The 8 things that happen when you meditate and why
Anyone practicing or teaching meditation needs to know this…
A multitude of things will happen when you meditate. This is due to the natural by-product of the healing activity that takes place and the interplay between the mind and body. You must be aware of and accept these common meditation happenings because If you are unfamiliar with the healing side-effects of meditation, you will most likely become disheartened, frustrated and give up before your body benefits. It is tragic how many people miss out on the remarkable returns from meditating regularly because they’ve picked up a pack of lies about what should and shouldn’t happen. Make sure you’re not one of them!
WHEN THE BODY HEALS THE MIND MOVES
Over the years your body has gone through several stressful situations. Some of the stress will have been released during your weekends off, holidays, when you sleep and any other times you’ve had a chance to relax. However, with so much stress borne by your body, there’s a big chance you will still have some residual stored stress that has stuck around. It is the natural tendency of your body to heal and it will do so whenever given the opportunity during times of rest. When you close your eyes and start meditating, your body relaxes and releases stress.
Healing causes activity within your body. Stored stresses from the past hours, days, weeks, years or decades are finally released. Simultaneously, the body uses the calmer conditions to engage in whatever maintenance and repair projects require attention. All this means that when you meditate, stuff is going to happen in your mind and body that you want to allow rather than resist. To push away what happens is to prevent the body doing its healing work, and so the right relationship with the movement is required.
EIGHT COMMON MEDITATION HAPPENINGS
Here are the eight most common meditation happenings to expect and let occur, for your body to heal, stay fit and healthy and let meditation do its wonderful work:
Happening 1: Memories
Memories are one of the movements of the mind when meditating. These may include happy or sad, positive or negative, comfortable or uncomfortable ones. They may be memories from earlier that day or events that happened years ago. Irrespective of the subject matter or comfort level, you want to let all your memories come and go. Refrain from judging or analysing them. If they are positive, be careful not to lose your Self in reminiscent thinking. Or if they are memories you’d rather forget, do your best not to get drawn into the drama.
Why has this old memory come into my mind? Did I not deal with it during my recent therapy sessions? There is little benefit in thinking about it because doing so can slow healing. What you are witnessing during your meditation sitting is your body finally getting around to letting go. This is a very positive thing. Remember, you become attached to what you resist. Whenever you notice negative memories in your mind, simply engage more fully the meditation technique you are doing. Be heroic by rising higher than your mind-based judgements, resistances and attachments. Over time, you will find the memory fades away as you stop giving it your attention.
Happening 2: Dreams
Several stresses being released simultaneously can appear in your mind as abstract dream-like imaginings. At the Calm Academy, we believe dreams are how your mind makes sense of a collection of stresses releasing at the same time, which explains why you tend to dream most when your body reaches its deepest levels of rest. When you notice you’ve been in a dream, don’t fall into the mind trap of thinking about what it may be trying to teach you.
Dream interpretation encourages additional unnecessary thinking and distracts you from the present moment. Although it can be fun and fascinating to try to discover the hidden meaning of dreams, if you want to heal then don’t hold onto them. Continue meditating to allow your body to keep going with its stress-releasing, self-healing activity.
Happening 3: Busy mind
Sometimes you will have a busy mind. When this occurs you want to rejoice rather than resist because your body is in the process of releasing a huge amount of stress and undertaking multiple healing and repair projects. During a busy meditation, it can be easy to start judging that it’s a bad meditation or conclude it’s not working. In moments like these you want to see the judgemental thoughts, without being the judge. To do this, stay vigilant of the voice in your head that sounds like you, as it will often suggest that you ‘stop and try again later’. This voice is a thought, too, and if you let it dictate proceedings, you may well get up and walk away from an immensely healing meditation.
Remember : Lots of thoughts when meditating = Lots of healing!
Meditation is not about having no thoughts. It’s about keeping calm and conscious irrespective of the quantity of thoughts by being present and aware. So if you have a particularly busy meditation, use it as an opportunity to practise ‘peace with mind’. Watch the thoughts, knowing that you are the awareness that’s aware of them. Remember, you are the sky and the thoughts are the birds. The sky doesn’t care how many birds are flying through it or if they are positive or negative birds! If you ever have a problem with the quantity or quality of thoughts happening, then you are thinking about your thoughts.
Be aware of this habit of the mind. Let thoughts come and go, while remembering they do so within the context of calm conscious awareness. More often than not, if you’ve had a busy meditation that didn’t feel restful, you will be pleasantly surprised by how relaxed your body feels after you finish meditating and by how clear your mind is for the next few hours.
Happening 4: Emotions
Thoughts fuel feelings, so when you have movement in your mind, you will almost inevitably feel emotions in your body. You want to play with being comfortable when feeling uncomfortable and experience what we like to call ‘peace with emotions’. One way this is achieved is by noticing when you’ve fallen into being the emotions.
