Last year, I shared how transcendental meditation helped me to overcome a serious emotional crisis and enabled me to release layers of faulty patterns and emotional baggage that I had been carrying since my childhood.
In the past, I used to suffer from symptoms that would qualify me for mild borderline personality disorder if I ever got properly diagnosed. I suffered from insomnia, mood swings and all sorts of social anxieties and insecurities.
I had a lot of emotional trauma in me and it all started coming out after a break-up of a relationship with someone I later discovered was a covert narcissist. At that time, I learned transcendental meditation and miracles started happening.
Second year more difficult than the first
When I wrote the first blog post about how transcendental meditation changed my life, I seriously thought that I had processed and released most of the pain and heavy emotional stuff that had been causing me all sorts of psychological problems and discomforts throughout my life (I described some of the experiences further in those two articles on dealing with stress release and side effects of meditation)
My assumption a year ago that I had already gone through the worst of it was quite frankly wrong.
The emotional releases that I have been going through in my second year on meditation were even more intense and the process was sometimes seriously interfering with my ability to function in everyday life.
However, the learning and healing curve was immense.
More positive things started happening in my life. I was able to leave a mind numbing nine to five job and become a freelance journalist. That gave me the freedom to organise my work around the psychological and emotional healing I had to do.
After experimenting with various self-help approaches such as Inner Bonding, I decided to start psychotherapy to further speed up my healing through the direct feedback of another (properly trained) person. It was by far the best decision I could have made and I would recommend everyone who is struggling with the demons of the past to give himself or herself the luxury and find a good therapist.
Within the second year with transcendental meditation, I stuck to the twenty minutes twice a day prescription. However, at a certain point, I actually abandoned transcendental meditation for a more mindfulness-based technique. I felt that transcendental meditation was no longer in line with what I was trying to manifest in my life.
In this article I wrote for the US popular science website LiveScience, you can read a bit more about how different types of meditation differently affect the structure of the brain. This piece of research, published in the journal Scientific Advances, is quite in line with my belief that in different times of our lives we may need different meditation techniques based on what we are dealing with.
Untangling toxic relationships and co-dependencies
My first year on transcendental meditation was very much about me going through the unprocessed emotions that caused me to develop certain defence mechanisms. It was pretty much about me burning those defences one by one and becoming happier in my skin and confident in social interactions. While in the past I used to be extremely self-conscious and found it difficult to connect with people, these days, I am the exact opposite.
The second year with meditation was about learning to understand how I have been conditioned to assume certain roles in relationships with others, accept blame and be totally oblivious to the hidden agendas people carry.
The second year with meditation was really about me discovering the extent of my co-dependency, the extent of my need for approval and validation and the inability to let go of toxic people, toxic situations and toxic relationships.
This inability manifested in several situations but most of all in my inability to accept at face value that a man that I used to be involved with and whom at some point I considered the love of my life was in reality a smug manipulative covert narcissist with a very questionable character.
I had to learn that my desperate need for validation and approval (which I never received from my parents), led me to clinging to the hope that someone who had clearly been displaying narcissistic behaviours, could see me, hear me and understand me. I had to learn to understand this hidden subconscious agenda of mine to be able to unhook myself from this toxic bond.
In my second year on meditation, I had to learn the truth that not all people have the ability to look at their own behaviour and self-reflect. I had to discover the reality that not all people have good intentions; that not all people want to resolve conflicts and be at peace with the world around them. I had to accept that some people would do virtually anything to silence someone who is pointing out their problematic behaviour. And I had to learn how I have been hooking myself into fights with all sort of toxic individuals by trying to prove my point instead of allowing them to be whatever they want to be and moving on towards healthier relationships. The difficult thing is that some of the most toxic people in your life might be among those who were supposed to be the closest to you.
In the second year on meditation I started learning about boundaries, detaching from toxic people and standing my ground in a healthy way when facing someone who is trying to frame me as the faulty one and projecting their own shit at me.
George K. Simon’s book In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People was a great help in finally realising that despite the popular new age mantra, compassion and understanding are not always the correct way to deal with people and only lead us to excusing behaviours that harm us.
I realised how terribly naïve I used to be. How ready I used to be to excuse everyone else’s shitty behaviour and absorb all the blame and fault onto myself – the way I was conditioned in my family of origin.
Under the iceberg
My second year on meditation was very much about diving under the surface and recognising that what people appear to be on the surface frequently differs from who they really are deep inside. I learned to stand my ground and let the masks slip and the frequently unpalatable reality come to the surface.
This experience, diving under the surface and learning to see people’s motivations and hidden agendas, was frequently very unpleasant. It was very far from the idea of being zen and easy and friends with everybody, which was pretty much what I thought I would become with meditation.
But I learned that this happy and loving to everybody new age dogma is really not healthy. Trying to be friends with everybody and keep excusing someone else’s toxic behaviour is not kind to the most important person in our lives – that is ourselves.
