Updated: Jun 1, 2020
What happens when we experience strong emotions during meditation?
We are used to thinking about meditation as a peaceful activity. Meditation teaches us not to get caught up in our inner dialogue, and once we get the hang of this we think we can use meditation to avoid find peace and avoid pain.
So it can be really surprising when we sit down to meditate and get overwhelmed by emotions. If we are meditating only in our minds, this does not happen often, except if we are very upset. But if we meditate with awareness of the body, we will soon become aware of tightness and discomfort. The kind of discomfort which would usually trigger an inner dialogue as our minds seek to explain the discomfort by suggesting a worry. Except that we have dismantled that trigger, so now there is only the discomfort.
When we start to sit with the discomfort we suddenly experience pain, rage, desire, anger or another strong appetite or emotion. Suddenly we are in the middle of a stormy sea, thinking we have totally lost the plot here. Weren’t we supposed to be meditating?
In fact, this is still meditation. It’s just that we were so used to pushing down our emotions, that allowing ourselves to feel the raw emotions, without inner dialogue or displacing blame, is a new experience for us. Stay with it, but meditate for a shorter period of time if it gets too painful.
The emotional discomfort is so strong, it is very tempting to reach for a distraction, and the most obvious distraction is compulsive behaviour and obsessive thoughts. This will also creep into your mind while you are meditating during times of emotional discomfort. According to my Zen master, it’s fine to experience all sorts of extreme thoughts, desires and urges during meditation. He says we shouldn’t repress these thoughts, nor should we act on them. We should do the one most difficult thing, which is just to sit with these emotional thoughts and accept them.
So your mind could be on a roller coaster ride, but try to hold on. It’s still meditation and it’s good for you.