Resolving Inner Conflict in Meditation

If you take on a meditation practice and get to the point where you have enough mindfulness that you're never forgetting the breath, even though you still have thoughts wandering around either in the background or the foreground, you've reached Stage Four in the stages of meditation.

In Stage Four, one of the things that can happen is that your mindfulness has increased to the point where hidden inner conflicts suddenly come to the surface.   This can be a bit disturbing—you thought you were meditating to get more focused, or calm, or whatever, and suddenly some anger, frustration, sadness or self-hatred wells up while you are sitting, and you think "what's gone wrong with my meditation?"

Actually, this is an opportunity that your meditation practice has kindly surfaced for you.   The opportunity is to actually resolve that inner conflict that's been there all along, sucking a tiny bit of the joy out of your day, day by day, without ever making itself heard or getting its needs met.

When this happens, you have to evaluate whether it's something you can deal with, or something you need to talk to someone about.   If you have some deeply buried trauma, and meditation just surfaced it, this can be a real problem, and you may need to get some help from a good therapist to deal with it.  Meditation isn't a cure-all.   But most of the time when these things surface they're milder than that, and you can deal with them on the cushion.  Dealing with them requires learning a bit of self-compassion.

There is a tendency when these inner conflicts arise and make themselves known to try to push them back down.   There are lots of strategies.   You can try to bring up happy thoughts, or concentrate harder on the breath, or try to do deep, relaxing breaths.   This can be successful in pushing down the conflict.   If that's what you need to do right now, that's okay.

But what I mean by feeling compassion for yourself is that you should try to notice how you are feeling. You're already feeling that way; now step back and notice yourself feeling that way—instead of being the feeling, be a witness to yourself having the feeling. And then try to develop some feeling of compassion for the person, you, who feels that way. Does this person, you, want to feel this way? Why do they feel this way?

Don't get fixated on getting answers—just try to feel your way into this. Your goal isn't an "aha" moment where you have some deep realization about yourself. It's just to give that emotion space to really be felt, to give the part of your mind that feels that way permission to feel that way and to express itself.

By doing this mindfully, the part of your mind in which this emotion is arising can work its way through to the point where either something will be expressed in consciousness, or the conflict will be resolved in the unconscious mind, or enough progress will be made that the frustrated part of your mind will no longer feel that it needs attention.