Meditation practice is really about change. And not just small change, but over the longer term it’s about transformative change. It’s about how we really are in the world. That process, that practice, is going to involve some degree of discomfort, because we are moving from one familiar way of being into another, leaving some of the old patterns to move into a new space. To begin with, that can be uncomfortable.
Bryn Jones is a lecturer on dramatherapy and a mindfulness-based therapist, who used to be a Buddhist monk. He is an advisor to Inhere, and in this video Adiba talks with him about the tougher questions related to meditation.
How do you deal with uncomfortable experiences that might arise in meditation?
When we think of a formal meditation practice, we think of silence and stillness. For a lot of people these qualities are attractive – it’s nice to have more quiet, to have more space.
If you have a good enough meditation teacher, then quite soon through continued practice, you’ll start to enjoy these more pleasurable experiences. You’ll get a pretty good return on your practice, pretty soon, and enjoy the silence and space. But soon after, once you start exploring the silence and stillness, you’ll find that there is more there. You’ll find that the silence and stillness are not the end of the story.
You’ll soon find that there is more that you can reach for. When we get to that space, feelings of discomfort are part of the process.
We need to begin to anticipate this, to allow it, to expect that this process that we’re starting to engage with to some degree is going to bring us into contact with uncomfortable feelings. Rather than factoring them out, it’s really helpful to start to factor them in.
The reason for that is that …
meditation practice is really about change. And not just small change, but over the longer term it’s about transformative change. It’s about how we really are in the world. That process, that practice, is going to involve some degree of discomfort, because we are moving from one familiar way of being into another, leaving some of the old patterns to move into a new space. To begin with, that can be uncomfortable.
Is there a point at which you think that it’s getting too uncomfortable, that I should see someone to help me through this, or do you just think, I’m going to stay with this and try to experience it by myself?
It’s always important to work within our capacity, and to have a sense of what our capacity is. It’s about getting balance. On the one hand, in anything new that we learn, if we want it to be long lasting and developmental, a graduated approach is good. So we’re growing little by little. We’re not pushing too much, or going for the burn. We start to get some sense of ground under our feet.
But we need to balance this with the notion of reaching beyond our grasp, to lean into our potential. It’s about leaning up against that kind of discomfort, that growing edge.
So there is a bit of tension there.
For me, I feel, as long as that’s done mindfully, that can be safe. It’s only when that’s done without mindfulness, for some kind of compulsion or urge, when we feel we should be getting somewhere, when we start to have some kind of projections about where we should be and we get impatient – that’s perhaps when it becomes less advisable. That’s when people get into trouble, by pushing too much.
If we have a meditation teacher or a group we meditate with, it’s good to check in our experience and reflect together. But if we practice in this way, growing little by little, allowing ourselves to lean into the discomfort a little, I think that’s safe.
That feeling of the bit of us that’s disrupted a little bit, or that rubbed against a little bit – that’s a sign of growth, of something shifting, recalibrating, changing. It’s helpful to have the notion of being ok with that…welcoming that…not retreating from it too quickly.
Not feeling “Oh that’s uncomfortable, something must be wrong”…and instead being able to bear, in a sensible way, with that slight discmfort..and with the notion that this is helping…something of significance is engaged now…this discomfort is a sign that my practice is getting some traction.
Meditation can help us get into our bodies and out of our heads. When do we know when we are too much in our head, and not in our body and our heart?
Just remember that it is helpful to be in our head. Meditation practice is about integration of all the elements of the self.
It is important that we don’t spend too much time in our thinking mode. For most new meditators that is the case, that we’re too much in the thinking mode, it’s the space we’re most familiar with. So new meditators find the practice difficult at first, because it can seem difficult to change from thinking mode into being mode.
I know that I’m too much in my head when I start projecting too much into the future. When I start using too many “if’s” and “when’” and “how’s”, ad “why’s”….if I find myself moving step by step into the future, and more into the future, more and more, and soon I’m moving far away from where I am now, and the future projection becomes some kind of fantasy. It might make sense and look good and have something to offer, but it has taken me away from my present reality. These are the signs I look for….overthinking to the point when the amount of thoughts just becomes a blur…or projecting too much into the future.
That’s when I think of the counterpoint – our heart, our body, our breath. These elements of ourselves are all characterised by presence. They are all grounded, present, in the now.
That is my practice, that’s what I do.
When I started meditation, my teacher used to talk about having this little guard in the corner of my mind. He said, when you meditate, try and develop this faculty to be watching from one corner of your mind.
There’s a little part of your awareness that has this overview of where you’re going. And this isn’t just for when you’re meditating, it’s for your life overall…just developing the skill to watch what is going on. It’s that faculty that I rely on to give me a nudge when I’m overthinking…that little voice in the mind that says “hey”…and I bring myself back to awareness of my breath, or my centre.
Most people are familiar with our breath and our body, but when we say let’s come back to our heart, how do you mean that, how would you explain it?
Classically in Buddhism, the essence of our mind, the Buddha nature, resides in the heart chakra. Even though our mind uses the organ of the brain, some essential part of our being, some definitive aspect of our self, is residing in our heart, our centre.
I think most people have a sense of that.
When we start to meditate, we become aware of the dominance of the head. Through meditation people quite intuitively, quite naturally, without it even being pointed out too much, they find that there is more activity going on in their heart, and start to relate to this part of themselves being the centre of their being.
Some people can access that pretty quickly, others can take a long time, and that long time is time well spent, to go gradually.
Always honour the difference between self-discovery, the quality of when we discover something by ourselves through these methods, the power of that in contrast to having it pointed out by someone else.
In a guided meditation, when someone learning meditation says “the silences are too long”, what would you say to them?
It sounds like it’s the silence that’s the problem – it’s too long, too short, it’s too quiet, it’s not quiet enough.
The silence isn’t the problem. It’s what comes through the silence from our side, that’s the problem.
The real problem is this underlying discomfort and disquiet within our being. As we enter stillness or silence, a light is thrown upon this. And a lot of the times, because we live lives of distraction, it’s still there, but we’re so numbed or distracted that we don’t notice it. When we get into the silence, it arises. And it feels like the problem is the silence. But the problem is not the silence. The silence is just illuminating the problem.
You can find out more about Bryn Jones’ work on meditation here: