When meditation seems to stir up negative emotion

stonesI recently had a student write and say that after three years of practicing the mindfulness of breathing and metta bhavana practices, with his practice being daily for the previous several months, he’d noticed that he was experiencing an upsurge in negative emotion. He was naturally concerned about this and he wondered whether this was going to be the shape of things to come.

I reassured him that these things happen in waves, and that things would almost certainly change. There’s nothing inherent about meditation that brings up negative emotion, and in fact people who meditate regularly generally experience more positive emotion than the average.

The writer was unfortunately a bit vague about exactly what kind of negative emotion he was experiencing. It could have been anxiety, irritability, or depression, for example, and I found myself having to stab in the dark (to use a rather un-Buddhist metaphor) hoping that something I said might be useful to him. An edited and expanded version of what I wrote is below, and I’ll update this if he writes back with more detail about what’s been going on with him. I offer this in the hope that something I’ve said might resonate with you.

I thought of a few things that might have been happening to bring about the increased negativity he talked about.

1. It may be that he’d been noticing his negativity more and also perhaps also responding in unhelpful ways to it — being negative about being negative, so to speak.

My suggestion here would be to simply notice the feelings of negativity without judgment, perhaps taking a friendly interest in them. It’s possible, for example, rather than saying “Oh, no. Here’s another negative emotion,” to say “Ah! A negative emotion! I wonder what that’s all about? Let’s spend a bit of time together and see what’s going on.”

2. He may have become more sensitive on an emotional level, and also been more vulnerable because he hasn’t yet found ways to experience hurt without reacting.

My suggestion here would be to learn to empathize with your own sense of hurt. It’s all too easy to see being hurt as a kind of failure and to get into negative states as a result. We can welcome the sense of hurt into our experience and again just sit with it, taking a friendly interest. It’s valuable to locate the sense of hurt in the body, to see exactly where the feelings are situated, and to send metta there, repeating “May you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering,” just as if this were a friend who was in pain.

3. He may have inadvertently been cultivating some kind of negative emotion in his meditation practice. I used to notice this in my own practice many years ago when I became very attached to having the right conditions for meditating. I was living in the city at the time and was fairly new to meditation. I really wanted quietness to meditate in, but there was always something going on outside my flat — taxis idling, people fighting, a guy shouting the titles of the newspapers he was selling. When I got disturbed I’d end up furious because of the frustrated desire for silence that I had, and sometimes I’d have quite violent emotions arising — highly ironic when you’re doing the development of lovingkindness practice!

I’m not suggesting that this was exactly what this student was doing, but it may be that he had his own version of this malady, in or out of meditation — some sense that things “ought” to be a certain way and a sense of frustration when, inevitably, they turn out not to suit his desires.

My suggestion here would be to try putting your expectation into words so that you can be more conscious about the clinging that’s going on. This allows you to take the expectation (perhaps something like “I expect it to be quiet when I meditate”) and analyze it to see if it makes sense, and to see what other assumptions might go along with that expectation or underlie it. For example you might dig around and find that there’s an unspoken assumption in your mind that runs like this: “I’m special, and my meditation practice is special, and I expect the world to recognize that.” Now this kind of assumption seems rather absurd when it’s spoken out loud or written down, which is the whole point of the exercise! Once you’ve realized the absurdity of the ego’s view of itself it’s a bit easier to find a lighter attitude and to let go of your expectations more easily.

So those are a few suggestions as to why one might feel an upsurge in difficult emotions through meditation, and of the kind of things we can do about them.

58 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi,

    Great article. It is interesting to note the shelflife of this article: 13 years after you wrote it, the content is still vibrant and you are responding to questions so many years later. Fantastic.

    I have recently gotten back into daily meditation, specifically, meditating in my sauna. I have been doing this daily for 20 days so far, and I have noted a few things.
    1. I am doing Zen meditation, and I was taught to breathe in and count 1, and breathe out and count 2, and continue until you reach 10 and start over. That is the basic layout and I find this to be my favourite form of meditation.
    2. I am noticing tensions in my body that I have not noticed before and I am noticing some negative emotions, some anger, some things I thought I dealt with that are coming back up (seemingly because they are not dealt with)
    3. Some aches and pain, mild headaches. Some of my old injuries are feeling sore and upset and my body seems to be in a state of awareness and repair.

    Overall, I seem to be going through some form of physical and mental detoxification and healing. As if all the compounded “stuff” and emotion, buried deep in my body and mind are having a chance to “get out”

    Some of the above could be elicited by the Sauna, and some by the virtue of meditation – it is hard to know which could be doing what. I know that I really enjoy meditating in my sauna, it is my favourite place to do it; I just enjoying saunaing. I am doing a 15-minute daily session.

    I wanted to get your take on these effects, and what I should do about them? Do I stay the course and keep “working it out” or do I try something different? Is this a phase that will pass? Are these emotions and physical sensations that I need to feel and deal with form them to heal?

