„It could be just a little headache, a pain here and there, some twitching, a little bit of anger,” I remember the teacher saying during my Transcendental Meditation (TM) course. She was talking about stress release. The deep healing process triggered by the simple fact of connecting to yourself in meditation and allowing your mind (and body) to start purging that unhealthy stuff within you.
According to the TM theory, all stressful and traumatic experiences you encounter in your life leave an imprint in your physiology. They call it samskara, which comes from Sanskrit and has to do with how karma is created. These samskaras, sort of emotional scars, stay buried deep within you.
The body would naturally like to get rid of these scars but since we live in a society that considers expressing certain types of emotions such as anger, despair or sadness to be a weakness or outright socially unacceptable, most of us are conditioned from early childhood to generally try as much as we can to supress all those emotions. But supressing doesn’t mean resolving. The emotions are still there and keep trying to dig their way out of the sub-conscious. They kick against our conscious minds trying to make themselves known. In our normal lives we would probably try to distract ourselves, plaster another layer of something over these emotions to make it more complicated for them to get out from the grave. Sooner or later, this habit catches up with us. We develop anxiety, depression, addictions, insomnia and disease and we are totally unaware of the causes.
On the contrary, when you start doing TM, you allow these emotions and feelings to enter your consciousness in order to be processed, released and truly resolved. This way, healing and growth can occur and all the negative symptoms, physical or psychological gradually disappear.
Stress release can be overwhelming
So far so good. But here comes a catch. The stress release can be freaking intense and it can take quite a while to process it all. The more difficulties you have encountered in your life, the worse and deeper your wounds and the more powerful the stress release. If you are a Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (that bloke with a funny hair-do that somewhat controversially taught Transcendental Meditation to the Beatles in the 1960s) and have spent all your life peacefully in the Himalayas, you probably have not accumulated that much stress and your stress release would most likely be just about the little bit of headache.
But if you are a product of a broken home, had a less than harmonious childhood and less than emotionally healthy balanced parents, you likely have some pretty nasty stuff buried inside you and releasing that would definitely be much more than just a mild headache.
Reliving the wounds of the past
When you are stress-releasing, you are essentially reliving all your wounds and traumas. If you ever felt hated, rejected, faulty, not loveable, you are going to experience that again with full intensity. If you ever felt like a failure, not good enough, and pushed this feeling away, it is going to flood you and paralyse you.
Now imagine you have experienced serious abuse or any sort of major trauma (think about a stint in a concentration camp, a tragic loss of a loved one, being a victim of a violent crime). Many people deal with these experiences by simply choosing to forget them. They may decide to learn meditation, hoping to become calmer and instead all the old horrors come back like a tsunami.
I am not surprised some people get discouraged and conclude that meditation doesn’t work for them. In fact, you can even find reports on the internet of people attempting suicide after starting meditating. And I can see why. It’s a shame because TM is a great technique that really works and facilitates deep healing. The problem is that while TM teachers generally do a great job explaining what stress release is and why it is good for you, they tend to downplay how intense it can get and provide very few tools for dealing with it.
They tell you not to fight against it, to accept it and go with the flow. They tell you to reduce meditation, rest more and do yoga. But what if you feel like you are losing your mind? What if you have been crying for three days and were completely unable to stop? What if you feel your life is a massive failure and that the only way out may be suicide. When you are in the middle of it, it feels like it is never going to stop.
I have already experienced quite a few intense episodes of stress release. After each of them, I felt great, gained a lot of understanding and undid a lot of bad conditioning and unhealthy patterns. I see the benefits. I see the growth and healing I have achieved within just one year. However, every time I find myself caught in the middle of it, it feels like it’s never going to get better.
I remember one of my worst episodes, processing some really early childhood stuff, which had me lying in bed the whole weekend with throbbing in my cerebellum, crying, sleeping and hating my parents. Another episode I remember lasted several weeks for which my brain chemistry was totally messed up and I was oscillating between being euphoric one moment and severely depressed the next.
