Regular meditation practice often results in experiences that are different from those of everyday life. But what should we expect? Meditation tends to bring long-buried emotions, memories and qualities to the surface. You may have heard people who meditate telling stories about their practice. Some are delightful and others are rather perplexing. Truth is, your meditation experience won’t be the same as anyone else’s; comparing and judging is a waste of energy.
The fact is, you’ll probably have different experiences, stories and thoughts each time you sit down to meditate. Don’t let a ho-hum experience bog you down, especially if you’re just starting. Try to let go of expectations and take each day as it comes. Meditation is a trusty remedy for our incessant see-sawing between hopes of success and fears of failure.
Our meditation stories & experiences
Although lots of studies about meditation have been carried out in recent years, we still don’t know why this practice causes varying emotional responses. Some experts believe that meditation gives buried emotions the space they need to resurface and be processed in a healthy way. For instance, those who endured a traumatic event during childhood and subsequently forgot about it may suddenly recall it while meditating. Remembering can be an important step toward healing. It is especially beneficial in the context of mindfulness-based therapies that are guided by professionals.
As a general rule, your storylines and meditation experiences will differ from other people’s. Some people have disappointed meditation narratives; this is especially true for meditators who don’t get the results they’re expecting fast enough. In truth, those eagerly sought results rarely clock in on time! Some people find their meditation stories disappointing at first, but they change their views after consistent practice. If your particular story seems unsatisfactory, relax - your meditation is working, even if it seems like nothing’s happening! Sometimes the best gauge of your practice isn’t on-the-cushion experiences, but your ability to remain open, benevolent and attentive in challenging real-life situations.
Here are some factors that can affect your meditation experience:
- Following instructions too blindly
When you start learning about meditation, you’ll come across a set of instructions that you’re supposed to follow. During guided meditation or group sessions it makes sense for you to immerse yourself in the practice as it’s presented. When sitting on your own, however, you need to feel comfortable about the guidelines. Make sure you’ve understood the instructions about how to sit, breathe and watch your mind - the Mindworks: Guided Meditation App is a precious resource that offers effective instructions and inspiration for meditators of all levels. And remember that you’re meditating for you; you’re not competing for the Rookie Meditator of the Year award. Even if sitting does require some discipline, you should never feel like you’re doing something that goes against your grain. Rather than following what others find most effective, find the technique that suits you best. Once you’ve found it, stick to it.
- Lack of communication
Be sure to tell your mindfulness teacher if you have any particular medical problems. If you’ve been injured recently, are ill or need psychological support, your instructor needs to know about it so they can guide you effectively. Your practice and meditation experience stories can be affected by your mental and physical health. A good teacher will be able to work with you to make sure you are getting the most out of your practice without compromising your well-being.
- The pressure to get it right
New meditators often derive their inspiration from accomplished meditation teachers or other role models. There’s always a yearning to live up to their examples. But this pressure is actually a hindrance for beginners. It can bias their meditation narratives and cause a good deal of frustration. Even those who have been practicing meditation daily for several years may be tempted to hide their imperfections from their teachers and themselves so they can feel like they’re “getting it right.” But everyone’s human, and we all feel frustrated sometimes. The important thing is to recognize our tendencies so we can work with them - gently, firmly, and without judgment.
One day maybe you too will be telling inspiring meditation narratives to new practitioners – there will be ups and downs, moments of despair and moments of joy. By then you’ll have learned to work with expectations so they don’t get in the way of your experience of the present moment. Or of a good story.