    Please let me know your thoughts.

    Chris

    Reply
  • I’ve recently started meditating in hopes of it helping my depression and anxiety, and I was wondering if this was normal: so whenever I start (focus on my breathing and silence my mind), I feel overwhelming sadness that comes bubbling up and if I remain still it passes away and I feel a little happy. This cycle continues over and over, and while I do feel better afterwards, I kinda wish it wouldn’t happen because it’s sometimes really hard when the sadness comes up. Is this cycling normal? do others experience this? and will it eventually stop?

    Reply
    • Hi, Ali.

      Perhaps I shouldn’t have used the phrase “negative emotion,” since the word emotion is very ambiguous. Sadness is something that I think of as a feeling rather than an emotion, and from a Buddhist point of view feelings can never be bad or good, wholesome or unwholesome, skillful or unskillful. They’re merely pleasant or unpleasant.

      Sadness is an unpleasant feeling, and usually is experienced when we experience the loss, or the thought of the loss, of something dear to us. There’s nothing wrong with it, even though it’s uncomfortable.

      Wanting the sadness not to appear is actually unhelpful. There’s some part of your brain experiencing loss, and communicating its distress to the rest of you by creating this unpleasant feeling (“sadness”) in the body. Whenever you have aversion to the feeling of sadness, it’s as if you’re saying to the hurting part of you, “I don’t care about you.”

      A more helpful approach is to treat this hurting part of you as if it was a dear friend who is in pain. Offer it kindness and well-wishing. Look at it kindly and talk to it. Let it know that you care about it. Tell it that you don’t want it to be in pain, and that you’ll support it. Let it know that you’ll be by its side for as long as it needs support.

      The point of doing this is not to make the sadness go away, but simply to be a supportive friend to it for as long as it needs support.

      You might also give some thought to what you might be mourning. Sometimes it’s something you once had (not necessarily a thing, but perhaps a relationship or away of being). Sometimes it’s something you only wished you might have in the future: you desire something, realize you don’t have it, and feel sad. Knowing what’s prompting the sadness can help you to be more empathetic toward yourself.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
  • I have started meditating recently. It’s a non Buddhist one (Paul Wilson) that starts with the breath, which then invokes a mantra that is repeated.

    Because of noise around my flat I am an intermittent meditator. But I do find that when I am meditating consistently, I feel the positive benefits. It really works.

    Besides this, I have suffered from chronic anxiety and one of my fears is a fear of being attacked by a man. There is always something in the media or the news about women being attacked. It may sound silly, but this danger does exist in the real world. It’s so persistent that this narrative has somehow entered into my psyche and stayed there.

    So what I’m finding recently, is that when my mantra ‘plays’ in my mind, (it’s sometimes, but not always) immediately followed by negative thoughts about being attacked etc. This makes me worried that I may inadvertently be tainting my mantra in some way, so that it changes and becomes a negative force instead of a positive one.

    On a plus side. These experiences hold a mirror to myself. It’s a bit like a realization, or a feeling of clarity about how the world is affecting me. How our thoughts and beliefs can shape our minds.

    In a nut shell, I just wondered how easy it is to create negative associations with meditation and what do I need to do to prevent this from happening? Also, have you been asked this question before?

    Thank you for reading.

    Reply
    • Hi, Rosa.

      I’m sorry to hear that you’re experiencing a kind of emotional rebound from your mantra. I don’t know if you’re using some kind of affirmation, but I know of research showing that affirmations cause depression or anxiety when we know on some level that they’re not true. But maybe that’s not what you mean when you’re talking about a mantra.

      It’s not surprising that anxiety about violence has taken root in your mind. We’re very exposed to messages about violence, and a lot of that violence is directed at women. And although most of us have the actually lived experience of being safe and secure on a day-to-day level, there are parts of our brain that can be hyper-alert to potential danger. I find it best not to ignore those warnings. If you ignore or dismiss the warning part of your brain it’ll just keep repeating itself, like a child trying to get its mother’s attention. So it’s better to thank it first of all for what it’s trying to do in protecting you. And then maybe you could offer reassurance: “In this moment I am safe. In this moment I am well. In this moment I am secure.” Just keep dropping those messages into the mind. They are presumably true and can be believed. Saying “I feel safe” would be a lie, and might cause a reaction.

      And don’t fear the fear. Accept the anxiety that this part of the mind has created to warn you of potential danger. It’s OK to have anxiety. It can’t harm you. You can just let the physical sensations of the anxiety exist, and take an interest in them, and perhaps even send them your love.

      And to answer your more general question, it’s very common for people to develop habits of bringing unhelpful emotional responses into their meditation practice. It’s just something we have to learn to recognize and work our way through.

      Reply
  • hi ,
    Im new to meditation (and its hard)
    I feel like was making progress , i was happier more relaxed and all of sudden in the past few days i just feel like the serenity that was with me is gone
    Im more agitated and depressed
    I’ve been fighting with my boss all of a sudden and i’ve been making my wife uncomfortable
    i honestly feel lost all of a sudden
    any tips or ideas ?
    Maybe im just not cut out to do this ? (is it possible some people just can’t ?)

