How to Integrate Difficult Meditation Experiences?

So you went on retreat, sat for long hours, went through some difficulties, some blissful experiences, and then it happened: you were confronted with some deep darkness that you can’t seem to shake or reason your way out of.

We tend to think that meditation will make us better, but are rarely informed that sometimes, getting better means facing some internal demons. To make matters worse, sometimes teachers have no clear ideas on how to help, or the retreat may end before you think of asking for help. Sometimes, these effects only show up after the retreat has ended.

Traditional healers such as family doctors or psychiatrists often don’t quite know what to make of your predicament, trained as they are in the paradigms of (mental) illness, and less so in the vagaries of spiritual experience.

The important thing to realize is that there is nothing “wrong” with you. When looked at from a critical distance, this deep darkness you’re in the middle of is in fact something you can use to become more aware of the ways in which you’ve been deceiving yourself. It is an effective means towards achieving lasting liberation from the delusions of self-making.

Looked at from this angle, you’re in the process of awakening, and this difficult experience is exactly what you need to work with.

So, how to work with it? The first and most important step is to stop resisting. Stop avoiding or pushing the experience away, and allow yourself slowly, gently to move towards it. To open up to it. To learn from it, study it, get to know it with a curiosity that is supported by and rooted in self-love and acceptance.

After having done this once, you just keep doing it again and again and again, with loving patience, until the resolution and clarity of the deep darkness have become focused and clear. Keep probing it gently, lovingly, until the deep darkness offers up no more secrets, and is revealed as a helpless, fearful part of yourself that is simply crying out for attention. This is integration.

Go beyond it, practicing equanimity – a loving, highly aware, neutrality towards all phenomena – until you reach your first taste of awakening.

If you need help with either of these things, make sure you find a good guide. Someone with at least some experience in navigating this terrain. You’re actually doing okay, you just need to slightly adjust your approach!

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