How to Handle Everything in Meditation — These are the Principles

Thoughts: Welcome thoughts, even painful thoughts. It’s the brain’s natural sorting process.

Emotions: Accept the review of emotions. You will feel all the emotions you missed or did not complete during the day, week, or your lifetime.

Sensations: You will have thousands of kinds of sensations, and most of them will be side-effects of relaxation. There is no way to relax for long without the body going into a cycle of letting go of built-up tension. So welcome the sensations of relaxation and tension release, and get used to them.

Noise: Noise is no problem unless you decide to make it a problem (see HOW TO MAKE YOURSELF MISERABLE IN MEDITATION). If you can read a paper in a restaurant, you can handle external noise while you are meditating.

When you notice nirodha - the tendency to stifle yourself - just back off from whatever you are doing and notice how easily breathing flows in and out. Notice something that happens without any effort on your part - the world turns, breezes glide along, waves of noise travel through the air.

Read through The Acceptances.

Now, if you want to make things difficult for yourself, no one can stop you, so here:

The Law of Odious Rules

The Law of Odious Rules says, “Every meditator has to invent at least one rule that makes meditation difficult if not impossible.” For example, because meditation is generally thought of as sitting still, some people make up a wiggling is forbidden rule for themselves. If you can’t think of any right now, consult this handy chart:


Sit in uncomfortable postures.
Meditate longer than you want to or need to.
Resist thoughts. Demand a blank mind.
Resist falling asleep.
Sit in a stuffy room.
Choose a tradition or meditation that reminds you of the worst aspects of your childhood.
Don’t listen to your inner voices.
Worry about whether you are being a good meditator.
Try to achieve enlightenment.
Suppress your emotions.
Use a mantra that grates on your nerves.
Worry about whether your chakras are balanced or not.
Resent all noises and sounds.
Wear new, uncomfortable contacts while meditating.
Ban specific types of thoughts, such as sexual thoughts or angry thoughts.

If you are sitting in a group of ten people for a meditation class and the instruction is given, “OK, let’s all close our eyes and find something about our breathing to enjoy,” maybe five to seven people will do something like that. They will find something to enjoy. One person will sit there sort of perplexed, not knowing where to begin. A couple of people will be sitting there scowling. If you ask one of them what he is doing, he might say, “I was trying to block out noise.” Inquiring further, you would find that he was starting to become aware of his breath, then he heard a sound somewhere, then he briefly wondered what the sound was, then he invented an Odious Rule on the spot that he should not hear the sound, then he got angry (or else he was recalling an internalized, angry parental voice) then, disgusted, he returned to his breath. This all took place in ten seconds.

This guy is not going to have a happy time in meditation. His critical inner voice will win every time. Not only that, but it will get to score a hit on him by proving that he failed at meditation.

You, on the other hand, are not getting expensive coaching on your meditation technique. Think of all the money you are saving! But that means you will have to pay a little attention to these things and go a little more slowly. Be alert when you are starting to make up an Odious Rule, and start making fun of it.

The rules can vary from person to person. For one person it may be “You have to make your mind blank,” and for another it might be, “You have to believe in the teacher,” or “You’re not allowed to feel too happy,” or “Mood swings must be controlled.” Sometimes it is just the voice of the Inner Rebel that must be banned, and obliterated with the drone of the mantra.

One way of finding out if you are being run by an Odious Rule you have going is to notice whatever you call “difficult.” If you have any feeling of difficulty at any time during meditation, check in with what rules you have made up. When people say meditation is “difficult” and I ask them to describe in detail what is going on, often one or more of these is going on.

Many thoughts are coming and everyone knows you aren’t supposed to think during meditation.

Some thoughts flash through very rapidly and everyone knows thoughts should obey the “thought speed limit” and move slowly, gracefully, with immense decorum, like a funeral procession.

Sensations in the body are calling your attention and everyone knows that the body is supposed to be numb during meditation.

Tension is being released -- the body is going into relaxation and by contrast the tense areas show up -- and everyone knows that tension is supposed to instantly disappear, like kitchen stains do in TV commercials.

Emotions are welling up and you don’t want to feel them. Everyone knows you’re not allowed to cry during meditation. Or else, “unauthorized” emotions are coming up. This is different for everyone.

What you may be encountering here is your internal manual of meditation. It already knows everything there is to know about everything. Its title is “How to Make Yourself Miserable” or “Meditation Made Difficult.” As you pay attention in an easy way, this contradicts the inner programming about making things difficult.

This tendency is just in the culture. Not everyone has to deal with it right away. All meditators have to deal with it eventually. If the “Made Difficult” instruction set comes up and wants to take over your meditation, just make fun of it. Don’t get into a struggle with the tendency to make things difficult. It’s a tar baby.

When you approach the activity of meditating in a healthy way, you violate all the dysfunctional rules you may have learned along the way: don’t feel, don’t think, don’t wiggle, don’t ask questions, don’t be angry, don’t be sexual, don’t doubt, don’t be a rebel, don’t do it your own way, do it the official way.