    Reply
    • Hi, Pele.

      You didn’t say how or where you’re learning meditation, but it helps to have good guidance. I also don’t know what kind(s) of meditation practice you’re doing. I’d recommend doing 50% mindfulness of breathing and 50% lovingkindness practice.

      And ups and downs in practice are just how it is! If we get upset about things not going the way we want them to then this makes us feel even worse. The thing is just to accept when the mind is more turbulent or when we’re not as happy. That way we smooth out the roller coaster ride.

      It’s certainly not that you’re “not cut out” for meditation. It’s just a question of learning to be more accepting of whatever is arising.

      Reply
  • I experienced the same in both my second and intensely in my third time recently. The negative emotions drove me to a point were I was setting in the bathroom cutting myself. Feeling empty and angry that I’m too weak to end it all… it feels like all my emotions were swept away and this one emotion of self hatred remained; stood out. After every session I feel like I’m messing part of my soul and becoming lighter in the heart. I’m not even gonna think about meditation anymore till I find what did I do wrong or until I really wanna die (btw I’m using this app called headspace which helps in meditation sessions)

    Reply
    • Hi, Khaled. I want to hug you! Yes, please DO stop meditating. It sounds like it’s putting you in touch with a layer of self-hatred that might best be dealt with in therapy. I’d strongly encourage you to find a therapist to talk to about your pain.

      Please don’t think that you did anything wrong. Meditation helps us discover ourselves. You’ve developed, probably, self-knowledge of something that’s very hard to handle on your own, which is why I think you should find help.

      Reply
  • Hi… thanks for this info.
    I’m facing strong negative emotions. Seems like waves of strong negative pulses moving inside skull near my temple. My head is more heavy since last 10-15 days. I have mood swing issues from birth and I’m an HSP. I started meditating around 2 years back but left it around 1.5 months ago due to fear of my inability to handle amplified awareness. In my meditation I used to simply watch thoughts and emotions.In initial phase it helped me greatly to melt neurosis that was buried in my head for many years and helped me to gain cycles of peace and kinda purification but as I progressed it became problematic:

    1) I started hearing continous buzzing sound in my head.
    2) My rich positive emotions disappeared and I feel like emotionless.
    3) Became sensitive to even subtle sensations in my head.
    4) Overthinking causing extra suffering than before.

    Because of these reasons I dropped.

    i’m very afraid about these symptoms as they aren’t leaving me now .I tried to melt these emotions by watching them but it’s leaving temporarily not permanently.Please help, it’s drastically affecting my productivity and daily life. I lost my job due to my degraded performance. Psychotherapist gave me serotonin tablets but it didn’t work out. Unable to sleep and concentrate.

    Reply
    • Hi, Raju.

      Sorry for the delay. I typed a reply but then we had to roll back the site and it got lost.

      A small percentage of people have very adverse reactions to meditating, along the lines of yours. I don’t think anyone knows for sure why at this point. However, I’d point out that meditating is meant to be just one aspect of the spiritual path. And insight meditation of the kind you’ve been doing is just one form of meditation, and not a very traditional one, either. There’s a whole emotional side to emotional development which comes out when we practice spiritual friendship (the Buddha described this as “the whole of the spiritual life”) and devotion. These practices really open the heart.

      And meditations for developing metta (kindness) and compassion are indispensable. They should be practiced at least as much, in my opinion, as mindfulness-based meditations.

      There’s a case also for body-based practices such as yoga and tai chi, since our lives tend to be very sedentary and our lives so focused on processing information.

      I’d certainly suggest that you hold off from meditating, and that you do things that are likely to engage you emotionally, like listening to classical music, being in nature, being with people who are emotionally expressive, and so on.

      It might be an idea to do a little walking metta bhavana or karuna bhavana, so that you’re working on relating to others more from the heart. Also some self-compassion practice would be valuable.

      Reply
  • Me meditation feels like crap 99% of the time. Ben meditating daily doing insight practice for about 6 years and make of the time I just feel uncomfortable, too hot or to cold depending on time of year, pain in back, knees or somewhere else, mind constantly drifting off. I often wonder why I keep going. I rarely ever feel these so called moments of joy, bliss, etc. I have had some amazing Samahdi moments on retreats but mostly my practice feels like a bit of a chore. I find myself craving to feel relaxed or for my mind to shut the f**k up. It’s very difficult. I guess I keep going because I do notice that I’m a bit less reactive and more mindful but the benefits gained don’t seem to match the effort I put in.

    Reply
    • Hi, Ben.

      Sorry for the long delay. I got way behind on responding to comments and some ended up being neglected for far too long.

      Meditation can be challenging, sometimes, but that’s just an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and to develop new intra-personal relationship skills.

