Q: I have been getting meditation instruc-tion from my guru for many years. I have a mantra and do breathing techniques. After meditation I feel very peaceful for an hour or two. But when someone says or does something I dislike, I get upset pretty quickly. I do deep breathing to calm down and find my inner peace again. But through the day I am still irritated about the negative incident. What else can I do to deal with my uncomfortable feelings?
A: Meditation can be a very powerful tool to cultivate inner peace and calm. It helps to temporarily get your mind off issues, relax your body, and bring balance. One-pointed meditation, as you are describing, helps you transcend your mind and emotions for a while. But it does not help you look more deeply into your negative and uncomfortable reactions. This is where you need psychological tools. These include inquiring into your feelings without self-judgment. First, identify your feelings. Are you hurt, angry, frustrated, scared, or sad? What made you upset? What are the sensations you have when these feelings arise? Is your skin redder and warmer? Is your heart beating faster? Does your heart feel tender, closed, protective, or open? Are you feeling anything in your belly, neck, or the rest of your body? Are your feelings familiar to you from your family of origin? This method helps you know your emotional experience more fully in the moment.
Self-inquiry is just as important as self-transcendence. Meditation helps your mind become more spacious; inquiry helps you focus and probe into the depths of your thoughts, reactions, and feelings. By understanding this dimension of yourself you have more choices to transform your experience.
Q: Ever since I was a young girl I felt sad, teary, and negative. Even on very happy occasions I wouldn’t feel like celebrating. I talk to my friends and family about this problem, but it doesn’t seem to help. Some people are saying that I might be depressed and should get antidepressant medication. What do you think?
A: First you need to deeply look into what you felt and still feel sad about. Did things happen to you when you were a child that were sad? It may not be obvious such as death, divorce, or severe abuse. It could be subtle, such as important feelings not being acknowledged, or being negatively compared to a brother or sister. When someone violates us verbally or in other ways, we feel hurt and angry. Unexpressed anger leads to depression. If we don’t express and resolve these core feelings, they lead to a generalized sense of depression and anxiety. If they remain untreated, they become an unpleasant part of our personality.
Some symptoms of depression include sadness, lethargy, hopelessness, lack of pleasure in life, sleep and appetite changes, and irritability. Do your parents have these symptoms? Depression also has a genetic or biological aspect, which can be traced through family history. It is best to see a professional such as a psychotherapist or a psychiatrist to help you sort out your symptoms and get the best help for it. If you are prescribed antidepressants, it is advisable to get counseling, so you can understand your issues and work with your mind and body to feel better.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. (415) 205-4666. www.wholenesstherapy.com