The challenge of meditation

When a Korean soldier went berserk many years ago, and shot sixteen of his mates, his excuse was that they’d been making a noise when he was meditating.

My children roared with laughter when they read this, and said they knew exactly how it would have happened, remembering all the times I had exploded out of my bedroom when I couldn’t stand their unconscious attention seeking noise every time I went to meditate. (It was the same if I was on the phone to a friend – sure as eggs were eggs, they’d end up squabbling or making some commotion to get my attention again)

I learned to meditate in the palmy days of the Maharishi and his disciples the Beatles. Transcendental Meditation they called it. ‘Transcendental’ being the word that hooked us all in, thinking we’d find bliss in meditation and transcend our normal consciousness… it sounded safe and blissful at the same time… better than drugs…

It wasn’t like that of course… I went to a tatty hippy house, where a motley collection of us tackled the mantra, with lots of hocus pocus about it being specially designed for each one of us, hibiscus flowers, joss sticks and candles setting the scene for the whispering of this magic word.

And so I began, and found for the first few weeks that I fell into a deep sleep each time I meditated, but I felt ok about that, as they’d warned us that we’d catch up on what they called our sleep debt. Now with some experience behind me, I think that the tiredness which came up could have been the life-time’s effort of keeping feelings bottled up – for meditation, as it relaxes us – puts us in touch with our buried feelings. Then that anger started to rise, and I couldn’t handle the children’s noise. But I persevered, and had had so much practice at bottling up my feelings all my life that the meditation didn’t do too much harm. I remember a friend telling me she’d started meditating too: “I thought it was meant to make you feel peaceful, but I feel so angry.”

Some years later serendipity meant that I helped set up a personal growth movement in NZ, run by a talented and inspired couple who had realised what a powerful and sometimes dangerous practise unsupervised meditation can be ( see Korean policeman). They devised a series of courses designed to handle the emotions and buried feelings that meditation brings up in people. I remember at the end of one weekend a psychologist who’d just done the course, saying that people had cleared in a weekend what would have taken seven years in therapy.

One of the important lessons I learned  was not to treat meditation lightly. I read some comments the other day from people who said they’d given up meditating, they felt uncomfortable and didn’t enjoy it. I felt  sad – because they’d been given a powerful tool and not enough knowledge to use it, a bit like being given a piano and not knowing how to play it.

Meditation was the basis of the courses I did, and on one course, an old woman (she was about sixty, and I was a heedless forty-five) couldn’t settle while we meditated on the first day. As she fidgeted and shifted in her seat, the teacher signalled to me to take her out. We went into a counselling room where she lay on a mattress and I asked a few questions.

She started to tell me about her childhood with the step-mother she hated as much as she felt the woman had hated her. I noticed as she was talking, her right hand was fidgeting, so I suggested that she let it shake as much as it wanted. The hand took over, then her arms, then her whole body, and she shook all the bottled up rage of her childhood out of her body, on and on…  when she’d finished, she was gasping with joy at having shifted this huge burden, her eyes were sparkling, she moved quite differently, and went back to meditation calm and happy.

It was a graphic example of how powerful meditation can be, and why some people find it an uncomfortable experience. In all the great religions in which meditation is practised, it’s done with a mentor, precisely because it is a technique which can’t be treated lightly. It has to be done consciously, with awareness. But if we’re on our own, and aware of what meditation can do, we can start to deal with its side-effects.

When we feel fidgety or have some discomfort, it’s possible to look at where this energy block is. Some people become so in touch with their inner self that they can immediately identify what the feeling is, when they first felt it, what it’s about and then let it go.

Another way of dealing with it is to use something called the pain banishing technique which was very popular in the eighties, and even used in some hospitals, but now seems to have fallen into disuse. It can be used on a head-ache,(unless it’s a de-hydrating head-ache, in which case, drinking is the answer) discomfort in the body, or any sort of physical pain. If it doesn’t work then you need to see a doctor. So when I sprained a knee skiing, it contained the pain for three days until I got to a doctor, but when I fell last year and used it on the pain in my arm it didn’t work, because I ‘d broken it and needed immediate treatment.