      So you seem to have either a lot of resistance to discomfort or craving for things to be better, and for you growth is going to come by learning acceptance. Rather than trying to change your experience, you’d benefit from simply noticing and accepting your experience — even when it’s painful.

      I can guarantee you that at least 95% of your suffering is coming from reacting to the other <5%.

      You'd probably benefit from starting your meditation with the "eye-max” approach I teach. It’ll help you to observe uncomfortable experiences without reacting to them.

      Reply
  • Bridget Webber
    July 27, 2015 7:44 am

    I am an experienced meditator and meditation/hypnotherapy scriptwriter, and find that repressed emotions, held in the body, can be released via meditation. It’s like peeling away layers. Unresolved issues can come out. As they do, you feel uncomfortable, and negative emotions can be the result. Acknowledgement of feelings, acceptance, self-love, and forgiveness of self and others goes a long way to completing the healing process. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and ask where the feelings come from, and a memory might arise.

    Reply
  • just found your site and loving it. I have two queries. I would be grateful if you throw some light upon them:
    (a)recently i am getting much agitated and restless after my meditation sessions.
    (b)during deep sleep at night , sometimes i woke up with vibrations in my whole body and feel something travelling through my spine towards my skull and i see bright golden firework like patterns with both eyes closed and open…though it lasts for a few seconds….but i feel immnese happiness when this happens..but i fall into deep sleep once again.

    Reply
    • Hi, Madhusmita.

      Apologies for the very late reply. I had a busy summer and the comments became too much to manage. Regarding your two queries:

      a) It’s possible that you’re meditating in an imbalanced way, with too much emphasis on energy and alertness, and not enough on peace and calmness. You don’t say what you’re actually doing in meditation, but see if you can find the quality of calmness in your experience, and allow it to grow. Perhaps you need to be more aware of the abdomen while you’re breathing, or to pay more attention to the outbreath, or simply to the body as a whole. It’s hard to say without knowing what you’re doing.

      b) It sounds like you’re having meditative experiences in a light sleep state. Meditating while we’re half asleep can be very entertaining! We can have deeper experiences arising that would only rarely occur in waking meditation sessions. You’re experiencing what’s called pīti in Pāli (or prīti in Sanksrit) — that’s the vibration or tingling and the feeling of energy moving up your spine. And you’re also experiencing a nimitta — that’s the perception of light accompanying the energy. These kinds of things are not uncommon in meditation, although it sounds like you’re only experiencing them when you’re half asleep. There’s nothing particularly special about these things, although in the context of meditation they’re a sign that we’re becoming more absorbed. I’d imagine that if you’re experiencing these things in light sleep, they’ll start to appear in your normal meditations as well.

      Reply
  • I have been doing vipasana meditation and pranayama for almost 3 years, Also reading books for His holiness dalai lama and other lamas. Trying to follow Buddha’s eight fold noble path. Almost transformed myself to a good loving humble personality in normal routine life. However I agree with above questions and comments from other mediators that I felt very sensitive to negative thoughts which 3 years before easily can ignore or deal with them. therefore overreact on negative repetitive thoughts. Need expert advise ? thank you so much, May peace be with you all.

    Reply
    • There are many things that might be helpful, Andy. You’re probably becoming more attuned to sensations generated in the body by the activity of primitive parts of the brain, which have the function of scanning for potential threats (including comments that people make). Because you’re experiencing those sensations more strongly but haven’t yet learned to handle them, the mind is reacting more powerfully by giving rise to negative thoughts.

      One thing you can do which is very quick and powerful to do is to recognize that you don’t need to believe your thoughts. Your mind lies to you all the time! That’s true for all of us. When you stand back and question the truthfulness of your thoughts, you’re less engaged in them. Think of observing your thoughts rather than participating in them.

      A second thing is to recognize that the bodily feelings of discomfort that arise when you’re upset are a form of suffering. Pay attention to where those feelings are located, and send them your love. Give them reassurance and kindness.

      Thirdly, try practicing gratitude in daily life. In the morning before you start work, or last thing at night, write a list of five things you’ve been grateful for. Even small things will do. You can even practice gratitude for difficult experiences, because they give you an opportunity to grow. Practicing gratitude helps to create a more robust, resilient, and positive climate in the mind, so that you can absorb difficult experiences more easily.

      Reply
  • Hi. I stumbled on this article during a Google search. I’m feeling unsettled after doing my daily meditation. I’m used to strong emotions arising during my meditation. I just started regularly meditating about a month ago, and I believe it’s my body’s way of detoxifying my mind and soul. I’m scared to continue now though. I had a sudden feeling of self resentment and I felt it so deeply. I remembered the bad choices I have made in my life and felt so unworthy of love and compassion. I felt unworthy of the meditation itself. I felt like I was the most selfish person in the world. I can’t even begin to describe how painful it was.it took me about 15 minutes to come out of it. I don’t know if I’ll be able to embrace those feelings if they come back. I’m prone to major depression and anxiety. But I don’t think I’ve ever felt that bad about myself before.

