Meditate Without Dissociating: A Guide

how to not dissociate while meditating

Dissociation is a condition in which you feel disconnected from your thoughts, feelings, body, surroundings, and sense of time. It can also affect your sense of self-identity. Meditation is the practice of focusing the mind to reach a more powerful state of being. While meditation is good for you, it can sometimes lead to dissociation. This is especially true for people with a history of trauma or relational wounds. When meditating, it is important to be aware of your feelings and thoughts and to let them flow through you without judgement. Combining different meditation techniques can also help prevent dissociation. For example, pairing techniques that disconnect us from thoughts and feelings with those that connect us to thoughts and feelings, such as loving-kindness or compassion meditations.

Characteristics Values
Meditation type Choose a meditation technique that focuses on connecting with your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings, such as Loving Kindness (Metta) or Compassion (Karuna).
Combination of techniques Combine mindfulness meditation with other techniques that connect you to your body, thoughts, and feelings.
Awareness of feelings and thoughts Be aware of your feelings and thoughts during meditation. Do not reject or push them away.
Avoid blocking thoughts Avoid actively trying to block out thoughts during meditation.
Avoid dissociative techniques Avoid meditation techniques that are dissociative, such as Anapanasati (mindfulness of breath) and Vipassana.
Fill your mind After emptying your mind, fill it with positive thoughts, such as love and compassion.
Connect with your body Use techniques that help you connect with your body, such as Zen Walking, yoga, or Body Scan.
Seek professional help If you have a history of trauma or dissociation, consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor.

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Recognise the feelings and thoughts that are flowing through you

Recognising the feelings and thoughts flowing through you is a crucial aspect of meditation. It involves observing your thoughts without judgement or attachment, simply letting them come and go. This practice is known as mindfulness meditation, which encourages curiosity and acceptance of the present moment.

When you begin to meditate, you may encounter new sensations and experiences. Your senses are heightened, and you become aware of subtle physical and mental changes. You might feel a tingling or flowing sensation, which could indicate the movement of energy through your body or the release of stress. These sensations can also be a result of emotional transformation, such as the clearing of blockages or the awakening of chakras.

To recognise and understand your feelings and thoughts during meditation, it is essential to be aware of the different types of energy and their locations in your body. For example, you might feel pulsating or surging energy, waves of energy, or a rush of warmth and tingling sensations. These sensations can be indicative of deep and successful meditation practice, and they can help activate and release energy from different chakras.

Additionally, recognising your thoughts and feelings can be like observing a stream of thoughts. You can view each thought as a bubble, eddy, or current within the stream, rather than getting caught up in its content or emotional charge. By doing so, you can cultivate greater intimacy with your own interiority and develop new dimensions of possibility.

Furthermore, it is important to be sensitive to the steady stream of commentary and advice you give yourself during meditation. Recognise these as secretions of your thinking mind, similar to the endless stream of commentary, interpretation, and opinion in televised sports events. By becoming aware of these thought patterns, you can detach from them and return to the present moment.

In conclusion, recognising the feelings and thoughts flowing through you during meditation involves observing your thoughts and sensations without judgement, understanding the different types of energy and their meanings, and being mindful of your inner commentary. This practice can lead to greater self-awareness and a deeper connection with your thoughts, feelings, and senses.

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Do not reject your thoughts—accept and acknowledge them

Dissociation is the opposite of meditation. While meditation is about being relaxed and focused, dissociation is about feeling numb. During dissociation, a person feels disconnected from their self or a part of their self. This can happen during a traumatic event, where a person feels disconnected from their body and self.

Meditation, on the other hand, is about focusing the mind to reach a more powerful and equipoised state of being. It is about being easefully curious and accepting of the present moment. However, meditation can sometimes lead to dissociation, especially for those with a history of trauma or relational wounds.

To avoid dissociating while meditating, it is important to accept and acknowledge your thoughts rather than rejecting them. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Understand that your thoughts and feelings are already accepted. They are happening, and you cannot choose to accept or reject them at this point. By trying to accept them, you are actually resisting them. Instead, recognise that they are already a part of your present moment.
  • Think of awareness as a screen and thoughts/feelings as a movie. A screen unconditionally allows a movie, regardless of its content. In the same way, awareness is the screen that your mind appears in.
  • Understand that feelings are not inherently wrong or problematic. They are uncomfortable but they have a right to exist. When you stop seeing your feelings as a problem, they will pass through you in their own time as all feelings are temporary.
  • Observe your thoughts and feelings without wanting to change them. This is the practice of meditation – to sit and do nothing but observe the pain without wanting anything other than what you are currently experiencing.
  • Be at peace with your current experience. Notice the unhappy thoughts, accept that they are there, and realise that this present moment is the only reality you have.
  • Be kind to yourself. You are not weak for finding it difficult to accept. It is okay to have anxiety and a busy mind. You, just the way you are, are enough.

