meditation will make us less, not more irritable, but sometimes people do find that irritability or other uncomfortable experiences come up when they begin mediation. I just answered a question from Danielle who is having this problem. The question and answer are worth posting, as it’s much easier to find articles about the benefits of meditation than about the challenges that may come along.

Q (from Danielle who recently started meditating):

“The past week I feel I’m more irritated than I usually am, mostly about other people. Is it possible that meditation makes you more sensitive to sounds, noise, etc? Have you heard it before that people become more irritated in a time where they meditate? Of course it is possible that other issues in my life attribute to this feeling. Do you have a suggestion or should I just let it be?”

A:  “There could be a number of reasons that you are feeling more irritable and you will need to experiment with and explore them to see what is happening. As you say, it could be issues in your life and not have to do with the meditation. Some people become irritable when under stress. If it is related to the meditation, I can think of three possibilities:

1 – You are coming out of meditation too quickly. If you get deep into meditation and then come out really fast, it can cause a headache or irritability. Always take time to come out of meditation slowly.

2 – Sometimes emotions that are under the surface can come up in the deep relaxation of meditation. We may become more aware of things that we are feeling. This ties in with the life issues. You may be more aware of how you are feeling about things, perhaps something that you are angry about, or it could even been some stored anger from the past. In either case, let the feeling be there in meditation, letting go if you notice resistance. When you are out of meditation, see if you can find the source of the irritation.

3 – You are straining in meditation. Ideally meditation is effortless, or you develop the habit of backing off when you realize you are trying too hard. It could make you irritable if you are making too much effort.”

I asked Danielle to keep me posted on what she discovers as she explores these possibilities. I’d love to hear from you if you have had similar experiences or challenges with meditation.

 

Non-resistance in Meditation

November 18, 2011

Comment from Kathy — “I have trouble meditating in general. I can relax completely but then the slightest things disturb me. Things like my eyelids fluttering or an itch. My limbs become restless. Can you advise any strategy to help deal with that so I can stay in that relaxed state?”

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11-19-2011 — Meant to add my comments before publishing this post yesterday. So here they are now — better late than never!

The obstacle to staying in a relaxed state is TRYING to stay in a relaxed state. You can feel restless and have fluttering eyelids and still be relaxed. The key to remaining relaxed is non-resistance. Let it be OK if you feel restless or your eyelids flutter. Go ahead and scratch an itch. Although some meditation styles may require that you stay perfectly still, we don’t subscribe to that approach. Naturalness is the key. Learning to let go of resistance to what is happening is the essence of the practice. Take it as it comes, and when you find your are resisting that, let it go. Even the resistance when it comes up, is part of the process. In our approach to meditation, you can’t make a mistake. Everything is part of the process of meditation!

Negative thoughts in meditation

December 9, 2009

Someone taking our online course asked about negative thoughts in meditation. His concern was whether letting them go would release them into the universe and bring negative results back to him. My answer was absolutely not! When I say “let thoughts be a meaningless activity in the mind”, that includes all thoughts, positive or negative. To allow the mind to expand and relax in meditation, we have to release it from its usual focus. During meditation we give the mind a break. We let go of the need to understand, analyze, evaluate and so on. We don’t need to pay attention to what our thoughts are about. The type of thoughts we have doesn’t matter. It’s not necessary to monitor our thoughts in any way and weed out the “wrong kind”. All thoughts are equal in meditation!

How we handle thoughts in meditation and outside of meditation is different. Outside of meditation the meaning of our thoughts is important, but even then I feel people become overly concerned about “negative” thoughts. So often people people struggle with them. They fear that negative thoughts or angry feelings will bring them harm and this can cause a lot of suffering. I’ve seen people become tense and afraid when negative thoughts come, trying hard to replace them with something positive. It becomes a war within.

From my perspective, it’s not only frustrating to try to eliminate negative thoughts, it’s futile! Life is a mixture of positive and negative. We are a mixture of positive and negative. Trying to change that is trying to change the basic structure of things. Can you get rid of one side of a coin or one pole of a magnet?

