How to Make Yourself Miserable in Meditation

Here at Instinctive Meditation, we try to be accommodating to all the different types of people there are. You may not like our approach, which emphasizes healthiness. In case you want to make meditation complicated and fail at it, here is a handy guide.

– Sit in uncomfortable postures. The Lotus pose looks cool, and you can feel virtuous as your legs cramp.

– Meditate longer than you want to or need to. Two hours should do it.

– Try to blank out your mind. And then later, get mad because your mind goes blank at inconvenient times.

– Ban specific types of thoughts, such anything having to do with your to-do list, your friends, or your life.

– Resist falling asleep, no matter how tired you are.

– Sit in a stuffy room.

– If you are a woman, study meditation with men who are terrified of women and try to control them.

– If you are a man, ban erections during meditation.

– Choose a tradition or meditation that reminds you of the worst aspects of your childhood.

– Choose a teacher exactly like the sandbox bully who ruined your life when you were 5.

– Choose a teacher who sounds like your Kindergarten teacher: "Sit still! Keep your hands to yourself! Don't let your mind wander!"

– Try to block out your inner voices.

– Worry about whether you are being a good meditator.

– Use a mantra that grates on your nerves.

– Worry about whether your chakras are balanced or not.

– Resent all noises and sounds you hear.

– Wear new, uncomfortable contacts while meditating.

– Try to get your thoughts to slow down.

In case I didn't list the perfect Odious Rule for you, just make one up – anything that totally goes against your grain is OK.

Odious Rules

There is a part of your brain that thinks its Job Description is "helping" you to meditate. It does this by scanning all meditation literature for rules and attitudes that imply you are having too many thoughts, or too many different kinds of thoughts, or certain specific thoughts that are probably banned somewhere. For example, meditation is relaxing and more restful than deep sleep, and can feel like receiving a very subtle massage. Lots of people get turned on by the sensuality of meditation. This is a great opportunity for the Odious Rule Generator to ban sexual feelings – especially that delightful, skin-tingling sensation all over that comes so surprisingly.

Say that you have half an hour to yourself. Ahhhh, a chance to rejuvenate, and then you have to go pick up the kids. So during meditation, you wonder, "What time is it?" The Rule Generator will immediately slap you with a rule, "You shouldn't think about the time." Or say that you find yourself sorting through your to-do list, wondering if item #12 should really go up, closer to the top; the Odious Rule Generator can then chide you for thinking. Then you find yourself thinking of a friend who moved away and you lost contact with, and you feel sad over the loss. Your Rule Generator can then chide you for feeling.

It is kind of like having your mother-in-law sitting behind you telling you how to drive. In this case, she is sitting on your shoulder, telling you how to meditate. If she is really good, she will figure out ways to chide you for being. Your very nature is too intimate. You are attached. Your actual existence is somehow wrong, and you are defective. You, actually, are the one being in creation who does not have Buddha Nature.

An exercise I sometimes give wanna-be meditators is to write down all the lines the inner voices are saying by way of meditation advice. It's always interesting to see what you are dealing with.

In terms of making yourself miserable, one of the wonderful things about the meditation traditions is that they are traditional – they keep everything the same. Thus, 99% of all meditation instructions were written long, long ago, and far, far, away, for Hindu or Buddhist males, who were also monks, and trying to be celibate, and trying to stay in their cells, and not just run screaming in the night. Also, there are no warning labels saying "this technique is only for for a monk who is masturbating constantly or is about to be thrown out of the monastery for humping all the young acolytes." (Good work, Nagarjuna!) All the techniques are just lumped together and given equal value – as if you were to walk into a drug store and the aspirin, viagra, laxatives, hair dye, and toothpaste were all just there in plain wrappers with no indications as to how they are to be used, or where.

The rules may be very specific, such as "You should not think at all during meditation. Your mind should just go blank, instantly."

I call these Odious Rules, but when they are coming at you from inside your head, they just seem like "what's true."