    Reply
    • Hi, Jocelynne.

      What you’ve described is what we call the hindrance of Doubt. There are five of these hindrances, which are mental patterns that stop us from being at ease with ourselves. They are craving, ill will, anxiety, lethargy, and doubt, which is the sneakiest of them all.

      If this occurs again, recognize the pattern and remind yourself that this is just Doubt. When you do that, you’re less inclined to believe the stories you’ve been telling yourself. Having a thought like “I am unworthy of love” isn’t actually much of a problem if you don’t believe it, and if you recognize that this is just some frightened part of yourself trying to “protect” you from positive change.

      It can be hard to recognize doubt, though, because the stories we’re telling ourselves kind of “hit below the belt” and leave us feeling vulnerable, but often when we’ve recognized doubt and chosen not to believe it, there’s an immediate upwelling of confidence and energy.

      Don’t be afraid of this doubt. It’s just a story. You don’t have to take it seriously.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
  • Loving the site. Just found it . Thank you Bodhipaksa. Most helpful comment Adrian re dark night arising etc. I’ve read Daniel Ingram and found him a great source . This may indeed be a beginners discussion on metta practice but I popped in via a link in another discussion . I think this comment was the most helpful re a very common phenomenon and it is hugely crucial at whatever stage you are at to my mind – beginner or long time meditator – to be aware that these are all natural stages to be got through. Every spiritual tradition talks of the dark night/s . When I first came across it , I felt a relief that it was just a part of the process and it wasn’t just me. Compassion for oneself and doing metta are the way through but knowing about the phenomenon is extremely helpful – maybe especially at the beginning stages .

    Reply
  • Hi, I stumbled onto your site with a google search… I’m looking forward to trying the loving kindness meditation :) I’ve been meditating on and off for a couple of years now. But have been making it a daily practice for the past month, 30 minutes each day. No specific practice at the moment, just focusing on breath, listening to singing bowls. I have always suffered from anxiety and have been struggling with depression over the past year. The anxiety is due to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which manifests itself as awful thoughts, images, fears etc. Only sharing this to give a bit of a background. I have been to therapy to work through my issues. I’ve had many wonderful experiences with meditation, the pockets of peace I am able to find are just invaluable to me. When emotions come up, I acknowledge, and try to let them pass through, like unwanted thoughts however occasionally, truly awful, upsetting thoughts come up for me and I’m not sure how to deal with them. Awful to the point of almost too much to bear. Today, it happened when I was setting my intentions at the end of my meditation. Almost as if my worst fears plant themselves in place of my intentions…. I know it sounds strange but any advice or insight would be helpful. Thank you in advance. Much love.

    Reply
    • Hi Susan.

      Generally I find that when someone describes the “awful, upsetting thoughts,” they’re having, they reveal only that they’re having the same kinds of thoughts that everyone else has, at least sometimes. The difference is that they think that they are alone in having such thoughts, and that there is something uniquely “bad” about them as a person. And that tends to make the unpleasant thoughts return more frequently and insistently.

      You might want to talk to close friends, and ask them, “Have you ever had times then you’ve had such-and-such a thought?” You’ll probably find that they have, and even if they haven’t, if they’re a truly close friend you’ll get some compassionate support.

      Also, these upsetting thoughts are only upsetting if you take your thoughts seriously. If you’re going “Yeah, right! Like that’s gonna happen!” in response to them then they’re less likely to affect you. You’d have to maintain that skeptical attitude, because the “inner troll” that produces these troubling thoughts is very smart, and will probably keep arguing its case. Don’t enter into discussion with it. Just keep being skeptical, or make a commitment to a more positive thought, and stick with it despite the heckling.

      Reply
  • Fair point, I didn’t realize this was the loving kindness section (doh!).

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  • I’m suprised you don’t let people know about the inevitable dark night following the arising and passing event in the stages of insight. Are you aware of the 16 stages of insight that Daniel M Ingram talks about quite frequently, having recently experienced the 4th stage the arising and passing I can confirm the stages of insight are a good general guide of what is going to happen next in your meditation as you push forward through the first path.

    A few weeks after the arising and passing I am now experiencing negative signs (symtpoms of the dark night) I am more irritable and more edgy as well as many other things which I think would be better for people to research themselves if they find themselves in a rough place. I have found you can counter this dark night with awareness of what is happening to you so you don’t lash out at others while you progress through your lessons. The dark night is also known as the insights or knowledges of suffering, so look for your insights into the suffering you experience to help progress faster

    Metta Adrian

    Reply
    • Hi Adrian.

