Meditation is an exploration of your inner world: at root, a private affair. Even when meditating with others, as we sit quietly with our eyes closed, we don’t give much away.
In these circumstances it is all too easy to project our own, often unrealistic, expectations onto others: “Other people seem perfectly calm and focused; it’s obviously only me who is distracted. I don’t think I’m any good at this!”. Such sentiments are all too common, and not just with people who are very new to meditation.
So it can be a pleasant surprise – even a revelation - to discover the benefits of sharing experiences with other meditators. This may be all the more so if you have been practicing alone, perhaps using an app or guided practices on YouTube.
Articulating our own experience requires us to attend more closely to what actually happened in a period of meditation. We can notice more than we did at the time: “Now I come to think of it, that gripping in my stomach started up when I thought about a problem at work. And when I was able to soften the tightness, the anxious thoughts subsided”. Experiences of pleasure or difficulty that would normally be missed can be revisited in discussion, sometimes yielding surprising insights. For example, I might feel frustrated by not being able to stay focussed. I might then become aware of frustration as a habitual response that colours my daily life in ways I would not normally notice.
Experiences of pleasure or difficulty that would normally be missed can be revisited in discussion, sometimes leading to surprising insights. For example, I might feel frustrated by not being able to stay focussed. I might notice this as a habitual response that colours my daily life in ways I do not normally notice.
Communicating with other people can bring a broader perspective, especially when they share similar experiences. As we hear someone else judge their assumed shortcomings, the unhelpfulness of a harshly critical attitude may become more obvious. This may lead back to useful reflections on our own ‘inner critic’. Hearing someone else describe a pattern that we can recognise as our own, brings a quality of objectivity to the subject. This clarity may be harder to attain in the privacy of one’s own mind. It can bring relief: “It isn’t just me then!? I thought I was the only one!”. Sometimes this relief can be profound, especially when it frees us from private feelings of shame regarding our supposed failure to ‘do it right’.
The benefits are not only about seeing that, like us, others are not perfect. Hearing someone describe a blissful or insightful experience can also trigger a resonance. Sooner or later, all meditators have deeper experiences of understanding, beauty or peace. Hearing such experiences described by others can be inspiring. Curiously, it may also be reassuring. Even positive experiences may be disconcerting when they are unfamiliar.
But is it always useful to talk about meditation? Aren’t we, after all, intending to quieten the chattering mind? It is not uncommon at the end of a period of meditation to feel quiet and not in the mood for talking. And sometimes experiences may feel difficult to put into words; perhaps even diminished in the attempt. It may not always feel right to try to put things into words.
But providing any communication happens in a spirit of friendly, open curiosity, I believe that for most of us some context for live, personal connection is essential on our meditation journey.