Deep down, I feel pretty bad about who I am as a person. When I meditate, all I connect with are my feelings of shame and guilt, and it’s pretty discouraging. What’s your advice for people like me who feel unworthy and unloved?
Pilar Jennings: Most people who begin a meditation practice understandably hope for relief. Images of a placid Buddha wearing a gentle smile can inspire us to unplug, quiet the mind, and notice our inner life without distraction. But often what we find is a mind filled with painful memories and feelings. For many, these feelings indicate struggles with losses of all sorts, low self-esteem, and a powerful sense of deprivation.
The historical Buddha encouraged his students to stay the course. This common sense of suffering or “disatisfactoriness,” he suggested, can be better understood when the mind is calm and nonreactive, and over time, even uprooted. But as a psychotherapist and long-term Buddhist practitioner, I have come to appreciate that meditation can shine a light on psychological pain and the ripple effects of trauma that can be too much to manage through meditation alone. The good news is there are healing methods that work well with and even support your spiritual path.
I encourage you to be patient and compassionate with yourself. With skillful and gentle care, the very things that now overwhelm you in your meditation will eventually become the gateway to genuine well-being and peace of mind.
I would encourage anyone who is noticing feelings of self-loathing, severe anxiety, or depression in their meditation to seek out a psychotherapist who respects and appreciates spirituality. A good therapist who has their own spiritual practice can help you explore and work through these feelings. They will understand that meditation is a powerful tool that unearths all sorts of memories and experiences that may have remained in our dreams, physical symptoms, and addictions. They will also understand that it’s not uncommon for people to walk away from meditation altogether when it feels too difficult. This is a great loss, because meditation can eventually become a way to hold in mind feelings and sensations that are challenging but need to be felt.
Most of all, I encourage you to be patient and compassionate with yourself. With skillful and gentle care, the very things that now overwhelm you in your meditation will eventually become the gateway to genuine well-being and peace of mind.
Read more from our #MeditationHacks series…
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