When you fall into feelings, you also engage in thinking about them, too. Emotions are never a problem until you start thinking about them. So, to find peace with your emotions, you need to find peace with the thoughts you are having about them. By seeing the mind, not being the mind, you will create some space to let the emotions serve their positive purposes. From a consciously aware perspective, you can calmly coexist with any energy that needs to happen. Often when meditating your body will raise your energy levels while it’s working on parts of your body that need more energy to heal. Trust your body’s wisdom and let it have the energetic resources it needs to perform its work.
Happening 5: Body stuff
Physical sensations occur when stress moves around and out of the body. You might get an itch, a temporary twitch, or even have a passing pain show up somewhere in your body. Without remaining consciously aware with GAAWO, it is tempting to think about and judge it as bad or wrong. What is it? Why is it here? How long might it stick around? How can I make it go away? Although pain is obviously uncomfortable, if you start thinking about it too much, you will be more likely to start suffering as a result of the physical discomfort. This is because pain is a sensation but suffering is a mental and emotional experience that occurs when you think about it. Discovering this all-important distinction between pain and suffering can be the difference between battling with your body or calmly coexisting with it.
Pain is a symptom of blocked energy and incomplete events or experiences. At times, physical sensations will be a call to action that you want to listen to, act upon and explore. You may benefit from investigating and resolving the mind-based causes of the energy blockage (you can use Mind Detox, Calm Cure or Embodying Exercise for this - all taught by the Calm Academy). Or you might simply need to move around a bit, have a stretch or give the body area a rub to help release the energy.
Saying that, there will also be times when you may benefit from not putting too much attention on it. Personally, when pain has presented itself, I’ve found the more present and still I become the less intense the sensations, sometimes with the pain disappearing completely the more present and aware I am. So play with it and experience the benefits of ‘peace with pain’ for yourself. Only you can know if you need to do something about it or if the best thing to do is nothing, except to be calm and to allow. Obviously, if you are ever concerned or if symptoms persist, contact your doctor. But don’t forget to do your best to remain calm and conscious as you do!
Happening 6: Sleep and meeps
Sleep is one aspect of the mind–body relationship in which the body can override the mind. If the body needs rest, you will fall asleep when meditating. In fact, many people learn to meditate because they want to sleep better, with many reporting the symptoms of insomnia disappearing after using meditation for a while. Saying that, I don’t recommend intentionally falling asleep every time. Doing so will reduce your time spent being consciously aware. So always have the intention to be gently alert when meditating. After all you are closing your eyes in order to wake up to your real Self.
In summary, you don’t want to resist the natural needs of your body. If your body needs to sleep, it will and to resist this will only cause conflict and stress. At the same time, you also don’t want to view your meditation sittings as an opportunity to have a nap. I refer to these sleepy meditations as ‘meeps’ – sleeps that start off with a short meditation! Remember: aim to remain gently alert.
Happening 7: Calm and contentment
Now for some meditation happenings, which are probably much more in line with what you were hoping for! Using Mind Calm, Body Calm or other meditation techniques can help you to let go of your thinking mind and therefore judgement, resistance and attachment. As a natural consequence, you will experience more peace, love, contentment and happiness. Even better, these enjoyable experiences will often happen for no obvious reason, spontaneously rising up from the realms of your inner being. In other words, they don’t happen because of any positive thought or a pleasing set of circumstances. Instead, they are the by-products of being beyond your mind and residing in the present moment.
Happening 8: Still, silent spaciousness
Consciousness is supremely still, silent and spacious. Consequently, as you use meditation to become more self-aware i.e. you become aware of the aspect of your Self that is Aware, your inner experience will be still, silent and spacious. During your meditations, whenever you notice these traits being present, simply allow them and place your attention upon the stillest, most silent aspect of your inner world. In these moments you are beyond the movement of your mind and resting in your real Self.
In the same ways that peace is not the absence of emotions, stillness is not the absence of movement and silence is not the absence of sound. Stillness and silence are the constant context of movement and noise. Playing with being aware of the inner still, silent presence changes your relationship with the movements in the mind and life. You become more willing to let them come and go and are less affected by the content of your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations when they happen. This is very liberating and leads to a more harmonious and happy life. In summary, a major goal of meditation is to cultivate ‘peace with mind’ and therefore, you want to be willing to let memories, dreams, or a busy mind happen. If emotions want to pass through, let them. If you fall asleep, simply continue meditating for a while after you wake up again. There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ meditations - everything that happens does so to help you heal.
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Article by Sandy C. Newbigging
Sandy is the founder of the Calm Academy and creator of Mind Calm, Body Calm, Calm Cure and Mind Detox techniques - collectively known as Calmology. He’s a meditation teacher, monk and multi-bestselling author.