It took me quite a while to become comfortable with it. I was raised to keep backing out of my positions. I was conditioned to accept blame and have everyone dump their shit on me. Frequently, I would back out and accept fault without even realising I had been manipulated by the other person.
But as my strength grew, I started being able to assert myself and simply cut people out of my life who are not supportive of who I truly am.
The cognitive versus the emotional understanding
Another important lesson that I had learned was that understanding something cognitively doesn’t mean being over something. The emotional part of us is frequently slower in coming to terms with things and tends to cling to illusions because accepting the truth feels too painful. Sometimes it takes some rather brutal shocks for the emotional part of us to fully accept the reality about someone we felt attached to. And at those times, when those emotional bondages are being broken and dissolved, we would experience a lot of pain and discomfort. Learning how to provide space for myself to experience and release this pain without acting upon it was one of the biggest lessons. It is true that if we act from the position of being in pain or in fear, we usually create more of the negative experience. It sucks but that’s what it is.
I believe that the goal of all self work is complete acceptance of oneself and who we are and what we really want. It was a journey for me to accept all my feelings and emotions and understand that they are all there for a good reason – including the negative and volatile ones such as anger and hatred. There is always a reason why we feel anger and when we resent someone, there must be something that they had done for us to feel this way. No self-judgement is going to change that.
Self acceptance for me is also about accepting what I truly want to be and do and stop sabotaging or stopping myself from being that because, perhaps, it’s not in line with some goals and agendas that I have imposed on myself based on external influences. Self-acceptance for me is to give myself the permission to pursue all that my soul wants to pursue, even though there might be too much of it.
There are many difficult emotions one has to face on this journey – fears, anxieties, and insecurities. But we are not these feelings and they are not our truth. They are not our true self. They represent the unhealthy in us. But we have to accept their existence without acting upon them and allow ourselves to experience what lies underneath – the faulty disempowering beliefs bestowed upon us by the society, family and culture.
Who am I after two years of daily meditation?
I believe that after two years on meditation, I am who I was always supposed to be. I have learned enough to know that I am for sure not at the end of the journey and that the learning will continue.
I still struggle with addictive tendencies (food and internet being my biggest weaknesses); I am not as productive as I would like to be and my mind still tends to get wrapped up in thoughts instead of focusing on the underlying feelings. I am doing my best not to judge myself for any of it. I am trying to accept that I am still on the journey and just as I freed myself from all the trauma of the past, of my codependencies, defences and my insomnia, I will liberate myself from everything that stands between me and the manifestation of what I want to be in my life.
I don’t try to change people anymore. I accept what they are even if that means that perhaps they can’t be in my life.
I have learned that although there might be discouraging and critical voices in my head, I can acknowledge them without letting them run my life.
I feel free. And while there still can be days when I feel sad, down and depressed, I definitely do feel that I have come out of the fog.
TM has an entirely different effect on the brain than mindfulness and the long-term effects are entirely different as well.
Long-term, mindfulness practice disrupts the activity of the parts of the brain responsible for sense-of-self, leading to “no self.”
Long-term, TM enhances the activity of those same parts of the brain, leading to *permanent* sense-of-self, and eventually appreciation that sense-of-self is everything.
The following are from a study on people reporting a permanent-sense-of-self for at least one year continuously (“continuously ” means having a sense-of-self during deep sleep — literally continuously 24 hours a day, for one year). Subjects were asked to “describe yourself”:
° We ordinarily think my self as this age; this color of hair; these hobbies . . . my experience is that my Self is a lot larger than that. It’s immeasurably vast. . . on a physical level. It is not just restricted to this physical environment
° It’s the ‘‘I am-ness.’’ It’s my Being. There’s just a channel underneath that’s just underlying everything. It’s my essence there and it just doesn’t stop where I stop. . . by ‘‘I,’’ I mean this 5 ft. 2 person that moves around here and there
° I look out and see this beautiful divine Intelligence. . . you could say in the sky, in the tree, but really being expressed through these things. . . and these are my Self
° I experience myself as being without edges or content. . . beyond the universe. . . all-pervading, and being absolutely thrilled, absolutely delighted with every motion that my body makes. With everything that my eyes see, my ears hear, my nose smells. There’s a delight in the sense that I am able to penetrate that. My consciousness, my intelligence pervades everything I see, feel and think
° When I say ’’I’’ that’s the Self. There’s a quality that is so pervasive about the Self that I’m quite sure that the ‘‘I’’ is the same ‘‘I’’ as everyone else’s ‘‘I.’’ Not in terms of what follows right after. I am tall, I am short, I am fat, I am this, I am that. But the ‘‘I’’ part. The ‘‘I am’’ part is the same ‘‘I am’’ for you and me
mindfulness meditation has many therapeutic effects, but the spiritual tradition that TM comes from concerns an entirely different long-term effect from TM than mindfulness: “self is everything” vs “there is no self.”