During college, my mind was suppose to wield a vibrating mantra but defaulted to more titillating images for a young (sexually active) coed: forbidden dorm trysts, student union flirting, a daddy-figure professor.
This dissociation followed me through the years and traditions, Buddhism, Shambhala (secular form of Buddhism), Kabbalah, Vendanta, and other assorted methods (stare at a burning candle, goddess walks, kirtan chants). My earnest attempts were exhausting and futile.
As an older woman, my dissociation moved from filling in the blanks with sex scenes to redecorating my living room.
Even though if felt futile, I stuck with it because the implicit message in doing this meditation was if I endured the agony of being alone with my mind I’d shed all the distressing stuff that made me feel shitty in the first place… mostly anxiety and crippling self-doubt. It was a compelling quid pro quo: put in my time, muster through, and win my liberation from emotional tyranny.
Who knows if that would have really happened
My dissociative mental getaways meant the “meditation” deal was never done. I was a miserable failure at mindfulness meditation. Bouts of self-flagellation might have been more effective – at least I’d have the scars to prove my participation.
In the Western world of meditation, I had what’s called resistance. Damn the diagnosis, I already knew that my incessant pounding thoughts wouldn’t surrender to the wagging finger of sit-down-and-shut-up meditation. So I used the escape route of dissociation.
Shared Histories of Misfires
Most of my Emotional Lib students have their own versions as self-described flunkies of mindfulness meditation. Maybe like me they disconnected or pushed through by counting time until lunch.
Others never went near it. Many come to me as meditation virgins, interested now because I teach a vastly different and powerful approach where going inward as we do is a workhorse that will efficiently process destructive and self-defeating emotions. These are the active, expressive meditation practices we employ in this experiential emotions work.
I call this the unmeditation meditation. This cute slang is a cheap trick to alert you that you won’t be asked to sit down and shut up. On the contrary, this unmeditation meditation respects the fact that people live noisy, distracting lives and trying to mentally dial down the noise, especially through sitting in silence, might as well be a command to shapeshift into a Mongolian wolf (despite your mind howling like one).
So we go the opposite direction
What’s so attractive about these active esoteric meditation (remember: the unmeditation meditation) practices, is that it aligns with what you’d be drawn to do anyway when your mind is spinning or ruminating or looking for the dissociation exit.
We use powerful breath patterns, deep resonant sounds and expressive movements of the upper body, arms, hands and fingers to stir up the emotional energy so we can summon it. The impetus is, in a measured and skilled way, to courageously meet the dark emotions, the thoughts and the memories that are unearthed in this potent energetic swirl of movement, breath, and sound.
Unlike mindfulness meditation, you’re not trying to keep the thoughts and memories at bay or moving through as they arise. No! You’re inviting them into your awareness while you stay open and receptive so you can, as I say: “meet, greet and release them.”
This process recognizes that when the mind is caught in a rat’s nest of incessant thoughts, we don’t need to push them away or move them on. We invite the mind to do exactly what it’s inclined to do – that is lean into whatever distressing emotion is squealing the loudest – stress and overwhelm, anxiety, crippling self-doubt, anger, despair and the like. And we do this with practices that stir the energy and condition our nervous system so we can release the trauma and begin living in calm, centered clarity.
This is what Self-Therapy looks like
As a teacher of this work one of my most pivotal assignments is to guide a student into engaging these powerful practices at a careful and calibrated pace that’s tailored to what I call their “trigger threshold.” By doing this, they are not overwhelmed by the potent energetic swirl that arises from this movement, breath, and sound. Too much too fast can hurl students into a centrifugal storm of painful spewing emotions that are re-triggering.
How emotional release is experienced is individually unique. In practicing this method, people experience a wide spectrum of effects including tremoring, buzzing, tetany (muscle spasms), spinning, and nausea and can happen during or after – and often days following. There’s wailing and yawning, burping and heaving. (A student once pulled me aside and apologized for her loud laughing saying crying was no longer an option, unremitting grief had her all cried out. All release is accepted and welcomed.)
We call this work “self-therapy” where each person is in charge of discovering and tracking their own endurance edge. Patience is essential. When first starting this work, a student’s tolerance for what’s percolating up can waver. As a culture we work so hard to keep everything patted down and ignored for so long that when we do invite emotions up, the cascade of emotions can be intense.
This is why I embrace the judicious use of plant medicines, which you can find out more about here.
The reason it’s so challenging to turn off the internal mental noise can be related to several things:
- A person is caught in a spiral of negative thinking and/or ruminating that’s such an established behavior that it’s ingrained as neural pathways in the brain. Without interventions (like this one) to create new neural pathways, it can be next to impossible to “turn-off” this internal noise.
- The quiet sitting of mindfulness meditation can be very challenging for many who wrestle with incessant pounding thoughts and dissociation. Dissociation is a kind of checking-out to mentally “leave the scene” and think about something else (like, as I mentioned my own “escape” thinking of sexual escapades or re-decorating the living room – anything to not have to sit in mental silence).
- For people who wrestle with trauma or difficult emotions, mindfulness meditation can lead to a resurfacing of unresolved issues and feelings without being able to process them. For someone who’s unprepared, an experience like this can be overwhelming and trigger feelings of panic or flashbacks leaving the person feeling like they’re trapped or helpless again.
If you’re curious about how to do it differently, I invite you to check-out my Practice Page.
The first one, Emotions as Intuition
is very popular for those trying this out for the first time.
Let me know how what I’m saying resonants for you or any questions you might have – just drop down to the comments section and let me know! And if you try out the practices, I’d love to hear how it goes for you.
P.S. If you want to get serious about releasing turbulent emotions that are keeping you from living the life you are desiring, later this year, I’m offering weekly group classes for consistent connection and support. Go here to join my interest list to learn more.