Debra Haverson Psychotherapy Services LLC

Helping you find clarity, harmony
and greater contentment in your life


Meditation and More:  Part II
Relaxation, Meditation, Psychological and Spiritual Development – Some Clarifications


When people find out that I meditate regularly, many assume that meditation is primarily done for relaxation and stress management. There’s often some curiosity and a statement about how they really could use a way to get away from their stressful busy lives. A question follows, something along the lines of: “Meditation would help with this, wouldn’t it?”    
The answer is not a simple yes or no. For those first learning to meditate, I teach them to work with their breath, because the inhale and the exhale is always there and because just the act of stopping all else and noticing it can calm our body and mind – whether we are sitting cross-legged on a cushion, in line at the supermarket or about to have a difficult conversation. Meditating just occasionally will not bring calm into your life anymore than the occasional visit to the gym will make you physically fit. Creating time for meditation regularly, however, will allow you to watch what the mind is doing and bring some awareness to how the busy activity of the mind makes external events feel more stressful.
Can this make you more peaceful?  Let me just say that I do believe meditation is beneficial regardless of the answer.
Certainly with the right effort, determination and guidance from a teacher, feeling more peace and equanimity can be the long-term result. In the short-term, however, you may feel calm and peaceful while meditating, then become just as angry an hour later when the kids are nagging or your boss sets an unrealistic deadline. But even that initial hit of the much-needed calm is not guaranteed. After all, it depends on what’s going on in your mind – and if the mind is filled with tension, anxiety, depression, regrets, guilt, anger or a host of other difficult emotions, then calm is going to have difficulty showing up.

In other words, when you finally slow down enough to watch your own mind activity and become a bit more conscious, you may not like what you see. You may even have the thought, “I must be going crazy,” but rest assured that the constant mental noise is probably always there beneath the surface – not just in your mind – but in most people's minds. Often, the first things you see, leading to the first insights that arise, are psychological issues. Certain types of meditation, ones with a strong concentration component, can let you self-soothe while bypassing the psychological. If small islands of inner peace are all you are after, then no problem; but if you want a deeper kind of peace, spiritual awakening and genuine joy, then you will most likely have to begin or revisit some psychological work.

Unresolved psychological issues are a major impediment to spiritual development. They keep a person’s gaze focused on the external circumstances – including relationships – and this makes it extremely difficult to experience genuine joy and contentment. Even if you meditate regularly, without healing old psychological wounds and seeing through unconstructive behavior patterns, progress will remain limited. One of three things can happen.  First, you may calm down in a way that’s a healthy form of soothing yourself. Secondly, the insights that arise while praying or meditating may truly be spiritual insights and bring a degree of inner peace.  In themselves, these are a step towards spiritual, emotional and physical health and well-being. As mentioned, however, when you return to daily life, events or people will still upset you emotionally. The third thing that can happen is that instead of actually meditating, you will really be psychoanalyzing yourself or having repetitive processing of thoughts and emotions about difficult experiences.

There are constructive ways to use the external situations (such as job, relationships, illness) in your life to grow spiritually; however, if you haven’t learned to recognize and heal psychological issues, you can only grow …. so far. Therapy can help you organize, process, and change the content of the mind and the behaviors that contribute to dissatisfaction with your life. Then during the awareness of meditation or mindfulness, the mind can observe clearly identifiable mental objects and simply notice, “Oh there’s --------- again” instead of replaying dialogues and stories and trying to make sense of them.
So, can meditation make you calmer?  Yes, with time and with effort, just like all those other things you’ve been told to do often and for the rest of your life – like healthy eating and regular exercise. Meditation can help you develop the internal strength and resiliency to find life more satisfying, no matter what the circumstances.       

© 2008 Debra Haverson    

© 2011 Photos by Rebecca Haverson



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