Thursday, August 15, 2013

the dark side of meditation

The dark side of meditation is an interesting subject in that, to be completely honest, I've been guilty of tweeting all the positive article and never thought about the downside. I don't remember ever tweeting a negative article about meditation. 

There is a video, with Neuroscientist Willoughby Britton and Yoga / Buddhist Teacher Michael Stonewhich, which I found from a Wildmind post. I have to say I'm very curious what they will find.

Their point is that often trauma will come up and that people can be unprepared for it. Their other point is that people often need a kind of background to place their experience in, and that actually divorcing meditation from Buddhism might be one of the reasons why that might happen. (Or any other tradition.)

When I worked on Riker's Island, I didn't so much pay attention to the people who didn't get it. When I recently had a meditation at a staff meeting, I kept it moving when some people decided not to do it. Some people had a negative experience in the past, and I told them they didn't have to do it.

But I've always wondered why someone would not experience it positively. It seems so good, it's hard to imagine that for some it's not good.

I've always thought meditation and mindfulness are 100% pure goodness. But when I think about, I often find meditation harrowing. I have difficulty with negatvie content that comes up, from wincing at social faux pas, to the low light reel of my life, my low points in a kind of montage that proves how horrible I really am. There can be a shaming twist. For whatever reason, I struggle with constructing a positive view of myself, at times, and in meditation I usually work on conquering that problem; I also have more bold face reflections on my mistakes, which I see as positive. Usually I'm better defended. At times I feel I can see more clearly how to take a more pure tack. I see a goal and I take a direction towards it and sometimes I get waylaid. I experience that mostly as a positive thing to notice, even if it's sort of mistake oriented.

I didn't think my experiencing of myself as the wind and the trees after an intense meditation retreat as pathological, because in a retreat setting, there's lots of time and support to process your experience. I just thought it was nothing special.

There was a time when I was doing the 6 element practice at work during my lunch hour, and at a certain point I just realized that dismantling myself wasn't supported enough, and that I was beginning to experience it in a negative way or it was just too scary. I did not have enough of a foundation of positivity to support it. And to compound the problem, I didn't really reach out and talk to anyone until much later. So I just stopped doing that meditation, and I stopped meditating at lunch.

My feeling is that even though that was a kind of negative experience, in way what is negative to me is that I was brushing up against my limits, and I needed to sort of back off my ambition, and build up more metta.

I need to really work the Brahma Viharas. For what ever reason I don't have enough of a reserve of positivity inside me yet. And it's funny because I feel like I'm a pretty positive guy, externally. I'm in control enough of it, that I don't spill my negativity as much as I think others do, so I think I'm above average. But maybe I'm just not being authentic and real. It's a confusing balance. Translating our experience into appropriate action is an art. I think of that video where Patrick Stewart talks about how he donated and worked for domestic violence to honor his mother's experience, and he donated and worked for PTSD to honor his father's experience. He took the confusing experiences of his childhood and charted a positive course.

I think there are parts of ourselves we burry, because we don't know how to transform it enough to be public. I know that while we may have urges and translate feelings into extreme actions, like punching someone when we're angry, we can also just be present with our anger, and then act in our own best interest. Integration is not very easy for some people.

 I note there is a new book from Windhorse called Not About Being Good. The video suggests that we need to more fully embody our own nature, and not try to limit it.

I feel that for me, in the end, meditation is the solution. I will note with sorrow that there are some people who end up with a negative experience, and don't sort of turn the corner with it enough to make meditation helpful. I note that there are times in my life when I am trying to process something and it makes meditation really hard, and I need the patience to build up what's needed to help process some experience. I've written about putting the petal to the metal. I'd say in a way the spiritual life is about trying to be really efficient in the spiritual life, and not just pressing in the wrong way. Even so, when you realize you're pressing in the wrong way, that is a huge revelation, and contains much wisdom.

The easy thing to do would be to just exclude people who have too much trauma or are too unintegrated: The elitist sangha, the cool table at high school. But I don't think that's how the Buddha approached things. He was happy to take on Angulimala. Marpa was happy to take on Milarepa. But those are success stories. People drift away. There are stories where the Buddha feels limitations in people, or doesn't press too hard. He was always adept at seeing where people could improve and move along the path. He would do what he could to help. There's even the story where he tells a guy not to meditate. The guy goes ahead and meditates anyway and has a rough time of it, and the Buddha gives his best teaching on what you can do beyond meditation to progress and lay the foundation for meditation. (My source is the Meghiya Sutta.)

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