      It wouldn’t occur to me to include a discussion of post-insight experiences in the context of a beginners’ guide to lovingkindness meditation.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
  • I am meditating for a long time, for several years. And I do have good meditation sessions at times… when only I-ness remains, with no intrusion of thoughts or emotions …And I do feel relaxed and ‘distant’ (form the emotional stimulations, personal worries – to certain extent) – at least for some minutes or hours until world again takes me up with some events… I have never been meditative enough to remain untouched by some personal comment, negative judgment or abusive word towards me. But yes, I do become hyper-sensitive – much more spontaneous – to interact with people (which normally too I am – i.e spontaneous), to laugh, to weep and cry and to boom – getting angry – my anger just shots up with a small irritant (esp. an irritating person) exposed to me… and I get sort of ASOCIAL – being quite explicit about my comments or reactions while moving in society, which are genuine but might be also ‘offensive’ – the intention though was never to hurt but to express whatever I felt genuinely… This is typically dangerous against influential people like your boss…!!!

    My central concern is with anger. Why do I feel almost terrible anger in those days when I am ‘in-meditation’? But I also want to express that in these days, in the absence of an irritant, I am relaxed, happy, serene, somewhat detached as well… and my concentration power is also excellent at such times (I am a student/tutor of philosophy which requires intense concentration…!)

    Reply
  • Hi I would like some advice on how to deal with painful emotions that come up in meditation and daily life and how to process these safely when at work or with other people without getting hurt again? I find when I can feel sadness or pain in me other people seem to hook onto this and start being angry at me or judging me and it makes me feel worse. Sometimes I feel reaaly good but I find others misinterpreting what I am saying thinking I am judging them or they react negatively to me when I am asking an innocent question and so I find I am getting resentful and moving away from people I would otherwise really like to engage with because they seem to get negative around me. I realise they may be reacting to subconscious energy in me and I want to take responsibility for this and not blame the outside but in.order to cope and get by I think I am good at repressing my sadness and resentment because when I do speak up I find people overreact and I end up getting blamed or they put their negativity onto me and after 3 years or so of this I’m starting to tire of people and a lot of old friendships are breaking off because of this. I feel I am becoming fake just to maintain good work relations.how do I deal with these painful emotions but also protect myself from others projecting their stuff onto me and losing relationships in the process? Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi, nvibes.

      I’d strongly suggest the practice of self-compassion. I’ve listed a few articles I’ve written on the topic here.

      Reply
  • Each person’s situation is different, but I feel that for some people, it might be related to related to deep rooted emotions from the long ago past, maybe painful memories from the ages of one to five that are still in the unconscious mind. So maybe in some cases, one may require professional guidance and assistance to help overcome these deep rooted problems. Sometimes meditation can make you feel very calm and peaceful on the service, but below the surface there might still be agitation. It is like a peaceful tranquil lake. If you dive to the bottom of the lake you might encounter some aggressive fish or reptiles. So the lake was therefore not as peaceful as it appeared to be.

    Reply
  • I keep coming back to this article in hopes that I can figure things out… I experience considerable irritability on the days I meditate, and have mostly stopped meditating for that reason. I’ll try to make the story short… I’ve been meditating on and off for little over six years. About a year and a half ago, I began to notice I was very irritable and I would get these bouts of anger over small things. At first I didn’t know why it was happening, but then I began to notice that the irritability would happen on the days I meditated. I tried cultivating metta for myself, and being as gentle with my self as I could, but it was still happening. As a last resort, I stopped meditating for a few months. The irritability decreased considerably and the bouts of anger were almost non-existant (as opposed to several times a day when I was meditating). I started meditating again on two ocassions, with the same results: I meditate, I get very irritable. I don’t get the relaxation I used to when I started years ago.

    My hypothesis is that, when I meditate, I am forcing myself to repress all negative feelings (even though I’ve obviously tried not to), and then I get mad about having to pretend to feel something that seems false (being calm and relaxed), and I become irritable. This is a recurring theme in my life, because I wasn’t allowed to express my feelings freely as a kid, and as an adult I’ve struggled a lot trying to find how to do it in a balanced way. When I’m calm, I feel as if I’m being submissive and accommodating. I understand that being calm is not the same as those things, but I feel that that is the way people perceive me, and I definitely think they take more liberties with me when I’m like that. I find it so, so hard to get people to not treat me like a pushover while also being calm and nice. I almost prefer them to think I’m “cold” and “intimidating” (the latter is an actual comment I’ve gotten -so sad to be described that way) than to be taken advantage of.

    Anyway, I don’t want to turn this into a therapy session, but if you have any input, I’ll appreciate it a lot. I’m at a point where I want to meditate, but I’m so wary of it now that I don’t. Thank you for reading.

    Reply
    • Hi, Andrea.

      One of the things that’s struck me more and more over the years is that our primary feeling responses are physical, and so developing more awareness of the body can intensify feelings of alarm, anxiety, irritability, etc. This can result in us being emotionally sensitive, with us losing our temper more often, for example, until we’ve learned to provide self-reassurance (through self-metta and self-compassion) that dials back the intensity of those feelings. So it may be that something of that sort is going on.

