Meditation as a tool for psychoanalytical inquiry

For most of our evolution, humans have been directed outward. Expansion, conquest and co-operation have been the paradigms that have made us lords and masters of this planet. Driven by a desire to be safe - in control - we're always on the move. Always inventing, exploiting, innovating. Finding better ways to do the things we already know, and new ways to conquer problems we haven't solved yet. In a sense, this creativity is so common - and so valued - that it may well be embedded in our very DNA.

Being so focused on our outward drives, however, has detached us from our experience of the joy of just being alive. It has detached us from the incredible richness of embodied experience. And it has detached us from the wealth of knowledge that our bodies have to offer us, both as a harbinger of disease to come and as a search engine for answers to the questions that come up in our lives. 

Obviously, if you've been reading this blog for some time, you might already know about a tool that can help you get "un-detached". You might expect me to start talking about meditation right about now. Don't worry, I shan't disappoint, although I have to say that I think that meditation is just that, a tool. Not THE tool nor the ONLY tool. A tool. A very powerful one, if you use it correctly, but just one of what I expect may be many such entrypoints into Lewis Carroll's rabbit hole. In fact, what we call meditation itself exists of many paths inward. Concentration is obviously essential, but it can be focused narrowly on, say, the tip of one's nose or broadly on the whole of one's moment-to-moment experience. And everything in between. Each of the "six sense doors" (hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, tasting and thinking/feeling) can be a way in; it's the "being dispassionately aware of it" part that makes it meditative. 

All this aside, though, before I start rambling as I so often do, the world of momentary experience inside us is what we can learn from and base healthy choices upon. It can even help us make sense of why we are experiencing this moment in this way right now.

Let's say you're experiencing some emotional pain. For some reason, you choose to try meditation to see if it can help lighten the load a bit. The most important thing is to keep an open mind to whatever comes up for you right now. Usually, the instruction in meditation is to stay away from the content of your experience. Here, though, as with most strong emotions, it might not be so easy to "just let it go and return to watching your breath". So, instead of rushing away from your pain as per the meditation's instructions, try to keep watching the pain itself, without becoming too involved in it. Try not to become involved at all and also try not to run away. This is the first step of meditative self-psychoanalysis, and hard enough as far as first steps go. 

The second step starts when you begin to really understand what it is that you do "naturally" in this situation. (How) do you run away from the pain? Do you revel in it? Do you become numb? What kind of language do you use when you talk to yourself in this situation? Regardless of what those intentions are, what is the intensity of your intentions? Are there other emotions in play? How do you react to those? These are just a few questions and I can keep thinking of new ones but that's hardly the point. The point is to become aware of your internal mechanisms and what happens when nasty stuff surfaces. How do you react? It may take a while before you fully understand what it is you do exactly. So don't let imperfect understanding of the second step keep you from trying the third.

The third step is when you choose to do quite the opposite of your default action. This may sound and feel very counter intuitive. It is counter intuitive. That's why it is proposed that you start with slow and cautious movements in that opposite direction. Do you run away from pain, steeling yourself against it? (Don't feel bad, it's very natural to run from pain.) From your watchful non-involved perch, try moving toward the pain ever so slightly with an attitude of love, vulnerability and curiosity. Try to think of your pain as if it were the scared child you once were.

Do you tend to become involved in your pain, revelling in it? (Also, a very normal and natural process to feel pain through and through; it can be quite addictive.) Try to keep your distance from it and not engage with the emotional severity of it, keep watching. You might start to experience your pain as just another sensation, part and parcel of the inner landscape of your life. At this point it might become easier to try to get closer to the pain, understand it and then surround it with love.

And so on. Other things sometimes come up in such inquiries; old unprocessed pain, trauma, unabashed bawling. That's fine. It's just your inner doctor spot-healing some parts of you that need healing. Everyone has such a doctor, and everyone can do this work. It only takes time and courage. Further helpful elements are self-compassion, patience and curiosity.

Note the difference with the default Western medical attitude of fighting the symptoms, which is of course rooted in the paradigm of conquest and outward direction. No magic pills here. Just face your stuff with all the courage and vulnerability you can muster and they will be resolved. 

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