A quick review of my thoughts about and experience with meditation
I started meditating as a child in Taekwondo classes. We had 5-15 minutes of meditation every class 2-3 times a week. The purpose of that meditation was to practice focus and calmness – we focused on breathing in and out, sitting quietly, not moving. As we got older, the focus transitioned to clearing our minds and letting thoughts flow in and out while focusing on our breath. It was a sitting meditation with our eyes closed, posture straight.
As I got older and went to college, I learned about yoga and moving meditation too. This was more like mindfulness meditation where the focus was on being present and acknowledging the sensations brought on by moving slow (yoga) or by the environment (walking meditation). We let our feelings and thoughts flow in and out, acknowledging each bit while focusing on the deliberate, slow movement our bodies made with each position.
Then I started learning about Buddhism and meditation to clear my mind or free myself from the clutter of incessant thoughts and feelings. This meditation was the most difficult for me as an adult because every time I started to clear my mind, my past memories (blocked by amnesia) would surface and cause flashbacks, anxiety, panic attacks, etc. That kind of ruined the whole clear-my-mind and look into the emptiness goal. Visualization worked better for me because I got to “paint a picture” with my imagination; less scary than looking into clear water or dark nothing.
Different kinds of meditation suit different purposes
The meditation taught in most therapy groups, sessions, and programs is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness can help keep an individual grounded in the present while also teaching how to slow down and be more aware of self/surroundings. Mindfulness teaches individuals how to be more aware of one’s internal landscape and offer tools to cope with overwhelming feelings.
Focused meditation is about learning mental and emotional self control by letting go of feelings and staying calm. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it helps build clarity of thought, compassion, and resilience depending on the goal of each session. The hardest part about focused meditation is clearing one’s mind of stray thoughts and focusing on breathing or emptiness.
When I was in the partial programs, many of the moderators skipped meditation and dismissed it as too hard and not useful because of their failures to achieve positive mediation practice. I felt angry when I heard this repeated; it made me rethink everything they taught. Meditation helped me get to where I am and was my frame of reference so I could understand their emotion regulation concepts.
I use focused meditation to help with my shame and compassion work more than any other type. It helps all of us (my alters and I) get in touch with the scary feelings from a safe and grounded place inside of ourselves. The mindfulness meditation helps with the severe physical pain that comes from anxiety and body memories; we use this most often during panic attacks, nightmares, and insomnia. And the moving meditation helps us cope with too much energy or compulsion to over exercise. It offers a stretch and tone without a lot of exertion.
Lessons from almost 2o years of meditation practice
- Meditation is hard
- Meditation takes practice, persistence, and patience to learn
- Trying to practice a focused meditation with DID and many alters is scary, confusing, and frustrating because the thoughts and feelings of other alters enter and flow through the same consciousness as the one trying to meditate.
- Maintaining a level of physical stillness for some meditation practices with DID might be a big challenge
- So far I have not found a way to stop my eyes from moving (sign of switching alters) when I practice a focused standing or sitting meditation with my eyes open.
- Remember that meditation practice can be fluid and flexible to a degree
- Try to accommodate personal quirks like alters or injuries in ways that still allow for beneficial practice
- Clearing one’s mind is not exactly the goal – calming one’s mind is a better option
- Calming one’s mind is scary for everyone because once you calm down, you can see everything you’ve been hiding from or ignoring or denying about yourself
- The goal is not to attain emptiness or numbness, but to be able to observe and acknowledge your internal feelings and sensations without having them take over your life.
- The goal is to feel and let feelings/thoughts/sensations inform you and help make choices in every day life
- Meditation helps me pause and step back when I feel overwhelmed, confused, or stressed out so that I can calm down and make choice based on emotion and logic instead of only emotion or only logic
Meditation is a skill worth learning. There are many ways to learn, but I think that in-person lessons with an experienced practitioner are the best option for anyone with doubts and questions. Instructors have experienced many of the barriers that frustrate people on all levels and can help students work through them one-on-one.
As with any strategy discussed here, practice, patience, and persistence make the difference between a useful and a not-helpful tool in the tool box. Please take your time and go into each experiment with an open mind if you try out any of these options. Then, if the strategy still doesn’t feel right, please move on or tweak the strategy in ways to make it useful to you.
Thanks for reading.