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Why Does Inner Work Trigger Big Feelings?

Updated: Jan 22

 by Jayada S. Sarela on 20/01/2024

Engaging in regular meditation has been a steadfast part of my routine, with an annual commitment to a 10-day Vipassana retreat. This year's retreat, bridging the transition from 2023 to 2024, unfolded in Amsterdam, a center closet to Liverpool, where other UK centers were fully booked. Surprisingly, I found myself stepping into a new role as the female manager for the first time, an experience that proved to be both challenging and rewarding.

Personally, I have participated over a decade in 10-day sittings, each distinct in its own right. However, this time, powerful currents surged through me, even during the quietude of the night.

Assuming the role of a manager opened up a new perspective, as students entrusted me with their concerns. Whether they sought assistance with physical or emotional challenges, part of my duties involved relaying information to the meditation teacher, tailoring responses to each unique case. While I refrain from delving into specific details due to the public nature of this post and being a meditator and a master in positive psychology , I am eager to explore a fundamental question:

Why do our emotions go haywire when we dive into therapy or immerse ourselves in Vipassana meditation? 

So, here's the deal. When we jump into the world of therapy or Vipassana, it's like turning on a spotlight in the dark corners of our minds. Suddenly, emotions we never knew existed or tried to bury come crashing into our conscious awareness. Trust me; it's like turning on all the lights in a room you thought you knew.

According to Grof (2008), "Confrontation with emotionally relevant material from the unconscious can lead to emotional storms and dramatic swings in mood" (p. 209). Bringing awareness to inner turmoil and traumatic memories activates the amygdala, the brain's emotional center, leading to strong emotional reactions (LeDoux, 2012).

Therapy and meditation create this magical space where all the traumas we've stashed away decide to RSVP to the party. It's a bit like shaking a snow globe—beautiful and chaotic at the same time. Sure, it's cathartic, but it's no walk in the park either.

Furthermore, meditation practices like Vipassana teach nonjudgmental observation of thoughts and feelings. This contrasts with people's typical patterns of emotional suppression or avoidance, which then amplifies emotions when they inevitability arise (Goldin & Gross, 2010).

We all have these sneaky defense mechanisms, right? Repression, rationalization, and the classic dissociation dance. Therapy and meditation? They're like Jedi mind tricks that dismantle these defenses, opening the floodgates to emotions. So, be ready for the flood.

Picture this: therapy and Vipassana as your personal detectives, investigating the crime scene of destructive patterns. They teach us to objectively look at the patterns that tie us up in knots, freeing us from the grip of ego and emotions entwined with our identity. It's like breaking free from an emotional straightjacket.

Goldin et al. (2009) found that while mindfulness meditation temporarily increased negative emotions in depressed patients, it ultimately led to long-term emotional relief by allowing them to objectively process difficult feelings. Research shows that becoming aware of unconscious content through therapy and meditation can activate the brain's emotional circuitry and bring suppressed emotions to the surface, leading to temporary but often necessary emotional chaos on the path towards healing.

Now, let's get energy flowing. Stored emotional blockages in our body's energy system? They decide it's time to vacate during meditation's serene moments. It's like unlocking those blocked rivers, and you'll feel the release – a true mind-body liberation.

Lastly, brace yourself for some deep introspection. These practices unearth a profound self-understanding. You suddenly become aware of truths about yourself that you've been dodging or didn't even know existed. It's like peeling off layers and discovering a more authentic you.

In a nutshell, therapy and meditation are like a spa day for your mind and soul. The emotions that pop up? They're your mind's way of saying, "Hey, we've got some spring cleaning to do!" In Vipassana, if the experience becomes overwhelming, gently return to the awareness of breathing sensations or Anapana, and then resume the practice of Vipassana.

So, embrace the chaos, ride the waves, and with a bit of guidance, let those emotions flow without judgment or attachment. Just observe.

It's all part of the transformative journey. Cheers to embracing the messiness within us!


References Grof, S. (2008). Brief history of transpersonal psychology. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 27(1), 46–54. LeDoux, J. E. (2012). Rethinking the emotional brain. Neuron, 73(4), 653-676. Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 10(1), 83. Goldin, P., Ziv, M., Jazaieri, H., Hahn, K., & Gross, J. J. (2013). MBSR vs aerobic exercise in social anxiety: fMRI of emotion regulation of negative self-beliefs. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8(1), 65-72.

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