How to Meditate Your Emotions Away

by Ryder Johanson, L.Ac

There’s a growing awareness in our society that stress can wreak havoc on your health.  I’d be surprised to find a single health care provider of any flavor that wouldn’t suggest stress management is an important part of maintaining good health.

Meditation is something I’m seeing more and more health experts recommend as a potent tool for relieving stress.  Many people are aware that it’s hard to beat meditation when it comes to stress relief, but there’s often a hang-up when I suggest that someone try meditation.  The most common response I hear is something along the lines of: “There’s no way I could meditate—my mind is just way too busy.”  Many of these people have even tried meditation before and found it an amazingly frustrating experience because their minds just won’t shut up and the harder they try, the worse it gets.  I can understand, then, why meditation doesn’t seem like the most appealing tool for stress relief.

The funny thing is that that’s kind of the point of meditation: all of your baggage, the things you’ve been avoiding, your suppressed emotions are going to come bubbling up. 

That has definitely been my experience.  When I discovered meditation and was convinced of all the wonderful benefits and experiences that it could open up, I jumped in with both feet and meditated as much as I could.   I thought meditation was a tool I could use to escape all the stressful emotions in my life.  I experienced sublime periods of relaxation and moments when I forgot all my stresses.  And that relaxation often translated into the rest of my day.

But after that initial “honeymoon” period things got a lot harder.  It became more difficult to reach the places in meditation that had come much more effortlessly before.  And the anxiety and agitation bouncing around in my mind seemed to be harder to quiet down—maybe it was growing or maybe I was just becoming more aware of it.  My plan to meditate all my emotions away wasn’t going so well.

I came to realize that the only real way to release stressful emotions was to let myself fully feel them and even express them.  I started to let myself experience the anxiety and frustration of not being able to quiet my mind.  That would lead to memories of other things in my life that would bring up anxiety and frustration.  It started to become easier to express to people in my life the things that were frustrating me.  With that came relief—the relief of getting the weight off my chest—and a sense of empowerment: it was OK for me to stand up for myself and set my boundaries. 

After a while I started to realize that there was more than suppressed anger that was agitating my mind.  Underneath my angry, teenage self was a sad, fearful, ashamed childhood version of myself—some would call it my “inner child”.  And it was wounded.  I always knew it was there, but it was something I had rejected because it was too painful to experience. 

I was blown away at how powerful it was to let myself remember and re-experience all those childhood traumas and have it be OK that I was afraid and hurt.  And despite what I had previously expected, I didn’t wallow in depression and self-pity for weeks on end.  Letting myself fully experience those painful emotions started to neutralize the “charge” they had in my mind.

I’ve learned that this is a common experience among meditators.  After the initial peaceful and even blissful experiences in meditation, there comes a time when all of the painful thoughts and emotions you’ve suppressed come up to be felt and integrated into the new “you” you’re becoming.  St. John of the Cross called it the “dark night of the soul.”

Meditation didn’t turn out to be the totally relaxing and blissed-out experience I expected, but it’s also turned out to be better than I expected.  More and more I’m finding relief from stress not by avoiding it or through coping mechanisms (which even some forms of meditation can be), but by addressing the thoughts and the emotions underlying the stress.  It’s part of what people are talking about when they say there’s “no way around your problems but through them.”

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Playing the Game

 
by Clark Zimmerman, L.Ac.

One of the first games that my daughter learned to play was Candyland.  She could sit for hours picking cards and moving around the board; she loved the colors and the pictures of sweets.  Unlike most people who play board games, she didn’t know that the object was to get to the gingerbread house and “win”.  In fact, if she were nearing the end of the rainbow path, she would start to get worried that the game would soon be over. She would get excited if she drew the Candy Cane or Gingerbread card that took her back to the beginning.  She simply loved playing the game.

    Sometime in our childhoods, most of us start to get more competitive.  Maybe it is an offshoot of evolution.  For millennia, the winner in the game of life got to survive and pass on their genes, whereas the loser would perish.  Whatever the reason, at some point we typically begin playing more to win than to enjoy the game.  While there is nothing wrong with wanting to win, a lot of times we come up on the losing side of the game.  If we happen to lose, does that take all of the fun out of the time we spent playing the game?  If so, it seems that the game would appear to be a waste of time.
 