These rules sound "real" because they match your denial structure.

The general theme is that you are wrong, somehow – wrong just by existing. Actually, if you want the truth, your very being is defective. This is a secret, but you are the only soul in the universe that does not have Buddha Nature. Sorry.

A lady came by the other day to learn to meditate. First she apologized for having so many thoughts, when we meditated for a couple of minutes. Then she apologized for crying, because she thought of her grandchildren and wept with gratitude for them. Then she looked at the garden and went straight into samadhi with her eyes open, and she was totally silent and in deep peace for about ten minutes. There was a light coming off her body, she was so silent and in peace. Then she looked at me and apologized, saying, "I'm sorry, my mind went blank and I lost track of time."

The beauty of this woman's Rule generator was that it was able to instantly, on-the-fly, generate a rule making her wrong. This Rule Generator didn't blink, didn't pause for a breath, even when she went into the most beautiful, perfectly poised spontaneous samadhi state I had seen in a long time.

A man was in his first meditation session, and it turned out that his rhythm was about 90 seconds. He would sort through thoughts for a minute or so, and then suddenly and with no announcement his brain would stop generating thoughts and would just be silent for five or ten seconds, in pure repose; then he would start thinking again. During much of this cycle he was so relaxed he couldn't move, and in ten minutes of meditating, his mind and body would just go through this cycle again and again, thoughts, restlessness, pure silence, thoughts. After ten minutes he opened his eyes and started objecting strenuously, "That's it? Just five or ten seconds of silence and then I have to start listening to my thoughts again?"

One way of finding out if you are being run by an Odious Rule you have going is to notice whatever you call “difficult.” If you have any feeling of difficulty at any time during meditation, check in with what rules you have made up. When people say meditation is “difficult” and I ask them to describe in detail what is going on, often one or more of these is going on:

– Many thoughts are coming and everyone knows you aren’t supposed to think during meditation.

– Some thoughts flash through very rapidly and everyone knows thoughts should obey the “thought speed limit” and move slowly, gracefully, with immense decorum, like a funeral procession.

– Sensations in the body are calling for attention and everyone knows that the body is supposed to be numb during meditation.

– I can feel alternating relaxation and tension, and everyone knows that tension is supposed to instantly disappear, like kitchen stains do in TV commercials.

– Emotions are welling up and I don’t want to feel them. Everyone knows you’re not allowed to cry during meditation. Or else, “unauthorized” emotions are coming up: You feel playful, rebellious, sexy, defiant, ambitious or creative and everyone knows those are taboo.

– I feel too restful. It can't be right, to sit here in a state deeper than sleep, not thinking at all, just barely breathing. I have to be doing something.

Your Internal Manual of Meditation

What you are encountering here is your internal manual of meditation. It was scratched onto your nerves by whoever was your nemesis when you were 4 or 5, whoever yelled at you to stop. There was a time when you were doing your thing, and some exhausted, near-nervous-breakdown adult looked at you with hot laser focus, targeted you in her or his crosshairs, and said, "Sit still, put your hands in your lap, don't wiggle, and PAY ATTENTION." You got clobbered with a blast of shaming energy that burned its way through your skin right into your brain.

Therefore this pattern gets invoked whenever you do something similar to "sit down, shut up, put your hands in your lap, don't wiggle, and focus." Meditation is a perfect fit. That's why when people set out to meditate, one of the first obstacles is this inner character, who was actually just trying to keep from going insane and killing you.

Now class, let's call this the Kindergarden Complex.

Your personal Kindergarden Complex is actually your container – it consists of the nerve and muscle pattern you developed to contain your wild impulses. It's almost like an inner character with its own personality.

When you were 5, you may not have known very much about yoga. You did not know how to sit still and allow your energies to flow freely. You probably tensed some of your muscles to inhibit your movement, and perhaps restricted your breathing to diminish your energy level. So you split into at least two beings: the wild you and the One Who Controls. In this way, you joined the world. The controlling part became like a ghost, feeding off your vitality. Meditation is the perfect time for this inner character to exercise its control over you again.