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Try different meditation techniques, such as Loving Kindness (Metta) and Compassion (Karuna)

Loving-Kindness (Metta) and Compassion (Karuna) are two traditional Buddhist meditation practices that can help you avoid dissociation.

Loving-Kindness (Metta) Meditation

The practice of Metta meditation is a beautiful support to other awareness practices. One recites specific words and phrases evoking a "boundless warm-hearted feeling." The strength of this feeling is not limited to or by family, religion, or social class.

  • Sit in a comfortable and relaxed manner.
  • Take two or three deep breaths with slow, long, and complete exhalations.
  • Let go of any concerns or preoccupations.
  • For a few minutes, feel or imagine the breath moving through the centre of your chest—in the area of your heart.
  • Loving-kindness meditation is first practised towards oneself since we often have difficulty loving others without first loving ourselves.
  • Sitting quietly, mentally repeat slowly and steadily the following or similar phrases: "May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease."
  • While you say these phrases, allow yourself to sink into the intentions they express.
  • If feelings of warmth, friendliness, or love arise in the body or mind, connect to them, allowing them to grow as you repeat the phrases.
  • As an aid, you might hold an image of yourself in your mind's eye.
  • After a period of directing loving-kindness toward yourself, bring to mind a friend or someone in your life who has deeply cared for you.
  • Then slowly repeat phrases of loving-kindness toward them: "May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease."
  • As you say these phrases, again sink into their intention or heartfelt meaning.
  • As you continue the meditation, you can bring to mind other friends, neighbours, acquaintances, strangers, animals, and finally people with whom you have difficulty.

Compassion (Karuna) Meditation

Karuna is one of the traditional Buddhist practices for compassion. Indeed, the very word "Karuna" is a Pali and Sanskrit word meaning compassion.

  • Find somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed.
  • Sit with good posture. Place your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Close your eyes and spend a few minutes on mindful breathing. This will promote relaxation and focus.
  • Bring to mind a person who has or is currently suffering. Begin with the people for whom you feel the most sympathy. Sincerity is essential in the Karuna meditation technique. Therefore, start with someone you love.
  • Consider the struggles this person is facing.
  • Wish the individual freedom from suffering. Wish for them to be happier, healthier, more fortunate, and more successful.
  • You may find it beneficial to speak aloud your wish for this person. For instance, for someone who is ill, you may say, "May they become healthy and strong". Or for someone unfortunate with money, "May they find financial security and prosperity."
  • If you feel any conflicting emotions—for instance, if you feel judgmental of the person—be mindful of your feelings but do not dwell on them, simply observe them.
  • Observe the feeling of sympathy. Be mindful of it. How does it feel in the body and mind? Are there any obstacles in the way of genuine compassion? Be aware of all that is happening within.
  • Compassion is a feeling, and a feeling is a form of energy. Connect with the inner energy of sympathy. Meditate on it. This will develop your compassion. Before long, you may feel like a Bodhisattva!
  • Repeat the script while meditating on different people.
  • Finish with a wish to free all sentient beings from suffering.

Combining Loving-Kindness (Metta) and Compassion (Karuna)

Loving-Kindness (Metta) and Compassion (Karuna) are two distinct but complementary practices. Loving-Kindness (Metta) focuses on cultivating love and kindness, while Compassion (Karuna) is about developing compassion for those who are suffering.

Practising both techniques can help ensure a well-rounded approach to meditation and avoid dissociation. By combining the two, you can increase sympathy and empathy, essential for spiritual enlightenment in Buddhism.

Additionally, research by the University of Wisconsin-Madison has shown that meditation techniques such as Loving-Kindness (Metta) and Compassion (Karuna) can increase compassion and empathy. These practices can also help individuals with social anxiety, including those who have been bullied.

In conclusion, trying different meditation techniques such as Loving-Kindness (Metta) and Compassion (Karuna) can be an effective way to avoid dissociation while meditating. These practices can help develop sympathy, empathy, and compassion and improve mental and physical health.