    This makes me think of playing cards–I used to play a lot of cards.  One of my favorite games was Euchre, which is a game similar to Bridge.  In my 20s, I used to take it pretty seriously.  My friends and I would have Euchre tournaments in which the prize was bragging rights.  Some of the games got really heated.  I remember getting upset when my partner didn’t play the right strategy, or when the cards wouldn’t fall my way.  Eventually I began to see the absurdity in this approach to the game.  When I became less attached to winning a funny thing happened: instead of having the overall quality of my night depend on what the scorecards read, I began to enjoy the conversation more. I started to enjoy the company more.  I even began cheering on my opponent when he got a really good hand or made an especially good play of the cards.  My ability to have fun on Euchre nights was greatly improved.  

    This is similar to life in general.  We often think of “winning” as finishing or succeeding.  We may think that we will win once we reach retirement, or when we finally purchase that certain car.  When we orient ourselves towards such goals, we look so far ahead that we miss the moment. Though it can be helpful to have goals, we must be careful not to define happiness or success by these measurements alone.  If we forget that the present moment is all we truly have, we are constantly motivated by our clinging to the past or desire for a certain future.  This is a recipe for suffering.  Sometimes things go the way we want them to go, sometimes they do not.  It is often the case that even when we get to the goal that we have dreamed about, whether we retire or get that dream car, the “success” that we experience eventually seems hollow or less grand than we imagined it would be.  When we untether our happiness from a certain outcome we allow the fullness of life to express itself in beautifully unexpected ways.  We make it less about winning and more about enjoying the game. Then the real winner is the one who has the most fun.  The real winner is the one who fully plays the game.
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Fertile Soil and Soul

by Ann Zimmerman, L.Ac.

My parents did not garden much, but my grandpa always kept a big vegetable garden and “pet” walnut tree. Whenever I visited with him, we would tinker in his garden: weeding, transplanting, turning soil, adding compost, and my favorite–picking ripe veggies. After moving to college in Northern Florida, I started my first garden. It was perfect and it was a tiny 2 ft x 2ft square, sandwiched between a parking lot, air conditioner, and my apartment door. Now, I appreciate my youthful zest to take on any piece of earth I could find. Despite this little piece of forgotten soil being far from fertile, it did not matter to me at 18 years old. However, I intuitively knew that I would need to nurture this soil before I could expect plants to grow.   

In Chinese medicine we recognize that one’s body’s fertility, like the earth’s, depends on how their ecosystem is nourished. Commonly, the concept of fertility is limited to reproduction or a certain age-range for people, but fertility is actually the greater expression of one’s health. Fertility can include our willingness to be receptive, nourished, and grow emotionally and spiritually; it certainly does not need to be limited to the ability to conceive or limited by menopause.

My clinical practice in Talent is focused on fertility. Weekly, I collaborate with couples as they endeavor to expand their families. When we begin our work together, we always look at the body like a garden. How is the soil and how is the weather internally? Can we change the soil or climate to make conditions better for fertility? Maybe it needs more or less heat, moisture, nutrients, or maybe the soil is rocky. Often we do adjust the physical weather and fertility returns and sometimes Western medical intervention is needed.  But always we talk about how to be more fertile as a whole being, beyond making a baby. Sometimes in the journey to reproduce, couples learn that what they are seeking is not a baby, but to feel more fertile in their soul. We explore together the emotions and negative effects of stress and limiting belief systems. We redirect the body’s focus to the parts that have been starved for attention and healing. 

Spring is the season of fertility. We can feel the rising of new energy as the days grow longer and the weather warmer. The will to remove old debris and make way for our new ideas and projects is the natural rhythm of this season. The impulse to clean our surroundings is mirrored in our body’s desire for more salads and healthier foods.  As we adapt to this new season, ask yourself how you can be more fertile. What can you do to adjust your own soil to make you more receptive, nourished, and pulsing with life? What do you need to clear away or nourish to encourage new growth?

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