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I often wake up feeling something other than peace, joy, or enthusiasm.
This morning, for example, I felt particularly “blah.”
I slept later than I had intended, my weekend—which was filled with excitement—had come to an end, and I was not looking forward to getting back to chores and responsibility. “I don’t feel like doing any of it today,” was my overall sentiment.
I gave myself some grace and eased into my morning with my health tonic of lemon water, Himalayan sea salt, and apple cider vinegar. Then, I decided to sit and meditate.
There seem to be an endless number of meditation practices offered in our world today, and I have tried many of them. Unfortunately, some of them lead to “spiritual bypassing,” where we engage in a spiritual idea or practice in order to avoid the painful parts of ourselves or our emotions. This can often backfire, as those pained parts of ourselves might never get the attention they need to truly heal.
I was a transcendental meditation (TM) practitioner for many years, and I loved it. I touted it as the only mediation practice from which I felt real results. It was immediately gratifying—I felt so good after 20 minutes that I couldn’t wait to do it again. After a while, though, I began to crave something deeper, and I wondered if the positive feelings I had been experiencing were healthy or real.
I later learned that with certain mantra meditations like TM, we can enter a dissociative state, where we actually disconnect from our bodies and emotions rather than get in touch with ourselves. We feel great—almost high—but for people like me who have a history of trauma, this can mean delaying the inevitable. To heal trauma, we need to stop running so that we can encounter and integrate the pained parts of ourselves.
The kind of meditation I have found to be most useful for me and my clients, many of whom have also experienced complex PTSD, is Vipassana—or insight—meditation. It prioritizes staying aware of exactly what is happening within you as it happens. In my own life, when I wake up feeling sadness, grief, or anxiety and am tempted to escape by calling off all of my ambitious plans for the day, I practice being with my sadness.
If “being with your sadness” doesn’t make much sense to you right now, you’re not alone. This advice is usually met with confusion from my clients, and I often felt resentful and angry when I heard this term since I had no idea how to do it. A regular meditation practice helped me learn.
When I practice, I start by concentrating on my breath in order to arrive in the moment, tame my monkey mind, and hone my ability to focus. Then, I begin one form of Vipassana meditation called RAIN—recognize, allow, investigate, and nurture.
Recognize: I begin by asking myself, “What’s here now?” I label sadness, fear, judgements, and insecurities.
Allow: Then I make room for it all. I do this with a statement like “this too,” or “this belongs,” or a simple “yes” to whatever painful or pleasant experience I am witnessing. I find it extremely helpful to imagine turning toward the emotion rather than contracting from it, and even imagine taking the emotion in with a big breath.
Investigate: I use this step to find out more about my experience. I open up to my experience as it is now, and I feel it in my body. I describe the particular sensations that go with it (heavy chest, adrenaline moving up from my stomach to my heart, racing heart). This step might be difficult in the beginning. If you feel overtaken by emotions, it is wise to just let the pained part know you see it and have the intention to come back when you have more capacity.
This step will also likely take the most time. You can ask yourself questions such as:
“What does this part of me most need from me right now?”
“How does it want me to be with it?”
“What does it want me to know about itself?”
“Is there anything I want to say to it from my wisest, most nurturing, and most loving place?”
Nurture: The practice ends by nurturing the feelings that have come up with compassion. I like to put my hand on my heart and offer the words I think I most need to hear. Some suggestions are “I’m here,” “I care about this suffering,” or “You are enough.”
Upon completing the four steps of RAIN, it’s important to take some time to notice the shift. Observe how you are no longer identified with your emotions or stories, and you are reconnected to the freedom and spaciousness of the present moment.
This morning, RAIN reconnected me with presence. I found a sense of peace, spaciousness, and aliveness.
When I practice, I get up from my meditation a different human than I was when I sat down, and I feel excited to meet my day.