Inner characters never give up. They wait forever for the opportunity to come out again. Yours will actually try to pick your meditation teacher and path for you. Your Kindergarden Complex will make you feel attracted to whoever will try to control you or shame you just so. And Meditation Land is absolutely packed with entitled and domineering men and women with invisible rulers in their hands to zap you.

Have you ever known someone who got into a relationship or married someone who embodied the worst aspects of their father or mother? The same principle applies in meditation and yoga. The word "yoga" means union, an inner marriage, and many people are in bad inner marriages with their Kindergarden Complex.

Unless you want to have your meditation or yoga practice be the consummation of a marriage to your worst enemy, learn to recognize this Ding! of similarity, the secret Masonic handshake exchanged by your inner Controller and the outer Meditation teacher or Yoga teacher. Aha, there is the Dominator. Then just bow slightly, honoring them, and go your way. If you stay for more than a minute, you will probably become hypnotized and start thinking something like, "Must . . . still the mind . . . . must obey teacher . . ." Charismatic teachers know instantly how to manipulate you.

In my practice as a freelance meditation teacher, I constantly meet people who are coming out of bad relationships to meditation teachers. They are just as wrecked as people getting a divorce, but on a subtler level. Meditation teachers can get inside your head like no one else – it's really the worst boundary violation possible. I have worked with many people who were taught by their guru to visualize the guru inside their head.

Most of us think in icons anyway – we make up little movies and montages of people's faces, then add sound effects and feelings. That is what thinking is.

In meditation, the thinking goes deep, so there is the possibility of deep manipulation. It's exactly like advertising, but on the level of the soul. All gurus and entitled spiritual teachers know how to broadcast commercials to your deepest television set, the one in the core of your being, and say, "I am the key to your salvation. Come to Me. You will be safe in me."

The guru tradition has over the past thousands of years perfected systems of inner enslavement. They teach techniques that get people to turn themselves into slaves, and believe that this is a spiritual thing to do. It's beautiful, in the way that vampires are beautiful in Anne Rice novels.

Spontaneous Generation of Odious Rules

If you are sitting in a group of ten people for a meditation class and the instruction is given, “OK, let’s all close our eyes and find something about our breathing to enjoy,” maybe five to seven people willl find something to enjoy. One person will sit there sort of perplexed, not knowing where to begin. A couple of people will be sitting there scowling.

If you ask one of the scowlers what he is doing, he might say, “I was trying to block out noise.” Inquiring further, you would find that he was starting to become aware of his breath, then he heard a sound somewhere, then he briefly wondered what the sound was, then he invented an Odious Rule on the spot that he should not hear the sound, then he got angry (or else he was recalling an internalized, angry parental voice) then, disgusted, he returned to his breath. This all took place in five or ten seconds. This guy or gal is not going to have a happy time in meditation. His critical inner voice will win every time. Not only that, but it will get to score a hit on him by proving that he failed at meditation.

Be alert when you are starting to make up an Odious Rule, and start making fun of it. The rules can vary from person to person. For one person it may be “You have to make your mind blank,” and for another it might be, “You have to believe in the teacher,” or “You’re not allowed to feel too happy,” or “Mood swings must be controlled.” Sometimes it is just the voice of the Inner Rebel that must be banned, and obliterated with the drone of the mantra.

When I am working with individuals or groups, it is as if everyone's Kindergarden Complex is sitting on their shoulder or above their heads, waiting for me to say something that sounds familiar so they can resume beating the person up. If I don't come up with some Rules, the people will start scowling at me.

* ap·o·tro·pa·ic
ADJECTIVE: Intended to ward off evil: an apotropaic symbol.
ETYMOLOGY: From Greek apotropaios, from apotrepein, to ward off : apo-, apo- + trepein, to turn; see trep- in Appendix I.
OTHER FORMS: apo·tro·pai·cal·ly —ADVERB

- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.