The pain banishing technique consists of six questions. The person can ask the questions themselves, or they can get someone else to ask them.

Where is it? This needs to be answered in detail. “On my left leg two inches below the knee, on the left hand side….

How big is it? Sometimes it’s enormous. When I scalded my finger-tips, the pain was ten inches out from my fingers …

Has it got a shape? Has it got a colour? Has it got a texture? … like wire wool, steel, rubber?

On a scale of discomfort from one to ten, where would you rate it?

You do this three or four times, by which time the pain has diminished or it’s gone.

It works because the place that was crying out for attention has got the attention… whether it’s a physical pain or an emotional pain. With a child who’s fallen over, I say “Does it really hurt?” ”Yes,” they’ll answer tearfully. “Is it still there?” You can see them thinking at this point, and then they’ll say “No”, and skip off happy.

Any time a person is fidgeting during meditation, something is coming to the surface, and this is why it helps to have a technique to use if a person is meditating without a mentor. Sometimes even talking or reading about it makes a person feel uncomfortable. It brings up in us what we’ve been trying to ignore all our lives, which is why it often feels disturbing. But properly used, meditation does bring – if not transcendent bliss – certainly peace of mind, a calm spirit, and an ability to find a different way of being, instead of fight or flight.

People have written whole books about it, so it’s presumptuous of me to write this inadequate description. But if it helps explain why it isn’t always easy to meditate, it may have been useful to someone.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I needed a cake to take to a summer gathering, so made my quick standby, a lemon and olive oil cake – a Spanish recipe from Elizabeth Luard, an English food writer who lived in Spain with her children. Take 175 gms of flour, sugar and olive oil, three eggs, a pinch of salt and the zest and juice of a lemon. I also put in some drops of vanilla in memory of my grandmother who put vanilla in all her cakes! Mix everything together, and tip into a greased lined tin – I use a loaf tin. I then add a thick dredging of sugar on the top to cheer it up, and cook it in a moderate oven for forty five minutes or more, or until cooked.

Food for Thought

‘Do you pray for the senators, Dr Hale? ‘No, I look at the senators and pray for the country.’ Dr Edward Everett Hale 1822-1909  Chaplain of the US Senate


Filed under cookery/recipes, great days, happiness, life/style, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

53 responses to “The challenge of meditation

  1. A most excellent post – meditation is in every spiritual practice that I have studied. You probably remember the opening of the Desiderata – “Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence…”

    • Hello Rebecca, thank you so much – as always you are so supportive..
      I had actually forgotten Desiderata, and I love it. Thank you for reminding me – I now go to find the italic copy i have somewhere – if not wonderful Google will come to my rescue!

  2. Valerie! This post came through just as I finished my attempt at a yoga session here at home – the hardest part being silencing the noise in one’s own head! You’ve opened my understanding of meditation here somewhat… and it explains why every night when I’m listening to a series of short meditations I fidget like crazy. Thanks for the explanation. I shall persevere :)

    • Dear Alarna, sounds like synchronicity or serendipity is working for us.
      So glad you found it useful… I was feeling a bit tentative about presuming to write about such a subject! But as always the Universe seems to be onside!.

  3. Describing the pain would be most useful–a doctor will cut someone off or use a chart–i like this much better.

    • Dear Alice – do hope you find it useful. I had a friend who was ward sister for a ward for women under fifty who’d had heart attacks. She used this technique with a form of simple meditation on her patients, instead of giving them drugs – if they agreed – and they all did. They used to leave hospital regularly two days earlier than women in other heart wards.

  4. Nice post on meditation Valerie.

  5. I leaned a lot from this…so don’t sell yourself short…mentor Valerie.I can see where mentoring is important in meditation and thanks you for the pain banishment tips. that makes perfect sense.

