Emotional Hurdles During Meditation Practice
It is normal to experience intense feelings while meditating. They can range from hysterical joy or laughter to acute resentment and everything in-between. From the perspective of meditation, all emotions act as hurdles. It is like a sprinter, who must not celebrate before he crosses the finish line. Any emotion, no matter how joyous or sorrowful, will distract the athlete. Such is the case with meditation too. Both negative and positive emotions distract and make a meditator restless.
The type of meditation you are holding a session on (whether concentrative, contemplative, mindful, observant or any other type of meditation) is immaterial. Anything that deviates you from your focus is a hurdle. If you do your meditation correctly, you become a reservoir of positive emotions naturally. During the meditation, however, it is important for a meditator to stay perfectly even. To that effect, there are eight worldly emotions, categorised into positive and negative, that are detrimental to good meditation.
The Four Positive Emotions
When a positive emotion is triggered, you feel happy, good, important, motivated and strong. You feel like you can take on the whole world. You are the same you, but something within you changes when you experience a positive emotion. There are four types of positive emotions. The first is Pleasure. All sense gratification, everything you do and experience through your body for joy, falls under this category. The second is Praise. If you or your work gets recognition or appreciation, you naturally feel good.
The third is Gain. This is when you believe you have made a gain, material or otherwise. It could range from winning a lottery ticket to killing a mosquito; one may boost your bank account, and the other may satisfy your ego. The fourth is Delightful Words. Someone offers you a compliment, it spontaneously triggers a positive emotion, especially if you feel it was a genuine compliment.
The four negative ones are the exact opposite of above. They make you feel low, pensive, crippled and weak. They are triggered when you feel perturbed by displeasure, criticism, loss, and dreadful words.
Emotions are a group of lingering thoughts. Just like a beehive hosts many bees and when they buzz together, it is a louder, collective sound. Emotions are no different. A group of thoughts are buzzing at once. At the root, they are just thoughts. If you learn to drop the thought with mindfulness, whatever be your emotional state, it will pass. Allow it to pass. It is cyclical and it is temporary – that is all you have to remember.
The Trader's Story
Once upon a time in a certain village lived a prominent trader. He was wealthy, honourable and a man of repute, and yet he was restless and worried. He could not shed his fears, of failure, of losing, of the unknown. He approached his spiritual master and pleaded, “With your grace I have everything, yet I am always afraid and worried. Please give me wisdom so that I may be peaceful under all circumstances, no matter what.” “So, do you want to be peaceful under all circumstances?” the guru confirmed. “Yes, your holiness.”
The master grabbed a piece of sacred bhojpatra, the bark of a birch tree, dipped his pen in ink made from vermilion and scribbled something on it. He let the charm dry for a few minutes, folded it and gave it to him. “Here, always keep this with you. Open this only when you feel your worst fear has come true.” The trader prostrated before his master and went back. A terrible drought hit that region two years later and his financial situation went into tatters. He had no stock to sell, debtors were unable to pay their dues and creditors started chasing him for theirs. His master had already left for secluded meditation on forbidden peaks. It was time to read his guru's inscription, he thought. He unfolded it to see the contents; it read, “Stay firm, stay course. This will pass.”
The words had a magical effect on him. He decided to not lose hope. He realised that things could not stay like this forever, that it was temporary. And temporary it surely was, as the following three years saw heavy rains and bumper crops. He bounced back. Wealth and honour came back in his life. He was overjoyed. His guru was back too. He promptly went to see his master with all kinds of offerings. Prostrating before the guru, he said, “With your grace, I am so happy. Business has never been this good.” “Do you have the bhojpatra with you?” the guru asked calmly. “Open it and read again what it says.” He obeyed and the words on it reminded him that even this phase was temporary. Just like the bad times, even this would pass. From joy and excitement, his state of mind shifted to bliss and peace. “This is eternal wisdom, my son,” the master added. “Stay even. It is all cyclical.”
Toolkit of Visualisation
During meditation, emotions can be like gentle breeze sometimes; they uplift your mood and you meditate better. Sometimes though, the same emotions can be like tornadoes, ripping through your resolve and disturbing your equipoise. There is a simple way of overcoming emotional hurdles during your meditation. When you find it difficult to focus due to positive or negative emotions, stop your meditation, remain seated in your posture and do deep breathing for a few minutes. Further, to overcome distractions on account of positive emotions, visualise a neutral image (like a stone, pebble or a ball of your favourite colour), or focus on your breath.
Just become aware that you are overwhelmed with positive emotions presently. Let them pass. To cross the hurdles posed by negative emotions during your meditation, think of bright light, visualise an image that makes you happy. For example, a sunrise or sunset by the ocean, a form of your chosen deity, or simply blue sky, anything that makes you feel light basically. Do not worry about not being able to meditate, or about the diversion. Simply calm yourself down, get your equipment back before you resume your meditation.
- Om Swami