I don’t mean to say that how we think isn’t important. Of course, we’d rather have a positive, uplifting perspective on things, and our attitudes and perspectives definitely do affect us. There can be a value in becoming more aware of our mental patterns, particularly our underlying beliefs and attitudes toward life. When we start to see ourselves more clearly, we are sometimes able to bring about shifts in our way of being and seeing things. But bringing about positive changes goes much deeper than simply trying to stop negative thoughts. It involves the ability to relax into who we are and accept ourselves as we are now — the positive and the negative. It’s a kind of paradox that when we can truly accept ourselves all the way just as we are now, we may very well morph into more compassionate people. That is the natural result of self-acceptance.

Why do we resist meditation?

November 19, 2009

Do you ever find yourself resisting meditation? Perhaps you’ve resolved to meditate regularly either because you think it’s good for you, or you’ve enjoyed meditating and what it does for you. And yet, for some reason, you find yourself resisting meditation. Georgina asked about this in a comment:

“I really love meditation and your podcasts have greatly assisted me and changed my life. But even though I love meditation and I know it is good for me, I find myself resisting doing it almost daily… why is that? Do you have any insight on why we resist meditation? Why I find it so hard to sit for just 10 minutes a day sometimes? Is it the mind not wanting you to go away from it?”

Before I comment, I’d like to invite you to share your experience with this. Do you find you resist meditation? How do you experience that resistance? Do you have any idea why you resist?

I know many people struggle with this. As I wrote to Georgina, the best thing is to investigate for yourself why you resist. It can help you get in touch with what the resistance is all about and lead to valuable insights. Often when we become conscious of the feelings and beliefs that underlie our behavior, we can find ways to make changes.

I suspect that the reason for the resistance may be different for different people, but a couple of possibilities come to mind. It may simply be the momentum in our busy lives that keeps us moving at fast speed, as well as our culture which is telling us to do, do, do.

Our culture doesn’t recognize a very fundamental principle, and that is that being rested and relaxed is the most important key to being creative and productive. Getting things done is equated with putting in time. With this deeply ingrained idea, we often don’t give ourselves permission to take time out for meditation. And then when we do take the time, the mind and and body are in such high gear that we feel restless. You may sit to meditate and find yourself feeling like you have to get up and go. Meditating requires that we be prepared for that and continue to experience the restlessness and let it unwind.

The resistance can also be emotional. All of our busyness keeps us from feeling things we don’t want to feel. Meditation gets us in touch with our inner experience, including our emotions. If there is something going on in our lives that troubles us or we are not comfortable with certain emotions, we may tend to avoid meditation. And yet, to be truly relaxed and present, which are both goals of meditation, we have to be able to experience our emotions.

What is your experience with this? Do you resist meditating sometimes, and do you know why?

Can you meditate too much?

June 5, 2009

Unfortunately I have to disagree with Mae West who said “too much of a good thing is wonderful”. When it comes to meditation, as well as almost every other “good thing” in life, there can be too much. Food, water, sunshine, exercise, rest — everything in life — needs to be in balance. As wonderful as good as meditation may seem, too much is not wonderful at all, but may cause discomfort and interfere with our functioning.

LoraC left a comment today saying that since starting meditation, she finds herself crying more easily and also has become clumsy and has been tripping and even fell. She loves the relaxation of meditation, but these things concern her. Of course, I didn’t have enough information to know for sure what is happening with her, but it is certainly possible that she is meditating too much.

Too much meditation can make you “spacey” and ungrounded. It can weaken your mind-body coordination. This could be why LoraC is feeling clumsy and tripping. As for her crying more readily, it’s just possible that some emotions are being released as a result of the deep relaxation in the meditation. Usually emotional releases would happen during meditation time and not create any concern. But if there starts to be a lot of release or intense emotional processing outside of meditation, it could be that too much is happening too fast. Since these things seem to have started after LoraC began “meditating in earnest”, an easy way to find out if it’s from meditation is to stop meditating for awhile or cut back on the meditation time or frequency. If the clumsiness and crying go away, then clearly too much meditation is the culprit and the time and frequency of meditation can be adjusted accordingly.

What is the right amount of meditation? How often and how long should you meditate? The answer is it depends. It depends on you — your constitution, lifestyle, goals for meditation and many other factors. It also depends on the type of meditation. For most people and most meditation styles, usually once or twice a day for 15 – 30 minutes, would work well. Unless you have the personal guidance of a teacher, you will need to experiment and find out what works best for you.

