You may not want to hear this… (famous first words?) 🙂
I also share this reluctantly. Please keep in mind that I am not a spiritual teacher – yes I dabble in leading meditation groups, but that is typically from rote, not from realization! Therefore, when deciding when and how much meditation you should engage in, you definitely should seek out a qualified spiritual guide. So many of us here in the West want to do spiritual practice our own way – looking for good books to guide us. We are basically feeling around blindly in the dark, searching for resourcing nectar in all the wrong places if so. Independence – insistence upon our selves, “I know what is best for me (from the get go)!”, attempting to control our spiritual path – is a binder and a blinder, especially when it comes to spiritual practice.
With all that said, I have had private interviews with Tibetan Lamas who tell me that someone who is suffering from a gross (vs subtle) nervous system issue like anxiety or paranoia or OCD or significant depression, they cannot meditate. Why? Probably because once you start to push your mind and stretch a little out of your comfort zone, this nervous system dysfunction will be right up very uncomfortably in your face.
Recently, in the Somatic Experiencing training I participated in back in March, they had a conversation about how meditators are often the best at checking out of their bodies (not all – some of us meditate in such a way as to stay present in and as a body). But the issue is that someone who already has a tendency to dissociate or check out or day dream or numb out who begins to meditate, will usually just transfer their dissociation into this new habit. In other words, making a new-looking groove for an ancient, ingrain habit!
I would argue however, that according to some definitions of meditation I have heard from Tibetan Lamas, this checking out while sitting is also not technically meditation. Yes it may look that way from the outside, but inside their bodies, these people are in a state of freeze, collapse, shock or overwhelm (or a combination of two or three of these!).
I’m not saying “Don’t Meditate” if you have one of these issues. What I am saying is that you need to do something efficacious to work on settling your nervous system. You need to find a skillful practitioner to help you co-regulate, to build resilience in a proven manner and to do the healing / release work to clear these obstacles causing your nervous system to be dysregulated in the first place!
Yoga is a decent place to start. Find a good teacher – someone who allows for modification of poses (not everyone is alike and can handle a harsh or strict form of discipline). You want to find someone who walks their talk – they can be kind and yet have solid boundaries. Maybe you prefer tough love – but make sure you are really experiencing lasting benefits! (How many of us know someone who looks the part of awesome Yogi on their mat but their blind spots are outrageously obvious to the rest of their world…?)
Other options are to work with a Somatic Experiencing practitioner. This is an awesome body-centered therapeutic modality that works with whatever is up in the moment and it tracks very specifically where the client is in their nervous system.
Yet another modality is Working with the Polyvagal System – based on Stephen Porges’ work on the Polyvagal Theory. Kathy Kain’s work on Touch for Trauma is an excellent way to come into your body in a gradual, kind, stable manner.
And then there is always the moving meditation modalities – Chi Kung (Qigong) or Tai Chi (Taiji). Or walking meditation or walking a labyrinth etc. These are excellent starting places (and you can go very deep for a lifetime of learning with Qigong or Taiji).
However, if you have a difficult time staying present in your body and as a body. Then starting out with a shamanic journey may or may not be the best place to start. Yes some people might require a soul retrieval type of session to make progress. But for the vast majority of clients I have seen, this is not the case.
Most of us want to choose the path of least resistance. Unfortunately, that means we have been very adept at sweeping uncomfortable emotions under the carpet as it were. Choose a modality (but not too intensely cathartic) that helps you to gently feel those less-than-comfortable emotions in a manageable, gradual, stable, trackable manner. Like Somatic Experiencing, or Craniosacral Therapy, or Working with the Polyvagal System, or Dream Therapy, or Art Therapy, or Dance Therapy etc.
If it is too cathartic all at once, then that is too intense on the nervous system – it literally can’t digest that much of an emotional outburst in one sitting. So some people get addicted to the feeling, the rush of catharsis. But when it comes to moving out of less-than-healthy grooves and into healthier nervous system rhythms, then a very cathartic modality is NOT the way to go. These look like heavy emotional processing without a lot of time for integration – let’s do four big pieces for four different people in under two hours for instance. I don’t want to name modality names here for obvious reasons – but leave a comment and I will share more 🙂
What I am trying to say with all of this is, Keep Meditating! If you notice other things arising, like persistent anxiety or chronic agitation or chronically tight upper back / shoulder muscles or depression etc, then get additional support! And keep in mind that it is possible that your meditation teacher does not have the knowledge or the experience to recommend that you get nervous system regulation support (most Tibetan Lamas have not done efficacious somatic psychological training). So keep moving forward, but allow time for integration of new big learning, new big experiences. And as always, always lean into support when possible!
Thank you for reading and feel free to leave a comment.