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Focus on your body through techniques like Zen Walking, yoga, or Body Scan

Dissociation is a term that indicates a disconnection from one's self or a part of oneself. It can range from mild spaciness to an extreme experience of disconnecting from the body and self during a traumatic event. The opposite of meditation (relaxed and focused) is dissociation (feeling numb).

Zen Walking

Zen walking, or Kinhin, is a form of walking meditation found in Zen Buddhism. It is often practised in conjunction with seated meditation. The basic technique is simple: stand with your feet about one fist's width apart at the heel, with toes pointing slightly outwards. Stand upright with your shoulders relaxed and your back straight. Place your hands in the gassho position, with your palms together in front of your chest. As you inhale, shift your weight to your left foot. At full exhalation, your weight should be evenly distributed between both feet. On the exhale, lift your right foot and move it forward so that the heel lands in line with the centre of the left foot. Repeat this process, walking slowly and mindfully, focusing on your breath and the present moment.

Yoga

Yoga is a physical practice that can help to ground you and bring you into the present moment. There are many yoga poses that can help you focus on your body and prevent dissociation. For example, Tadasana (Mountain Pose) can help you to lift your chest, roll your shoulders back, and lengthen the crown of your head toward the sky. Garudasana (Eagle Pose) involves crossing your arms and legs in a way that challenges your balance and forces you to focus on your body. Sukhasana (Easy Pose with a Twist) involves grabbing your big toes and pulling them forward and out, and then twisting your torso. There are many other yoga poses that can help you focus on your body and prevent dissociation.

Body Scan

Body scan meditation is a practice that involves bringing your attention to different parts of your body and noticing the sensations that arise. To begin, you can lie down or sit up, whichever you prefer. Close your eyes or lower your gaze. Bring your attention to your breath and notice the touch and pressure of your body against the floor or seat. When you're ready, move your attention to a specific part of your body and notice any sensations such as buzzing, tingling, pressure, or tightness. You can choose to do a systematic body scan from head to toe or explore sensations randomly. The key is to be curious and open to what you're noticing, without judgement.

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Seek professional help, such as therapy or counselling

If you are experiencing dissociation while meditating, seeking professional help such as therapy or counselling can be a beneficial step. Here are some reasons why:

Expert Guidance

Therapists and counsellors are trained professionals who can provide expert guidance and support. They have extensive knowledge of the mind-body connection and can help you understand the underlying causes of your dissociation. They can also teach you specific techniques to manage and overcome dissociation during meditation.

Trauma-Informed Approach

Dissociation is often linked to past trauma or relational wounds. Therapists specialising in trauma can help you process and heal from these experiences. They will create a safe and supportive environment for you to explore any traumatic events and their impact on your life, including your meditation practice.

Individualised Treatment

Professional therapists will tailor their approach to your unique needs. They will consider your personal history, the nature of your dissociation, and any other relevant factors to develop a treatment plan specifically for you. This may include a combination of therapeutic techniques, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, mindfulness-based therapies, or other modalities suited to your situation.

Addressing Underlying Conditions

Dissociation can be a symptom of underlying mental health conditions, such as depersonalisation disorder, derealisation disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Therapists can help identify and diagnose any co-occurring disorders and provide treatment or refer you to a specialist. Addressing these underlying conditions is crucial for your overall well-being and can help improve your meditation practice.

Enhancing Self-Awareness and Coping Skills

Therapy provides a space for self-reflection and the development of self-awareness. By exploring your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, you can gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your triggers for dissociation. Therapists can also help you build a toolkit of healthy coping strategies to manage difficult emotions or situations, reducing the need to dissociate.

Remember, seeking professional help is a sign of strength and self-care. If you are struggling with dissociation during meditation, know that you are not alone, and there is effective support available to help you reclaim a sense of presence and connection in your meditation practice and daily life.

Frequently asked questions

Meditation is the practice of focusing the mind to reach a more powerful state of being. Dissociation, on the other hand, is a disconnection from one's self, feelings, thoughts, body, surroundings, and sense of time. It is often caused by fear or trauma.

If you are dissociating while meditating, you may feel numb, detached, or disconnected from your body. You may also feel like you are observing your actions and surroundings from a distance, as if operating your body remotely.

To avoid dissociating while meditating, it is important to practice the right meditation techniques. Instead of blocking out your thoughts and feelings, allow them to flow through you and observe them without judgement. Combine techniques that disconnect you from thoughts and feelings with those that connect you to your body, thoughts, and surroundings, such as Zen Walking or yoga.

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