One of the more common questions I get from my clients and students is how to deal with unpleasant emotions and mind states as they arise in meditation and throughout the day. It’s a big question with many right answers. And the answers differ, depending on the context and the client’s meditation skills. So let’s break it down, using doubt as an example of an unpleasant mind state.
Technique 1: Using bare attention, like in the concentration and insight practices, you become aware of it. As you’re sitting in your meditation, your mind speaks. “I can’t do this. It’s too hard. It’s not the right day. It’s not really going to work.” And when you become aware of it, you just note it, ‘doubting, doubting.’ This is doubt. No problem. This is the doubting mind. And then your mind will say, “Oh look I did it right! Meditation is easy.” And then you’ll note, “pride, pride.” When one does this over and over with practice, the mind learns that doubt arises and passes just like every other mind state.
Technique 2: Use intellectual reflection. Think of a time when you doubted yourself and then proved yourself wrong. Think of the millions of people who have benefited from contemplative practices like meditation. Think of what brought you to meditation in the first place. Go to your teacher, mentor, or therapist to get questions answered. Know that the path is difficult, but that many before us have walked it. And know that on the other side is the most wonderful thing; The ability to relate to yourself and the world in a truly meaningful way.
Technique 3: Learn to let it go. One of the most powerful things that comes with a clear and concentrated mind, is the ability to discern whether the current mind state is benefiting us or not. It becomes quite clear that doubt is really in the way. It’s a hindrance on our path. And from the stillness, the mind feels free to release that doubt, making space for the next mind state to sweep through. By letting doubt go in meditation over and over, the mind eventually becomes trained not to react so strongly to that doubt.
Technique 4: Be the first one to die from doubt. In other words, turn directly towards the center! Turn directly towards the strongest point and see what’s there. See if you can find the exact middle of the unpleasantness, where its pull is the strongest. And when you do so, you’ll notice a knot of tightness, but this time it’s different. This time it feels like fear. Then you turn towards the center of that fear. And notice that. And just keep going to the center, and what you’ll find is that doubt (or fear, or anger) is not as magical as it may seem. What you find is a sense of spaciousness around the experience. By surrendering to the doubt, and saying, “Ok take me! I’ll be the first one to die from doubt,” you’re letting go of any clinging. You’re letting go of needing it to be a different way. And in that surrender, you find peace. And when you find peace with doubt, it dissolves. This technique comes with practice.
The most important thing is that you work with it. Don’t assume that you have no control over your mind states. Realize that there is a solution and practice these techniques. OMI offers one-on-one meditation training for people who would like guidance on this type of work. There are also guided meditations for you on our website. Practice well and we look forward to hearing from you soon!
Dr. Zack Bein