The problem with transcendental meditation teachers is that they think TM is a panacea. They tend to think that any other sort of self-work is superfluous. My personal experience doesn’t confirm this theory. I believe that TM is a great tool for accessing your unconscious and getting all what lies dormant there into your conscious mind. TM gives you easy access to what psychotherapists and psychoanalysts are trying to dig out laboriously through talking therapy and dream analysis. What TM doesn’t give you is the understanding of what to do with it once it’s all out.
One of the techniques I have been using over the past year to deal with the emotional release that comes when you commit yourself to Transcendental Meditation is Inner Bonding.
Inner Bonding is a brilliant technique for surviving some of the most intense emotional upheavals. It’s particularly helpful for people who as children didn’t receive the love and nurturing they needed – people with insecure attachments who deep down think that they always have to put others first and that there is something inherently wrong with them.
The technique, developed by American psychologist Margaret Paul, uses the concept of the Inner Child. Inner Child is your true essence, the real you. The person practicing the technique is taught to listen to this Inner Child, value it and take the best care of it.
Essentially, you are trying to relate to yourself as if you were someone else, which makes you realise that violating yourself in order to appease others is wrong. However, the Inner Child also wants to be in harmony with others, which means it’s not in your interest to violate others to get your way either.
The technique teaches compassion and understanding for yourself – the same understanding you would have for a little crying baby. This compassion and understanding comes handy if you are experiencing an intense stress release. What you do is to hold yourself as if you were this little child. You give yourself all the compassion, understanding and support you need. You also don’t judge yourself for having all those emotions and you accept that you have them for a reason.
You essentially stay with yourself and those feelings as long as you need to make sense out of them.
Another part of the Inner Bonding process is talking to the source of Guidance (think about Daimonion of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates), which guides you towards the correct course of action and helps you understand what is right for your Inner Child.
I can imagine that if the great psychoanalyst C.G. Jung was taught TM, his heart would sing. He would teach TM all his patients and then waited for the flood of unconscious content to come out to be analysed.
By making you more aware of your inner world, TM also makes it easier for you to access your shadow. According to C.G. Jung, who developed the concept, shadow is all that you dislike in yourself to the level that you have totally pushed it out of your consciousness. The shadow contains all that is socially unacceptable, considered bad, evil, mean and not in line with the values that have been imprinted into you.
Most people who don’t do any sort of self-work (and also those who have just started) are unaware of their shadow. They see the good in themselves. They see themselves for what they want to be and they see the bad in others. They essentially project their shadow onto others. TM makes you more aware of these projections. You are a meditator right? You are aspiring to be a really good, compassionate, understanding person, the force of peace and love in the tormented world – and suddenly, you find yourself having bitchy judgemental thoughts about people around you, which is not exactly compassionate.
Conscious shadow work means that you choose to be really honest with yourself and look for traces of these characteristics that irritate you in others in your own psyche. The more someone irritates you, the more likely he or she possesses something that is also within you but you are so ashamed of it you chose to completely deny it.
This is what Jung said about it: “A man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way and is in addition fooled by all the illusions that arise when he sees everything that he is not conscious of in himself coming to meet him from outside as projections upon his neighbour.”
Intentionally working on integrating your shadow means doing a few things that contradict a lot of psychological advice that you can find on the internet. Instead of running away from people you perceive as difficult, you’d better stay in the situation, embrace your enemies and look for the reflection of yourself in them as if they were a mirror. Once you accept all the bad about yourself that you see through them, they will stop annoying you, they will stop irritating you. That doesn’t mean becoming friends with them, just that the negative energy is gone. You disengage completely and you don’t attract the same situation again in your life.
What we want from meditation and why we are sometimes disappointed:
People think that when they start meditating, they will automatically become a zen balanced eternally happy person. That’s true in the long run but may require facing quite some unpleasantness along the way.
I remember a talk I saw recently at an event organised by the Brahma Kumaris movement. The speaker was comparing meditation to the tale of Sleeping Beauty. The Sleeping Beauty is your real beautiful zen self, the Inner Child. But around it, there is this jungle of thorny bushes – essentially your shadow. To get to your sleeping beauty, you have to chop your way through all this clutter.
I can’t say for sure that one can’t reach this level of understanding by simply resting and doing yoga. Perhaps it’s possible. But I believe that consciously making sense out of what you are encountering speeds up the process.