There is a classic meditation practice in which we watch our thoughts with non-attachment, the way we’d watch waves on the ocean. Ripples come, ripples go. But what if a storm erupts, or unsettling thoughts rise to the surface, disturbing the calm sea of consciousness we’ve worked so hard to cultivate? If that disturbing thought is louder than all the others (and it usually is), then what do we do? Their are many answers, but generally one of two approaches, the “ignoring” vs.”non-ignoring,” are suggested:
1. Ignore or let go of the negative and focus on a positive distractor, like the breath or a beautiful image.
2. Don’t ignore what came up, but ask it what it wants to say. Be with it, feel it intensely for a moment. Send it love and acknowledgment. Mostly wait and listen until an organic shift or some insight arises.
Sometimes the first approach works, like when you are about to run a race, take a test or perform surgery. But when painful thoughts or touchy emotions arise in meditation, dealing with them, firmly but lovingly, is a refreshing way to ride out the storm. Try this:
1. Approach 1. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and relax your body. Take a few deep breaths. When your mind feels quieter or still, watch the thoughts come and go, like waves on the ocean. Pay them “no mind.” Connect with the abundance of the ocean and its energy. Stay with this for five minutes or so. Come out of meditation.
2. Approach 2. If you start to meditate, and a back of the mind nag or disturbance rises up, acknowledge its presence. Simply say “I hear you,” or “Is there something more you’d like to share with me today?” Wait for a response before moving on. If no response comes, check in with how you feel. Are you stuck, angry, upset, confused? Whatever comes, give it space until it transforms or shifts. If nothing changes, and you feel the feeling more intensely, dialogue some more. If you have to get up and go, say, “Not now, later.” Open your eyes. If you like, jot down a kernel or insight from this meditation that you want to address later.
In my experience, waiting for the shift is empowering and leads to relief or a resolute action. Suppressing, ignoring, or gliding over “stuck” muck is akin to “positively affirming” a boo boo stop bleeding instead of getting a band aid. So take 5 minutes to meditate and ride the waves of the inner ocean with the curiosity and determination of a deep sea diver. If the ride is rocky, you’ll be prepared.