Meditation is a powerful tool in calming down your nervous system, and is a skill that everyone should be taught in elementary school and continue to hone throughout a lifetime. Think what we are not taught about stress, anxiety, and frustration at an early age. A child has little control over his or her environment and there are endless frustrations. Adults tend to brush off their fears with words like, “get over it, think positively, don’t worry about it, keep your chin up”, and the list is endless. From the perspective of a child the world is quite overwhelming and he or she is often not really heard. Teaching children simple ways just to calm down would be extremely helpful. Meditation and other relaxation techniques have been shown to be effective tools for many stress-relatedl disorders.
The angry meditator
I have talked to several highly-skilled meditation teachers and they agree with my observation is that is common to encounter an “angry meditator.” There is a dark side to meditation because it is often used to counteract and suppress anger and anxiety instead of feeling it. A skilled meditator does allow those emotions to encompass him or her and then let them go. But, it isn’t a good starting point for most people because initially, it won’t cut through the intensity of the anxiety and anger neurological circuits.
What I have often observed in many friends, patients, and me is that while in a meditative environment life is good and deep states of relaxation are achievable. But what about full engagement in the craziness of the rest of your life? The triggers are still there and the reactions are still strong. There is a tendency for many to sequester themselves within a meditative community. I don’t have an opinion whether that is right or wrong. I respect everyone’s choice regarding to live within his or her capacity to deal with stress. However there are a couple of problems with this approach.
Living in a bubble
First it is eventually very stressful avoiding stress. The process is endless and your world shrinks.
Secondly, when you are subjected to a difficult situation you lack the resilience to deal with it head on. Without the correct tools your coping skills are minimal. Your world continues to shrink. It is a bit of a catch-22 because someone who is wise enough to pursue a meditative path, is probably not going to end up being a spine surgeon.
Meditation as a form of positive thinking
The most damaging problem is that meditation can be used as a tool to suppress anger. It can be effective in the short term. It eventually becomes a complex method of positive thinking or a form of denial. One thing worse than suppressing anxiety is suppressing anger. Those pathways will really become fired up. So when the trigger is hit the resultant response is not pretty for anyone, particularly the person who thought life was so peaceful and full. A full life means being able to absorb the fullness of every part of it, no matter how difficult.
Chronic pain will often persist or return quickly. There are also at least another 30 Mind Body Syndrome symptoms that will also not disappear or will re-appear. This is the process I am referring to that occurs in the angry “meditator.” He or she is at peace . . . until they are not.
A few years ago I put a label on myself as being “enlightened.” In my mind, since I knew so much about being a victim and anger, I thought that I was above diving into that hole. What a disaster! What occurred was that my angry reactions did not happen as frequently, but the intensity of them overshadowed any benefit. Finally, I realized that I go into a victim role many times every day. I have committed to being more aware of it and not take any action until my reactivity has passed.
Life is rough and you will always be triggered. What I have learned that there is a sequence of reprogramming that is critical to really create new pathways. The sequence is:
Awareness and detachment
The writing down of your negative thoughts and throwing them away is a tool I write about incessantly and it is the foundation of the whole DOC project. The writing exercise creates an awareness of the troublesome thoughts and the space between you and the paper is connected with vision and feel. I have often described it as, “mechanical meditation.” You have now separated from them.
Meditation can eventually be brought into play as it accomplishes all three aspects of regrouping your brain – awareness, separation, and reprogramming. It is actually a powerful tool to move forward and also maintain your healing. You are more fully connected to the world around you and able to move away from the pain circuits.
Many people who have a strong meditative practice can accomplish the awareness and detachment steps just through meditation. They are connected to their body or environment by feel or visualization. They can watch the disruptive thoughts enter and leave and then they reconnect with the world with awareness. Most of us do not have that skill – especially early on when you are at war with your pain.
Meditation can connect you with your anger or be a global form of positive thinking. Do you embrace or avoid stress? Are you uncomfortable with your anger when it is triggered? Does it sometimes seem out of proportion to the situation?
Meditation is incredibly useful. Just don’t let it be a tool that disconnects you from what is really going on inside.