If meditation is enhancing your life, you’ve found a good balance. If it seems to be creating problems, it may be that you are meditating too much or that you might need to be doing a different kind of meditation. LoraC might find that if she does the grounding meditation or body awareness meditation, she would feel less clumsy as these meditations can help strengthen mind-body coordination.

Intuitive Visualization in Meditation

May 4, 2009


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We just had a comment from someone who has a hard time with visualizations in meditation. So do I! Actually, I almost never enjoy a meditation that tells you to see this and see that. The more specific the instructions are for exactly what to visualize, the worse it is for me. As I’m working to construct the tree or light or animal or whatever it is I am to see, the guide is already on to the next image. I can never catch up and I’m so busy working on coming up with the visualization that I can’t really relax and get whatever it is I am supposed to get by seeing the image.

Though most of my meditations don’t involve visualization, I know that it can be very powerful. I do use a form of visualization in a few of the guided meditations (Intuitive Healing and Inner Child meditations are examples). I like to call what I do “intuitive visualization”. It’s what I do on my own sometimes for myself. It’s something we all do spontaneously when we daydream. I just suggest that you let something appear, such as a helper, and allow it to appear in whatever way it comes. It can be clear or vague. It may not even come as a image — it could be something felt or heard. It could come through any of the senses — touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell. Or it could just be a feeling sense. A helper, for example, could just be an energetic “presence”. This way of visualizing, which perhaps would be better called “intuiting”, works best for me and I like it in general because it allows you to draw on your own inner, creative resources to come up with just the perfect thing for you.

I know the other kind of visualization meditation, or imagery as its often called, works well for some people. What about you? What works best for you?

You don’t have to sit yoga style to meditate!

January 15, 2009

I just spent at least an hour on the web searching for the right picture for our Online Meditation Course. Currently we have an image of someone sitting in lotus. That picture made someone wonder if she had to sit in yoga posture to meditate. The answer is absolutely not! You can have deep, relaxing meditations and even very profound experiences sitting comfortably in a chair (or on the floor or a bed or sometimes even lying down…). Seemed like it would help to find an image that sends that message.

Searching the web, I hoped to find a picture with someone just sitting comfortably meditating. I went to all my favorite photo sites and it seemed like every single image of a person meditating was always in lotus, or at least cross-legged, and often with the hands held in some sort of special way. While different postures and hand positions do have different effects, they are not really important for most aspiring meditators. Many people can’t even sit cross-legged comfortably for any length of time, and even fewer can sit in lotus.

As for what we recommend about posture — usually meditation is best sitting up with the spine fairly erect. I say “fairly” because the most important thing is to be comfortable. When you are comfortable, you can relax completely. Sitting up fairly straight helps the mind to be alert. If you lie down (which you can do for some kinds of meditations) your mind will not be as alert and you may tend to fall asleep. Most meditation styles are not suited to the lying down position, although many guided meditations will be. But if you can’t sit up for some reason, better to meditate lying down than not at all.

We hear from people who are using our podcast meditations in all sorts of ways — sitting, lying down, walking, exercising, gazing at a lake — and people are getting benefits and having profound experiences in all these ways. Ultimately posture is up to you and will depend on what you are using the meditations for and how you are using them. So often when I hear from someone about their experiences, I remember that these meditations are your meditations. It’s your journey and your process and your truth that counts.

We do recommend sitting up to meditate for our Online Course. The course is a more structured, systematic process aimed at helping people learn to meditate on their own. The sitting posture helps facilitate mastering the fundamentals of meditation. But it is not necessary to be able to assume a pretzel like position to do it. Like our podcast meditations, ease and naturalness are essential. After all, meditation is all about being natural and being at ease!

Body Movements in Meditation

January 9, 2009

I’ve had a lot of questions about spontaneous body movements in meditation. People report shaking, the head moving, twitches and all sorts of other body movements. When these movements occur, it can be surprising and sometimes people feel concerned about them or want to know if they have any significance.

Regardless of what kind of movements you have and what you are experiencing before they happen and as they are occurring, body movements that come up in meditation are the primarily the result of two things: 1) release of tension from the deep relaxation of meditation; and 2) increased flow of energy in your body’s “energy field” (or “aura”) which starts to move “blocks”. In a sense these could be thought of as the same thing, but each explanation has a value in understanding your experience.