  6. A more than adequate description on meditation! Yes, it’s a powerful tool and I feel fortunate to be able to experience and know it’s benefits. I started guided meditations a couple of years ago, and in one of the first classes I anticipated the next moves, so to me that was a sign …
    Also, I love your gourmet snippets and they’re seducing me to go back to my love of cooking. Many thanks

    • Thank you so much for your comments Dianne – so encouraging – Yes, meditation is a gift, isn’t it… So glad you enjoy my little cooking thoughts – just sharing my love of food really – hence the blog on eating and blogging!!!

    • Luck is fantasy like bad karma is just pnneshmiut for sin! Why do you fault the lord for your short comings?Be honest with yourself,have you read and LIVED by mattews 5? Have you fasted? If you apply for a job and don’t get it do you fault the company(non-discriminating)? but its not totally your fault you’ve been misguided like the rest of the world but the worst thing to do is give up your search for whats real because you will die one day..but will you be able to say you’ve tried everything?

    • Not bad at all fellas and gallas. Thanks.

  7. Such wonderful insight and recommendation shared on Meditation, Valerie..I completely agree with you! I also made a copy of the exercise for pain reduction..just great. Thank you. I am going to try to make the Lemon Cake! All my Love to you, Linda

  8. You might or might not know I manage pain without medication, though now I am going to an acupuncturist to supplement. Many years ago I tried meditation, I wasn’t ready! Far to much anger. Perhaps it is time to try again.

    • I used this on someone who came to buy our last house – she had chronic pain from a car accident, and was in a bad way looking round our house. So we did this technique, and her face when we’d finished was a picture! She wrote it down so her husband could do it with her if/when the pain came back… never ever heard from her again, so don’t know how it went in the long term…

  9. Love this post. Meditation has always been elusive for me … is it called “Monkey mind”? …. other thoughts keep invading. Your Pain technique is new to me, and is a huge gift. Thank you!!

    • Thank you – lovely to hear from you.
      What synchronicity that Letizia’s comment should have come below yours… I don’t think anyone can meditate without thoughts passing through… the trick is to simply notice that there is a thought and go back to the mantra… no beating yourself up, just noticing,. and letting it go….and being kind to yourself!
      I always flinch at the words Monkey mind – it’s feels like a judgement or a putdown to both monkeys and to ourselves, and not very kind to either monkey or man,!!!.

    • Monkey Mind – I now have a word for it! :) Valerie, this was a good article. I always felt guilty when falling asleep until I read somewhere that said, when you fall asleep while praying or meditating we are falling asleep in the arms of Jesus. Blessings – Patty

  10. My Buddhist meditation teacher reminds us before and after every lesson to be patient with ourselves when we meditate. And it’s something I try to remind myself of when I start fidgeting; it’s a moment to practice compassion, with ourselves (and perhaps with whoever is making that annoying noise, hahaha!). Thank you for this beautiful post, Valerie.

  11. What a wonderful, instructive post (and thank you for the recipe too!)…GIven that I am writing this whilst in the middle of a migraine, I am about to go focus and ask myself these questions..Thank you Val!

    • Do hope it works for you Mimi. I cured our doctor’s migraine the other day, when we were in his surgery for a dressing for my husband!
      Thank you so much for your comments – so encouraging…(I’m a Valerie, rather than a Val… I only mention it in case it catches on!)

  12. Wonderful article Valerie. Sometimes I shy away from meditating and often wondered why it felt unsuitable at certain times when I have benefited from it so much in the past. I am particularly intrigued with the pain sequence and will give it a try tomorrow.
    When I first meditated, I too felt angry but didn’t give up on the process. Next I experienced extreme sadness to the point of unstoppable tears and yet I still didn’t stop the process. When finally I experienced a calming meditation complete with satisfying results I was so relieved! :) I see now that I have written down the segments that they closely resemble the grieving process…. hmmm

    • What a fascinating comment Lesley, and what a truly remarkable description of the sequence of emotions that meditation brought up for you.. In my experience when I don’t want to meditate, or feel resistance to it, it’s usually my ego not wanting to face what is pushing its way to the surface to emerge in meditation… Everyone’s experience is different and yet the same!!!! Lovely to hear from you …

  13. Fascinating! I have practiced meditation for a long time…mostly to keep myself centered. I loved the pain sequence for heart patients. Mediation, I do feel deeply, is truly a healing.