      But, yes, it may well be that you’re being “nice” and that there’s an emotional backlash as a result. It might be that you’re disappointed in yourself and then offloading that onto others. You’re in a better position than I am to know if something like that’s going on. This is where some psychological insight can be beneficial — learning what ways of behaving are going to help us be happier in the long term. “Being nice” and being compliant and submissive certainly don’t bring happiness in the long term. Being metta-ful requires taking our needs into account rather than just avoiding conflict. So a question you might ask yourself, when you’re responding to others, is “Is this way of acting conducive to my long-term happiness and wellbeing, as well as the long-term happiness and well-being of others?”

      I guess this is a reminder that meditation isn’t meant to be practiced in isolation, but as part of a path that embraces ethics (how we act) and insight (how clearly we see things). Of course maybe you’re very familiar with that — I don’t know how well versed you are in Buddhist teachings.

      Reply
  • Before I started practicing meditation, I’m a very sociable person who talks a lot to different friends that I meet everyday. I can mingle well with different personality of friends which I enjoy to bring joy to others.
    However, since I have started to meditate, I don’t feel like talking much as previous and prefer to remain silent now . There’s once my friend asked what happened to me cause I usually is not that quiet, will this affect my network or friendship with others?
    Im afraid some will misunderstand that I become arrogant or I’ve changed to a hard approachable person….

    Reply
    • Are you happy? It could be that you’re just a bit calmer, and perhaps in some way less anxious. There are all kinds of people, including quieter and more introverted people. Not everyone likes the talkative type…

      Reply
  • I’ve been meditating for about 8 weeks as part of an MBCT course. After week two I developed definite painful uncomfortable feelings of anxiety during my practice. It has now reached a point where whenever I sit on my cushion I am looking on it as a sort of painful experience rather than what I thought would be a calm and peaceful one. Funnily it doesn’t happen when I meditate with my group or attend the local Buddist centre. Only when I am on my own. I want to carry on but I don’t know if I can? Any suggestions please?

    Reply
    • Hi, Sue.

      I don’t want to tread on your MBCT therapist’s toes, so I’d suggest you talk to him or her about what might be going on and how best to handle it.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
  • I am practicing the isha kriya meditation twice the day for three weeks now. At first, I became short of addicted to this practice, in a sense that I longed for practicing it because it helped me calm down and feeling more easy going. It’ been a week now that I after meditation I feel very angry, depressed, and in a certain mood of helpnesness. Moreover, I got sick with a very bad flu and this adds up to these moody sensations. I keep doing the meditation though, hoping that this negativity phase will pass. But I cannot help thinking that it may not be beneficial for me continuing it. What whould you suggest?

    Reply
    • Hi, Theodora.

      I don’t know anything about isha kriya meditation, and so it would probably be best to talk to whoever taught you that practice. Otherwise it’s like taking a Windows computer to an Apple store, or vice versa. Generally, though, grasping after results in meditation is very unhelpful, and could lead to the kinds of feelings you’ve been experiencing. I’d suggest that you relax your effort, and allow yourself to just be with whatever is arising.

      Reply
  • Hi… I was abused in the past and I live in constant emotional turmoil. It honestly feels like a typhoon of mixed emotions in my chest. One of my friends suggested meditation and as soon as i tried I began to feel this turmoil and I’d just start to cry and then repress it more and more… reject it more and more… till I loose all concentration. I tried again today and this time by guided meditation. At first I was relaxed but as soon as the teacher said be aware of being open something inside me just kicked the idea away and said I’m not open and the session went south. What you advised seems easy but is it? To separate those emotions from the reasoning? Because when I start meditating I see the arguments without sound and feel the pain… I just need some guidance… Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi, Jo-Ann.

      First, I’m sorry to hear about the abuse you experienced. I’m not surprised that it makes handling certain emotions difficult.

      I don’t know if you’re in therapy, but a skilled therapist could help you learn to be with your emotions without rejecting them. But this is something we can come to learn in meditation as well.

      It sounds like you’re doing quite well, actually. It would be unreasonable to expect that you’d suddenly be able to embrace emotions that you’ve found difficult to accept before now. So you can expect that you’ll experience turmoil and then try to shut it out for some time. But with practice you’ll get better at just allowing your experience to be.

      Sometimes when I’ve had emotions I’ve found difficult, it’s been useful to say to myself things like, “It’s OK to feel this. Let me feel this.” Sometimes I’ve put a hand on my heart and said, “I know this is hard, but I’m here for you, I love you, and I want you to be happy.”

      I’d also suggest that you pay a lot of attention to your posture, and make sure that you’re sitting in a very upright and open way, with your chest open, your shoulders back, and your head held high. This will help you to have more confidence to face your experience.

      Reply
  • How to work with repetition of thoughts ,overseansitivity to happenings of the day, mind chattering during meditation. also at time pain and hurt is felt anatomically around left side of brain at times seems to be prints of old sanskara, or overreaction to hurt pain has left some prints or chemical changes in brain.