  1. Release of tension. This is quite obvious. When the body becomes deeply relaxed in meditation, muscles start to relax. Usually this would be felt as twitches and small movements such as your thumb jumping, but it could also be a larger movement — your head might suddenly turn.
  2. Increased flow of energy in the energy field moving through blocks. This is a more esoteric explanation, but you may actually feel the movement as being associated with “energy” (see some of the comments on the Sensing Energy during Meditation post). In this case, deep meditation is opening up some energy pathways and as more energy starts to flow it can hit up against blocks. As the energy dissolves the blocks, the body may spontaneously shake or twist and turn since everything that happens in our energy field is reflected in the body. (Read about the Human Energy Field.)

The question then is, what should I do about this? There’s really nothing you need to do unless the movements are too strong or disturbing you in some way. If that’s the case, you can simply open your eyes. This will help you to come out of the deep state you are in and the movements will naturally subside. Take it easy and come out of meditation slowly.

If the movements don’t disturb you, just let them happen without trying to manipulate them in any way. It’s better to not get involved with the movements, trying to make them happen or continue. Just let them happen spontaneously on their own, not resisting them and not getting involved with them. In a sense, you can treat them like thoughts in meditation.

Note: Of course, if you have unusual movements happening outside of meditation or have any other symptoms of concern, it’s always advisable to consult a health care provider to make sure there isn’t a medical condition you need to tend to.

Related post: Sensing Energy during Meditation

New Online Meditation Course

January 6, 2009

Many people are happily meditating with our podcast and we hear from so many of you about the wonderful changes happening in your lives. It’s amazing that the experience of meditation gets transmitted in this way on the web and we’ve been inspired to find more ways to bring meditation into peoples’ lives.

We’ve created on Online Meditation Course for those who want a simple, yet effective way to learn meditation online. Not everyone can find or attend a local meditation course. Not everyone gets the hoped for results simply listening to our podcasts and reading the information on our website. Some want more structure and support. So we created a course that distills the essence of the principles of our meditations. Through a systematic sequence of meditations and written materials people can master the basics of meditation. We’ll also be offering very personal support through four email consultations which are part of the course. It’s exciting to see how our work evolves as we connect with people through the internet. Everything that we learned in teaching people in person is reflected in the course.

The course isn’t just for beginners. It’s also for anyone who is already meditating but not satisfied with their practice. Even those who are enjoying our podcasts could benefit from the course if they want to be able to meditate on their own, as could anyone who has struggled in any way with our meditations. 

We know some of you will have questions about the course. Please feel free to ask, either in the comments on this post or on our Online Meditation Course page.

Don’t Believe Anything You Think (in Meditation)

December 15, 2008

When I first read the book title “Don’t Believe Everything You Think”, I found myself laughing. It created a delightful, meditative moment. I was driving and saw it on a bumper sticker. Probably I was caught up in some story about this or that going on in my mind, and seeing the bumper sticker brought a sudden, refreshing perspective.

Given the shift those words created, I wondered how they applied to meditation. With a change in just one word, I realized they apply perfectly to meditation, at least the style of meditation you’ll hear on our podcast. When it comes what we think in meditation, don’t believe anything! The way I’ve always put it is “let thoughts be a meaningless activity in the mind”. “Don’t believe anything you think” works just as well!

Meditation gives the mind the opportunity to disengage, like shifting gears into neutral. Meaning keeps the mind engaged. Believing what we are thinking and that it is important keeps us involved in thoughts. Of course that’s going to happen in meditation. It’s the habit of the mind. But in meditation we have the opportunity to let that go. Learning to let go of thoughts — to not resist them and to not purposefully follow them — is the art of meditation.

Years ago I did the Course in Miracles (the year of daily exercises in the Workbook). Although it doesn’t say it’s a course in meditation, doing the workbook exercises is a way to learn to meditate. What’s interesting is that the very first lesson has to do with letting go of meaning. “Nothing I see means anything” is the title of Lesson One. At the time I did the lesson, it made absolutely no sense to me. I couldn’t imagine what the exercise would achieve. Only recently did it occur to me that it related to the ability to allow the mind to disengage from its usual habits and surface appearances. And only now as I am writing this do I see how it was the first step in what amounted to a course in meditation.

So if you find yourself struggling with thoughts in meditation, just remember — don’t believe anything you think!

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