Mindfulness and the Dark Night of the Soul

There’s is a downside to meditation that people don’t talk about much.

In spiritual circles, it’s called the ‘dark night of the soul’. It can show up in a few ways.

Meditation calms your nervous system. It also frequently creates new levels of awareness for people. The latter can lead to some unexpected challenges.

Difficult Emotions

You may become increasingly aware of emotions that have been running in the background of your consciousness.  While they were always there, now you begin to recognize emotions like anger, anxiety or shame.

Meditation gives you the awareness of these feelings, and to some extent it calms your mind and emotions, but it doesn’t give you the skills to deal with difficult emotions. So, it can leave you in a tricky state because now you’re aware of these emotions but don’t know what to do about them.

This happens for both men and women. Men can have a difficult relationship with their feelings, because they’re taught to be stoic from an early age. But, women, as much as they’re thought to be in touch with their feelings, also struggle with emotions.

The Gap Issues

Second, awareness may make you recognize that your motivations aren’t always as pure as you’d been thinking they were. You may realize that you haven’t been living up to that ideal person you have in your head. That can drop you into a bit of depression as you appreciate the gap between who you want to be and who you currently are.

Lastly, meditation – or any self-reflective time – can awaken the desire for your purpose and larger meaning. Sometimes it can feel like the road you’re on and the road you want for yourself and the world are so far apart (they’re not, but it takes a certain perspective to realize that they’re not). Again, it’s a gap scenario that can lead to the blues.

What Can Help?

It helps to understand that these experiences and responses are common to meditators and mindfulness practitioners. You’re not the only one.

Awareness of these potential issues keeps people from being blindsided by them.

Also, realize that as tough as these experiences might be, they’re a reflection of the growth you’ve undergone. You’re not going backwards. You’re going forward and new possibilities are opening.

The Tools

Both self-compassion and forgiveness are things to invest time in learning and doing for more inner peace and a deeper relationship with yourself and others.

Another key is learning to process feelings to be emotionally present. That means you can recognize and fully experience your emotions without getting uncomfortable and can direct the energy from your feelings into inspired and constructive action.

Peace comes from learning to work with your emotions rather than ostracizing the ones you think are bad. That means learning to digest them, to harvest the pearls of wisdom they contain including where they’re showing your mistaken beliefs.

Also, there are many ways to expand the results from meditation and mindfulness. By starting with your goals – how you’d like to build yourself and your life, you can reap bigger benefits and create a practice suited to you.

If you find yourself struggling, remember that it’s a common response to taking up these practices. You’re not strange and there isn’t anything wrong with you. Mediation launches awareness but won’t help you deal with everything. But there are lots of additional tools and skills that will make your journey more joyful.

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