Welcome to part four of my meditation series! This week, I want to talk about the resistance, fear and anxiety that sometimes come up during meditation.
On the surface, meditation doesn’t look scary, but sometimes it is. When I started meditating, I was afraid that by going too deep into my own mind, I would find out I was crazy, or I’d realize some terrible thing that happened to me as a child. There was really no need to worry, although it’s a pretty legitimate fear that lots of people have. Even if you’re not sure what you’re getting hung up on, the anxiety you feel when you start meditating is rooted in our fear of facing ourselves. We’re taught by our society that self-loathing is somehow admirable — it’s not just humility we’re taught, but putting ourselves last, being self-less, and even ashamed of so many parts of our nature. But it’s crazy to me that we have such a deep rooted fear of really facing ourselves. Is this some kind of evolutionary quirk that we outgrew but never got around to shedding from our genes?
Whatever it is, the good news is that meditation gives us the tools to work through it.
The first way to deal with this fear is to recognize it for what it is. Fear is a projection of your worst-case scenario. It’s also a chemical reaction in your brain. It may feel like an inexplicable shot of adrenaline or a nagging need to fidget. First and foremost, see it for what it is, and accept it: I am experiencing fear.
Second, have compassion for yourself. Imagine how you would feel for a little kid scared of the dark. It’s really the same. You’re moving into unknown territory or perhaps dealing with some issues you’ve avoided until now. It’s perfectly understandable for your mind to dig in its heels at this point. But just like there’s no use dragging a kicking child anywhere (I promise the experience won’t be positive for anyone), there’s no use forcing yourself to confront deep dark monsters. So ease up! Be kind enough to back off if the fear feels like too much.
You may find that the feeling of acceptance of this fear is enough to melt it so you can move forward with your meditation. Focus on that feeling of compassion. If the fear is too great, back off and return to focusing only on the breath. Count your breaths and stay with that for as long as you can. Whatever you do, don’t feed into the fear. Don’t obsess about it. Don’t chase it down demanding to know where it came from and why it’s coming up now. You’ll only make yourself feel crazy with that. Simply focus on the breath or on the feeling of compassion until either the fear subsides or your meditation ends.
For many people, this compassionate approach to fear and anxiety is enough to get comfortable with meditation. However, if you have an intense or persistent feeling of fear that you can’t get past, I recommend working in person with a teacher you trust. I have often found that meditating in the presence of a teacher or close friends makes it easier for me to settle down, as though that person’s physical presence is a mental security blanket for me. Going to meditation classes at a yoga studio is a good place to start.
Finally, if you struggle with anxiety consistently, you may want to go a step further and seek support from a therapist or counselor. Yes, I certainly believe in the power of yoga and meditation, but there are folks in other lines of work who can help immensely. I say this as a person who has dealt with somewhat severe anxiety and depression in the past — accept help and support wherever you find it, whether that’s in the form of your yoga teacher, your best friend, or your doctor.
Do you have other questions about meditation? Leave me a note in the comments, and I’ll do my best to address them! Next week, we’ll talk about how to set up your personal meditation space to nurture your practice.