By Tereza Pultarova
People usually take up meditation thinking that from that moment on, they will be an eternally happy zen person with a permanent smile tattooed on the face.
I have described before that this is not exactly how it happens. Even though a committed meditator does become much more zen and blissful over time, there are deep abysses to be visited on the way.
Meditation is not about some temporary blissing out. It’s about real growth and real growth requires facing darkness.
The odd think is that one never knows how much darkness there is to face until it reaches the surface.
The calm before the storm
It always starts with me feeling deeply content, happy and blissful. I always fall for this fallacy. “Now I have it all figured out,” I think. “From now on, I will only reap the benefits, use the power of my healed and expanded mind for whatever purpose I decide to.”
I feel great, I am a Buddha. And then, I start noticing the first signs. The storm is about to come and there is nothing I can do to stop it. What is worse, I don’t even know how long is it going to last and where is it going to lead me.
For me, it feels as if there are some pockets of pain and difficult emotions stored in the mind. They are completely sealed off from the conscious self and under normal circumstances, we don’t know about them. However, they cause the irrational behaviour we exhibit when someone pushes our triggers and forces us out of the comfort zone. When someone squeezes our mental sponge, these pockets burp and cause us to lash out, develop grudges and engage in conflict.
When we start clearing our mental space with meditation, at some point we hit these pockets, one by one. First they start leaking just a little. For me, it always comes as flashbacks and feelings reminding me of things, which I though I had sorted out and processed a long time ago. I notice myself getting emotional. I need to cry, I get irritable.
I start waking up at night with some pressing thoughts. It can get quite scary sometimes. Something jerks me up from sleep. Anxiety rushes through me.
Usually, something happens in the outer world that facilitates the process. The pocket ruptures completely and what has been stored in there floods my mind and body. I feel I am drowning in a cocktail of pain, anxiety, anger and all sorts of other emotions. Pain tends to be the most prominent one usually.
My brain gets into overdrive and starts manically processing the feelings and thoughts released from the pocket. My sleep gets affected. The worst phase can last a couple of days. At its most intense, the emotional discomfort and pain feel like they are going to stay forever. They feel close to unbearable. This is when the epiphanies and realisations arrive.
Usually, my physical body gets affected. I experience digestive problems and flare-ups of all sorts of conditions I have ever suffered from in my life.
Sometimes, I get right from one pocket to another. The whole process can last several weeks during which my ability to engage in normal life is certainly limited. I need to be with myself most of the time and allow my mind to process all that has been released from the pockets. During these times, I do a lot of journaling. I can fill a whole 300-page notebook with spontaneous writing.
Every sane person would probably ask, whether it wouldn’t be better to leave those pockets of pain where they are and live a happy life without tampering with them.
I don’t agree. Each of these pockets contains a lot of unpleasant emotions but as we created them, we also sealed off some positive parts of our psyche. These pockets contain some of our talents and gifts. They contain fragments of our wholeness, limit our ability to enjoy life fully and restrict our connection to our inner wisdom. However, we only discover all that after fully integrating the content of those pockets.
Every time I finish processing what has been released, I see that I have broken some unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaviour and embraced some disowned parts of myself. I feel content, happy and whole (at least until the next storm).
Freud and Jung knew it
Undergoing this process feels like living chapters from a psychoanalysis and analytical psychology textbook.
Some of those pockets store experiences from our lifetime – those traumatic emotions and suppressed memories that Freud had discovered.
Some of these pockets, however, contain stuff that may have nothing to do with our lived life. It’s the collective stuff, the legacy of the whole of the humanity, the collective unconscious, the archetypes discovered by C.G. Jung. This stuff is buried deeper but is at least as powerful as the personal stuff. I have only recently started realising this level and have to admit that I feel quite scared thinking what else there might be to face. The thing is that once you start the journey, there really is no looking back. I just hope that over time, these extreme experiences become separated by longer periods of feeling like a Buddha. And if I am lucky, one they, they will stop completely.
This video recommended to me by a friend describes some of the more as well as less usual side-effects of the ‘mental hard drive’ defragmentation process initiated by regular meditation.