Meditation and the mind

Not all minds are the same. How your mind works, how well it is, your circumstances and your emotional state will inform what happens when you meditate. All forms of meditation are not equally good for all people in all situations. Unfortunately, meditation is usually presented as a perfectly safe, universally good for people activity, and it isn’t.

People suffering from mental illnesses may be better off not meditating, or picking very carefully and not doing too much of it. Anyone tending towards the delusional can find that meditation of any sort just creates a space for things to go wrong. Depressed people often don’t benefit from anything that stills and quiets the mind. If the base line in your mind is full of pain, what you may do is peel back your layers of defence to expose yourself to your own suffering, and frankly that doesn’t help unless you were planning on working with it. Where there is trauma, this can be really hazardous. People with mental health issues can be better off with focused meditations – moving meditations complex enough to engage the mind, or contemplating safe objects – trees, clouds, oracle cards, to steer the mind directly towards workable thoughts.

Many forms of meditation start from the assumption that simplifying the clutter of your thoughts is a good thing. The busy mind is seen as aberrant, the single track is seen as a good thing. There are philosophies that to be properly engaged with the world you should be thinking as simply and ‘in the moment’ as you can. Do all minds work like this? No. How we form thoughts and experience them varies radically from one person to the next. How much material is bubbling away in our unconscious, varies. The speed at which thoughts bubble up, varies. The number of threads we might comfortably hold, varies. For the one track mind person, juggling a vast number of thoughts is horrible. For the rainforest mind, being reduced down to a single track is a traumatic amputation of self.

Meditation is not a sloppy, one size fits all hippy garment. Meditation covers a broad array of activities and more than one philosophical tradition. If at first you don’t get on with it, you may simply have the wrong model. The better you know who you are and how your mind works, the better able you will be to see what you can do, and what you want meditation to do for you. Visualisation and pathworking have radically different implications to Tai Chi, or just observing your thoughts.

There can be an enthusiastic form of tyranny exercised by people who have found a thing they like. Evangelists always believe they have the one true way and everyone should be doing what they do, and meditation forms acquire evangelists. If a practice doesn’t work for you, if it feels uncomfortable and troubling it might not be that you’re not trying hard enough. Maybe you don’t need to work at it – maybe it does not suit you. Keep your options open, be alert to your own needs and don’t be pressured by the would-be gurus into assuming the problem is always you. Not all forms of meditation suit all people, or are good and appropriate for all people. If a practice makes you uncomfortable, then pushing may be the worst thing you can do for yourself.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “Meditation and the mind

  • Arwydd

    I really appreciated this point of view, and it gave me much to think about.

    I find so many factors influence the type of meditation I do on any given day, even whether or not I do it at all.

    About a year (maybe more?) ago, when I started trying to get into a serious meditation regime (note both words, ‘serious’ and ‘regime’; both words which speak to not being the best approach!) it was great, but I felt like a failure for a few reasons.

    I’d read in a few places, that the ‘recommended’ amount of meditation is 20 minutes, twice daily. I rigidly followed this for a while, and it truly helped. However, there were some days, I couldn’t do it!

    I’ve since learned (for me, anyway), that although meditation is vitally important to me personally, I should never, ever, make it a chore. Also, I can’t do a basic meditation when I have a headache, plus it makes the headache worse if I try.

    I’m a huge believer, as you’ve also brought up, in the idea of trying on different types of meditation. Visual meditation, shaman journeying, moving or mindful meditation and I’m sure there are so many others.

    I think experimenting with the different types out there help you to figure out what works, and I find that helps me to learn more about how my mind works.

    Sometimes when I do journeying, it can take me days to feel able to meditate again. I enjoy journeying and find it has positive effects on me, but it seems to take me so deep into my consciousness, that it seems to empty out my ‘meditation tank’ in my mind and body for a little while! That’s when I’ll do something else more mobile, such as shuffling my cards, gardening, or generally practising mindfulness.

    Above all, whatever does or doesn’t work for anyone, no one should feel a ‘failure’ if something doesn’t work or isn’t good for them. That’s why I think this post is an important one, and I truly appreciate it being out there and how it’s given me food for thought.

  • Turtle

    I found a website once (I wish I could remember which website) that compared meditation to yoga (which, really, can be its own form of meditation): it can be good for you and can offer a variety of benefits, but if you try to force yourself into a pose that your body can’t handle you can end up injuring yourself. It’s the same with meditation. We should use the form that suits us best and not push ourselves too far (a gentle stretch is one thing, wrenching is another). A lot of studies suggest that meditation can be very helpful for depression and anxiety, but I think you’re right in suggesting that any given form of meditation isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for all people at all times.

  • Kaylee

    Thank you so much! I thought maybe there was something wrong with me. When I am feeling well, meditation is a wonderful thing. When I’m not, all it does is make me feel worse. And I have been given the ‘just meditate, it will solve all your problems’ speech, even after explaining that there are times when it just doesn’t do me any good to meditate. It is good to hear someone say that feeling that way is alright.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I finally gotten where I can do thirty minutes to a hour of meditation at a time each night. I have no idea how good I do it. [Grin] It has taken many years to get where I could do it on a regular schedule.

  • yellopig

    Thank you; this explains a few things for me. 🙂

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