    • Hello Linda… mediating is such a useful process isn’t it…
      The pain banishing technique is not just for heart patients but for anyone who needs it, , like I described with my sprained knee, or headaches or anything….maybe not for Boomer…!!!

  14. Amy

    Thank you so much for taking time to explain meditation! Do people need to go to a meditation class? Can they practice it on their own? I’d like to try the lemon cake recipe this weekend.

    • Hello Amy… hope you enjoy the lemon cake… about meditation… we all have to make up our own minds, but I would always suggest someone goes to a qualified meditation teacher, for all the reasons I discussed in my post… so often people who try to do it on their own, set themselves up for failure… which is a shame.. It is a skill, and like any skill requires knowledge and practice, and yet I think we all have to decide for ourselves how we go about something like this… so often if we have the intention, the right person appears and is just who we need!!!

  15. Thoroughly enjoyed this post, Valerie. Five of us have begun to meet weekly to meditate – all at various levels and backgrounds. One woman has just become “licensed” after studying under Deepak Chopra so she’s going to share techniques with us. She introduced chakra toning chants at the end of our 30 minutes and it feels like such good completion.

    I adore the quote at the end. I could hear Churchill saying something like that! :)

    • Thank you Amy… Meeting weekly like that must be lovely, it’s a while since I lived near enough to anyone to share like that. The chakra toning must be blissful… I love those sounds, as well as chanting n- another powerful technique! So glad you enoyed the quote – it made me giggle- and yes, you’re right about Churchill!

  16. It took me many, many years of meditation to understand the purpose of the mantra: to engage the mind in a disciplined activity, until it could be calm. I hadn’t of the pain technique before. I’ll have to try that with my sweet husband who suffers from chronic pain. As always, Valerie, what a lovely visit. Thank you! xoxoM

  17. Valerie – what a brilliant post. I’ve had so much come up in my meditation, which I didn’t expect at all and found difficult. Sometimes, I would stop my practice, or try something different – but I was always drawn back in some way. It’s wonderful to read this and have another layer of understanding. My practice is home-made, and none of my friends meditate, so I don’t really know what has guided me, other than a curiosity about freedom and a certainty that this has to be the right path. Even when I can’t feel the path – I am sure that sitting and exploring that is better than giving up. What heart this gives me. What strength.

    • Gabriela, Thank you, what a lovely validating comment, so glad it was useful to you. I think you’re wonderful tackling meditation on your own and sticking with it – it’s actually very hard, and many many people fall by the way. It’s always easier when you know you’re on the path with others, to do it on your own is quite amazing. Congratulations!!!

      • You should build your own ptpecreion of what god is, for example I believe that god is everything and everything is god, we are all one. Nature is equal to god and nature is a living thing ALL IN THEIR OWN WAY, planet earth, sun, flowers, animals or everything else you see are a living thing in their own way. God doesn’t have to be the god we hear about from many religious people. I used to be allergic to the word GOD but with time I have changed my views and built my own view of what god means

  18. I never got into the mode of meditation. To this day, I dare say not once have I put into practice. Um-m-m-m? Never too late for something new :-) Really great post…learned a lot about you which is always interesting and became enlightened by the pain banishing technique. That actually makes sense. Sometimes when I feel a pain, especially if it is something brought on suddenly, a blow to the shin, stumped toe, etc. I just keep telling myself that hurts, it really hurts…seriously, not the opposite. Only a few seconds and the pain is gone. Strange, huh?