    Reply
    • Hi, Raj.

      Start with the mind-chattering during meditation. It’s just a normal part of experience. Notice the thoughts. Let go of them and return to the breathing If you’re judging yourself for “not meditating well” then let go of those thoughts and return to the breathing. Do that a thousand times, a million times. You’ll start to feel calmer and more patient, even if there is still thinking going on. This patience will spill over into your daily life.

      If there’s pain, just notice the sensations of the pain in the same way. It’s just a sensation. Notice it. Let go of any thoughts about it. If you’re familiar with lovingkindness practice, then send your pain thoughts of lovingkindness: may you be well, may you be happy.

      Reply
  • Hi, Rebecca.

    I don’t think there’s any need to explore what it means. There’s sadness there, and that’s simply a fact to be dealt with. I’d suggest just allowing the sadness to be there, and meeting it with kindness. Imagine when you’re meeting your sadness that you’ve actually meeting a dear friend who is sad. The main things are to be a loving presence for your friend, to be accepting (“it’s OK to feel sad” rather than “Snap out of it”), and to show kindness in your attitude and even in words. So you can, as you pay mindful attention to your sadness, say to the sadness, “May you be well; may you be happy” as we do in lovingkindness practice.

    Reply
  • I am fairly new to meditation. When I try loving kindness and direct it to myself I find a lot of sad feelings arise, particularly as I picture myself as a young child. It can make me tearful and ache in my heart. Do you have any advice on what this means and how to deal with it?

    Reply
  • I have being meditating for a month now for about 40 minutes twice a day. I have being feeling good most of the time. however, sometimes i felt like some negative emotions were raising to surface like anxiety or sadness. I try to see those emotions without identifing with them and being aware that it is part of the meditative process. especially for people that approach the meditation for the first time. The motto for me is to continue meditating untill i feel better! Blockages of negative emotions needs to be cleaned up! Practice may be the keyword.

    Reply
    • Omg I am feeling so sad and depressed and wasn’t sure why since I have started chakra I’m doing the root chakra

      Reply
  • Item #3 mentioned above has been happening to me quite a bit. I feel that if only there was silence around me, I could make some progress…

    Reply
    • It’s great that you’ve identified what’s going on, because that will help you to work with the situation. You can now think of progress in terms of learning to be at peace with the noise around you, and you can work on developing peace by using any sounds that are present as an object of mindfulness. Mindfulness is mindfulness, whatever it’s mindfulness of. Mindfulness of sounds is mindfulness, just as much as mindfulness of the breathing. So see if you can just allow the sounds to be there, letting go of any reactive thinking that arises. And let the sounds be part of your awareness, just as much as the breathing or other sensations from the body.

      Reply
  • After practicing meditation, I feel I have become silent and withdrawn. I am not the usual self as I was before. I think twice before I speak and rather keep quiet so that I do not offend the other. I feel peaceful but all that bubbly attitude of mine has somehow been lost. I do not try to become over friendly as I used to be but my family life is peaceful. Why do we get detached from friends and about the world around us?

    Reply
    • Hi Fiona.
      There can be various things going on. You don’t say what kind of meditation you’re doing, but it’s helpful if mindfulness meditation is balanced with lovingkindness meditation, so that we stay in touch with our emotions and maintain our sensitivity to others. It can also be the case that there’s some inadvertent repression going on, where you’re forcing your attention onto one aspect of your experience (such as the breath) and ignoring your emotional side. And sometimes people’s relations with others can be tinged with things like a fear-based desire to impress or to be liked, and if that vanished we have to recalibrate our personal relationships. Certainly, I don’t think it’s at all inherent in meditation that we cut off from other people or the world around us. Long-term meditators have been shown to be more empathetic and more compassionate, so I’d suggest that what you’re experiencing is just a temporary phase. My main recommendation would be just to keep going, to pay more attention to your feelings and emotions during meditation, and to make sure you alternate mindfulness practice with lovingkindness meditation.

      Reply
    • It is a temporary phase of silence and detachment kind of feeling. It is like resting period after surgery. I have lived all this, just relax, in few months … you will be back to your bubbly attitude with a flavor of wisdom which you got from meditation.

      Reply
  • Wow! Yes, it’s a tough thing to realize that we’ve been pursuing goals that weren’t going to work out for us. It’s tempting when that happens to beat ourselves up about it, but of course that’s just another unhelpful pattern that isn’t going to help us. At those times what we need is to have compassion for ourselves, so that we can process our disappointment and move on.

    Reply
  • In addition to the abovementioned issues, I have experienced sometimes quite strong negative emotions regarding disappointment. Out of the blue, a knowing voice inside tells me that everything I had struggled for (and paid for dearly in terms of wellness, happiness, relationships etc.) was in vain.

    It’s feels easier not to see that kind of things. Of course they should, instead, to be embraced warmly. It’s a lesson worth learning, however hard it feels.

    Reply

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