Without the following experience, I may never have started my experiential journey of emotional release. Before then it was all intellectual. I had read that emotional release could cure illnesses, relieve muscular pain and other fascinating stories but to me these were just concepts. I had invested myself into those concepts but I had not experienced anything to back up those claims.
So, it was about 7 years ago that I decided to go on a 10-day meditation course in the Vipassana tradition. This was about 3 months after my father’s death but I felt I had healed much through letting go and a lot of my inner stuff was sorted. This was also the third time I had done the course and the previous two times I had gained much through the way of self-understanding and clear focus. As retreats go they tend to be very intensive and concentrate mainly on focusing your attention on your breath and bodily sensations. There is no talking allowed, no books, phones, TV, writing, or anything that involves communication. You cannot distract yourself through external means.
When there are no external distractions then you have no means to suppress and therefore whatever is inside of you will come up to be faced. If you have stored a lot of pain then it’s possible that this will be triggered during your meditations. As a result, the mind, which you are always trying to focus, will start to go into overdrive because the last thing it wants to do is face that which you have spent most of your life trying to suppress. I didn’t really understand this at the time.
I had gone into the course with a vigour and determined attitude to improve my meditation ability. The first two times were good, this would be even better. However, what happened was the exact opposite. I found my mind wandering from the very first day. Even after the fourth day when it was ‘supposed’ to settle down it would still go off on its own, completely ignoring my requests to bring it back to my breath. If this wasn’t bad enough, I also had immense back, shoulder and neck pain. It felt like someone had decided to burn all the muscles in my body with lighter fuel. It was simply excruciating. I had suffered from lower back pain for quite some time but during the Vipassana retreats it was always magnified; every physical sensation was. Injuries that I thought were healed would always reappear during these intensive retreats.
Come the seventh day I had grown truly despondent at my inability to focus my mind. I felt I had gone backwards and my meditation was worse than ever. On this day, I woke up at 4am, had my morning shower and then went off to my cubicle. As I started to meditate all these thoughts about my father started coming into my mind. It was only three months after his death but even still I thought I had cleared most of my emotions. However, this was not the case at all. When the tears came, they came in a tsunami of emotions; guilt, sadness, shame and grief. Anger was there also. Everything all at once. That day I probably cried for about six hours. It was intense and perhaps the most difficult expression of emotion that I have ever been through.
Each time I tried to meditate the same tears came. It was useless or so I thought. Why was I crying so much? I grew more upset, thinking that I wasn’t meant to be experiencing these emotions especially during my meditation. In the afternoon, I went to the teacher during our only Q&A session and told him what had happened and that I thought it pointless to meditate. That morning I got so pissed off with meditation that I was ready to give it up forever. I remember sitting down in front of him and telling him the story of my morning and just waiting for an answer. It would be something like ‘OK then, go home. There is no point in you continuing’. However, he looked me in the eye, smiled and all he said was, ‘It’s good that it’s come out’.
This help me gain a deeper understanding of what had happened. However, it wasn’t until the very next day that I really understood. The remainder of the day was spent in tears and just abject rejection of meditation. I had tried to continue but each time the tears came so eventually I just gave up.
At 4am the next day I began my usual routine. I got up, had a shower, got dressed and went straight into my meditation which was 2hrs long. Surprisingly for me though, I felt a lightness in my chest and in my whole body. However, it wasn’t until I started to meditate that I realised what the true purpose of yesterday’s tears were. I sat down and was amazed to find 95% of the pain in my back, shoulder and neck had vanished. My lower back pain which at that point had being troubling me for about ten years was non-existent. There was still a slight discomfort but nothing like before. Before it was an acute, sharp pain and it was almost consistent in its regular appearance, but now that had gone. My shoulders felt lighter. My neck wasn’t as stiff.
Not only that, but my mind was now quiet. Completely silent. It didn’t move and when I asked it to go to my breath it went there and stayed there. When I asked it to become aware of any part of my body it did so effortlessly. Previously, it was like a radio station that was constantly on but now on this day it was silent. It was an amazing experience to behold.
What I realised then was that my suppressed emotion caused all my physical pain. However, what it also did was increase the chatter in my mind. The emotion had always wanted to be released but the mind, which was not ready for this, needed to turn up the volume to distract me from doing so. It does this for everyone and I think the reason is because any emotion can only be released when you take full responsibility for it. However, the mind is never, ever ready to take on this responsibility. Therefore, the greater the suppressed emotion the more the chatter in the mind. It’s a rule.
One thing that I think it is important to understand is that often when we let go we let go in layers. You may release some shoulder pain and at the time feel it has disappeared completely. However, sometimes it will reappear because there is another layer of emotion that needs to be processed. This doesn’t always happen but it is important to be observant. Physical ailments may return if the deepest layer of emotion has not been addressed.
On that retreat, I gained a true understanding of what I had been reading for the previous three years and it was then that I really begin my emotional release journey. However, one thing still applies that applied then. You must be ready for this and you must really want to let go. This is the key. Often, we kid ourselves into thinking we are ready, but deep down in some corner of our mind we are finding some reason to hold on. That is OK though. Start to let go of the small stuff and eventually you will find the strength and courage to face the larger challenges.