Misguided Meditation

Written by Sarah English.

It was several years ago that I decided that I'm not much of a yogini. I've never been able to make significant inroads into what is known in certain contexts as raja yoga. I've dabbled in various meditative practices, I've spoken to numerous monks and a number of researchers, and I've read more books than I can name. Despite all of this, resting on the floor of my yoga teacher's studio a few years ago, I realized that something key was missing.

meditation woman

All of this became apparent during our meditation class one afternoon; I'd slowed and deepened my breathing and the room was comfortably warm and very quiet. Fellow students were arranged around the studio; my teacher was walking carefully through and around us, offering the occasional, subdued instruction.

Really, this was the most serene a meditative environment anyone could desire. Yet, despite the sunlight filtered so gently through gauzy curtains, despite the clouds painted on the ceiling (which I was not, obviously, supposed to be staring at), despite the collective calm generated by a dozen or so minds focused on nothing more stressful than inhalation, I realized that meditation was not for me.

I had drifted off into a lovely relaxation, reached some very deep place, and had I simply stayed put, I might have come out of the experience with greater confidence. That being said, for no apparent reason, long before our teacher began to retrieve us, I jerked awake with a sense of intense panic. I recall looking around, registering that nothing untoward had happened, and purposefully slowing my breathing again. I tried once more, and again, I reached a state of deep relaxation, only to be jolted out of it by a sense of fierce anxiety. I refused, for the remainder of class, to venture back again.

All of this was rather odd, considering that I'd spent a year with a meditation group quite a few years before. I'd experienced a number of traditions, and never had I felt what I felt on the floor of that studio. I asked my teacher about this, and she suggested that I read Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman. I recently came across another title that I think may end up answering many of the questions that have remained unanswered over the years; this one is entitled The Blissful Brain: Neuroscience and Proof of the Power of Meditation by Shanida Nataraja.

I have read a number of online articles that point to a possible connection between unguided (and perhaps, in some cases, misguided) meditation and mental states or emotions that we would label as negative. It's wise, of course, to take anecdotal reports with a grain of salt, and it's for this reason that I think that practitioners and teachers of yoga would be well advised to study raja yoga not only from a spiritual standpoint, but from a scientific perspective as well.

As is very often the case, one supports the other, but having quantified information available for students, especially when students encounter difficulties, helps to dispel certain misconceptions. We are blessed to live in an age in which we can approach truths from multiple vantage points, and it can only improve your sadhana to take advantage of all of the knowledge that is available.

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