Student’s Question: Dealing with Difficult Emotions in Meditation

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Dealing with difficulty in Meditation

A student shares their experience of dealing with difficult thoughts, emotions and tricks of the ego in their meditation, making it difficult to practice.

A student writes:

In my meditation I am experiencing memories and flashbacks of traumas that I have been through. I am wondering is this happening because I am opening out?

Lama:

It might be – I’ve had students who noticed something similar. It makes sense that this might happen because obviously we block off bad memories when they become overwhelming for our ego mandala.  To step out of the ego mandala into the mandala of our true nature tends to be quite a fleeting experience and so immediately the ego mandala guardians(1) clamp down very fast with a very strong fear reaction. This has to be handled gently or the ego mandala builds even stronger resistance to opening up.  If you want to talk about it make an arrangement to ring me.

Student:

Reflecting, maybe counselling is needed to express my thoughts and feelings around these traumas? As I know before practicing meditation and DHB (Discovering the Heart of Buddhism course – ed.) I had suppressed them for a long time.

Lama:

Yes one to one counselling can be very helpful – a gentle and persistent process with support from someone empathetic.

Student:

I have noticed a resistance to all Dharma practice and find myself getting irritable while meditating or thinking about meditation. Although, I am aware that I am still doing the practice regardless of the resistance and irritation. Is this the Heart Wish(2)?

Lama:

Yes. The ego mandala is scared of what happens when you open up but in your heart of hearts you are longing for the openness, relaxation, clarity, peace, ease, happiness and all the other qualities emanating from our Buddha Nature – in essence none other than Buddha Qualities.  It is good that you are recognising the irritation and resistance – they are the guardians of the ego mandala.

The Heart Wish is the Mandala of your true nature wanting to be free from all that – the true nature will win in the end because it is based on truth.

The thing to do is not whip the resistance up too much, but to make pranidhanas (aspirational or wishing prayers – ed.) again and again and do what connects you to Dharma – it might be small things but they are important.

Keep remembering how helpful Dharma is and make wishes again and again to be able to open up to it in little ways as often as possible.

Student:

I seem to struggle to practice Shamata (calm abiding meditation – ed.) due to overthinking my mediation, putting pressure on myself and having rapid thoughts and at time distressing thoughts.

Lama:

Keep your meditation periods very short. One minute or two minutes – just where you are without making a big thing of it – then see what happens. Short but often. Let me know how you get on with that. It could be just stopping for one minute or two minutes and just sit looking into space, out of the window into the sky.

Student:

I wondered whether the ‘ego mind’ is trying to pull me away from practice?

Lama:

Yes it is.

Student:

I appear to fight with the ego mind and what my true nature is. I think I have a sense that somehow I need to get rid of my ego mind, but this isn’t right is it?

Lama:

The problem is that the ego mind is split into two characters (well lots of characters actually) but in this case there is the character who wants to get rid of the ego mind and the character that thinks it is the ego mind – so the two ego minds are at odds with each other, hence the struggle.

If you just relax for a minute or two and let both ego minds just ‘be thinking’ in the space of your awareness, there is no need for struggle.

You lose the conviction that there is a battle going on.  And if you relax and give it space, you’ll see that all of it is just thinking in space and the space is always there, relaxed and open whether there is thinking or not.

You need to have confidence in that spaciousness and in how it is never really affected by thoughts moving in it – it can always be at ease.

Student:

When I try to get rid or see the ego mind as bad, I just get more confused and frustrated. I struggle with balance or to know what that even is!

Lama:

The ‘not knowing what it is even’ is your clarity recognising that the ego mind is simply thinking and nothing in itself.

Student:

What is it that hangs on to our thoughts and the contents of them? And then makes them feel so real and apart of us?

Lama:

It is amazing isn’t it? That our mind can do that!

Student:

If we don’t have thoughts, what is there? What’s the point in it all?

Lama:

When you have confidence in the spacious unchanging nature, and thoughts are passing and are nothing in themselves, you can gradually come to recognise that everything that appears including thoughts are a joyful play in the space of awareness.

So there doesn’t have to be a point to it as such – it’s all delightful, and that joyousness is the point. And all true knowledge and power to help others comes from there – that space has all the Buddha Qualities and over time that becomes more and more obvious quite naturally.

So there is much to look forward to – right there within yourself – it’s waiting to be discovered. Even discovering just a little bit is already great – and the more you discover the greater it is, exponentially!

Lama Shenpen Hookham

(1) Guardians refer to one of the component principles of ‘Mandala Principle’. All of our experience can be thought of as the manifestation of mandalas, a word that means any structure that has a centre and periphery. Mandala Principle is taught as part of Lama Shenpen’s Living the Awakened Heart Training.

(2) Heart Wish – is the chitta – the seat of our deepest longings and sense of truth. We only need to link into our deepest Heart Wish to Awaken and to Awaken others. It is taken as a separate theme within the Living the Awakened Heart Training to enable us to explore aspects of our life experience in more depth.


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