In a conversation with a friend yesterday, she revealed that she was having issues meditating.
“I feel like I get so close”, she said “and right before I feel like I’m about to breakthrough, I get caught back up in a thought!“.
Her frustration is all too familiar for me. My meditation journey started about two years ago when I began Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help treat my panic disorder. Meditation, according to my therapist, was one technique I could use outside of his office to help retrain my brain. I was ready to try anything, and believed strongly in the power of mindfulness.
The only problem was – I couldn’t be mindful, I couldn’t meditate. I tried guided meditation, guided visualizations, mindfulness – I tried using every app under the sun. I listened to singing bowls, I tried mantras…and yet I still couldn’t achieve my main goal. My thoughts were never just thoughts, they were nagging, awful things which infiltrated my peace of mind and made beds within my identity and self-image.
I expressed my frustrations with my therapist, and we discovered that it wasn’t really a wild cacophony of thoughts which prevented my progression. It was one thought. It was a memory. One traumatic enough that any moment spent in silent reflection almost instantly brought me back to that thought, that memory, and that moment.
Together, we worked on that trauma through CBT. When I was able to address the clinical mental health concern, I found that I was able to start making progress with my meditation. I soon realized that whenever I hit a wall within my meditative practice, it was often an indication of an issue that needed to be brought up in therapy. Once that issue was dealt with, I was able to progress again.
I asked my friend if the thoughts which seemed to hinder her progress were related to traumatic experiences. She seemed surprised that I made the connection and said yes. Sharing my experience with her, I suggested that she work with her therapist on these thoughts.
Meditation works. It has been proven multiple times across multiple disciplines. However, if the act of meditation causes more psychological distress, it is important to deal with those issues first.