    • Dear Sharla, going through old posts today, I found your comment that I’ve never replied to… apologies, my eye wanders a bit from the ball at the moment, what with my husband and the endless hospital appointments and an obessive cyber-bully who’s discovered a vicious way of trying to injure- won’t go into that…Anyway, thank you for your fascinating comments about the pain banishing technique… so the idea really works!!! wasm wishes, Valerie

      • Hi, Val. Well, we are in the same boat with the appointments. I have been traveling back and forth to Mayo Research Clinic in Jacksonville, FL with my husband who has been undergoing massive treatment. We have been going every month since October. It is about a six hour drive so we plan as many appts as we can with each trip. Have seen progress but it has been slow but at least in a positive direction. I do send well wishes to your husband! Sorry to hear about the cyber-bully. Don’t know your circumstances but have heard reports of others experiencing issues. BTW Let me know if my little ‘trick’ works for you (of course, I am not wishing pain on you just so you can try it out haha). I really think it is psychological and diverts, perhaps confuses, the brain! LOL :-)

      • Hi Sharla, so sorry to hear you’re having to do these massive trips, and to know how ill your husband must have been. You manage your blog so well, I would never have guessed you were up against it like I am.. You are wonderful, your blog is always so full of life and vitality and joy…warmest wishes to you both – and the kitty kats…

      • Got to stay positive and upbeat, Val! There are too many out there experiencing much worse than I! Who knows who I may inspire or help with some encouraging words ;-)

  19. I can relate to what you say about meditation bringing up aspects of yourself that you may not have been in contact with for a long time — I’ve explained this to several people who said that meditation doesn’t always relax them and sometimes makes them anxious. It isn’t always intended to be relaxing, although I think in the long term it has relaxed my attitude toward life.

    • Apologies for not answering your comment before, I’ve been a bit pre-occupied with my 83 year old. husband’s illness, and have found a few things I’ve let slip… like this…
      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments… yes meditation is a much more complex experience than many people realise. And I agree with you that the effects are long term, a bit like cleaning your teeth every day, and saving oneself dentists bills! The benefits of Meditation are both short term and long term…
      Warm wishes…

  20. Hi Valerie

    This post came into my inbox a few days ago and I wanted to wait until I had time to read it and think about it properly.

    I started a mindfulness meditation course 18 months or so ago and I have dipped in and out of it since then. Of all the things I have tried to reduce anxiety, yes, I am an anxious person, meditation has probably been the one that helped me most and which I return to most often.

    why? Because it’s simple, even if it isn’t easy. I can remember that, in the midst of turmoil when I am starting to panic and the fear response is kicking in, I can do something to reduce and explore the uncomfortable feelings safely.

    I had good mentors on the courses I did. I may well return at some point but some of it did stick. Regular practice would help, of course, and I don’t make enough time for that, but nevertheless I do remember to breathe, do the body scan and locate the feelings and stay with them until they pass. I had a bad day yesterday, I did take some time to meditate and I do feel different today. For that I am grateful, and to know that “this too shall pass” is a great comfort.

    Kind regards

  21. Good to hear from you Corinne… sounds as though you’re doing all the right things… breathwork – what they call re-birthing or connective breathing is great for getting to the roots of anxiety, and what you’re doing sounds as though it’s helping you.
    Meditating at the same time every day in the same place makes it easier to do it regularly, which as we all know is the best way to reap the benefits!!!

  22. Pingback: The Power to Change (Part 2) | Alarna Rose Gray

    • LOvely post Alarna… following all the twists and turns of the/your way… and getting there!
      At the moment I’m being blocked from commenting on people’s blogs – a hiccup, or have I been a naughty girl, and so not allowed!
      Anyway, this should get through the barrier…
      Thank you for the Pingback… now I know what it is!!!

  23. Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you Mita wonderful metvtadiie experience thank you for not giving up on me!i will definitely see you after the new year love and regards sangita

  24. Yo, good lookin out! Gonna make it work now.

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