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2123257808_ea0c2612b1_zYes, myth.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am a HUGE proponent of meditation. Meditation has been scientifically proven to strengthen the immune system, reduce blood pressure and the risk of stroke, minimize pain sensitivity, enhance cognitive function, and even grow a bigger brain. (I think doctors should prescribe meditation, not medication.)

Meditation is the closest thing to a happy pill that I’ve found.  However, there is one misnomer about meditation that I would like to clear up right here and now.  Meditation is not always peaceful.

We typically picture someone meditating with that blissful, other world expressions on their face.  You can just see the peaceful vibes emanating off of them like heat radiating off of the pavement on a hot summer day.

It’s this image, this idea that I think intimidates people so much that they don’t even try to meditate or if they do start, they quickly end up very frustrated feeling as if they are failing miserably.  The actuality of meditation, especially at first, maybe nothing like this picture.

Starting a Meditation Practice Is Not Always Peaceful

When first beginning to meditate, a person is going to wonder what in the heck they are trying to do and if they are doing it anywhere near right. Meditation may feel terribly awkward, confusing,  and uncomfortable, at first.  It brings up all sorts of emotions and issues from the past and present into the current awareness.  It can be emotional, upsetting, ugly – the exact opposite of peace.

When I first started meditating, I’d cry.  And, I don’t mean just a few, dainty tears.  I mean whole body, shoulders-heaving, nose-running, can’t-catch-your-breath, wailing sobs.   I would also have intense anger surface so that I felt the need to scream or pummel a pillow.

Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia, wrote this poem about her initial days of meditation at an Ashram in India:

All this talk of nectar and bliss is starting to piss me off.

I don’t know about you, my friend,

but my path to God aint no sweet waft of incense.

It’s a cat set loose in a pigeon pen,

and I’m the cat-but also them who yell like hell when they get pinned.


My path to God is a worker’s uprising,

won’t be peace till they unionize.

Their picket is so fearsome

the National Guard won’t go near them.” 

This is not typically what you think of when you think of meditation.  I’m here to tell you that this is a normal part of it.  The almost violent regurgitation of emotions is what a person will most likely encounter when first beginning to meditate.

The Real Purpose of Meditation 

The purpose of meditation is to exercise a passive awareness of the mind objectively, become detached from the thoughts and feelings, and observe rather than identify with them.   So, you just let the feelings bubble up – the good, the bad, and the ugly – without labeling or judging them.  I found this ridiculously difficult, at first, as does most everyone, but, therein is the beneficial work of meditation.

Building awareness of and detachment from the thoughts is the basic premise of meditation.  In doing so, at first, all the scum, the past wounds, the old hurts, grudges, and resentments are going to surface.  It can be unpleasant, unsettling, scary, painful, and absolutely no fun to deal with.  BUT it is good work essential to healing emotional wounds and becoming a whole, healthy, happy person.  This is the magic of meditation.

As layers of the shitty stuff are peeled back, you can start to sometimes achieve that goofy grin that goes with glimpses of peace and bliss.  To achieve this serenity can take years of practicing meditation and is not a steady-state by any means.  It’s not as if a person graduates from one level to the next permanently.  When dealing with challenging or emotional issues a person dips back into the work mode of meditation and it can get ugly again at any time.  That is the whole point if you ask me.

There Is No Wrong Way to Meditate

Within reason, there really is no wrong way to meditate.  Trying to meditate IS meditating as far as I am concerned.  To me, any time spent with the awareness and intention to meditate is meditation. A meditation practice is fluid and is always evolving and morphing.  You are learning.  That is why it is called a practice.

I have been meditating daily for over five years now. On some days, my mind is crazy busy and cannot settle down with thoughts emerging like popcorn popping. On some days, I still express emotion.  Just last night, tears rolled down my cheeks during my meditation session.  However, I haven’t experienced the raw, powerful emotions since the beginning of my practice.  On most days, my meditation session is calm, peaceful without much emotion. Kind of boring, but I’ll take it!

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  1. Nice article, Debbie. It encourages me to try meditation again. My problem with meditation is that most of the times that I try I get really sleepy and sometimes even fall asleep. Do you think that’s something that will get better with more practise, too? Or should I rather try a more active kind of meditation or something?

    Thanks and have a nice day! 🙂

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Johnathan, thank you for your comment. I do think that getting sleepy will improve over time. Be patient and gentle with yourself. This is part of the practice…to improve this, but, for now, it is what your mind does. Work with it.

      I find that my propensity to fall asleep has a lot to do with the time in which I meditate. I am not near as prone to fall asleep first thing in the morning as later on in the day or at night. Or maybe try a shorter meditation time period with multiple sessions in one day.

      I say to do whatever works for you. Find your groove. That is where the magic will happen not following some script that some philosophy has dictated. That is a recipe for frustration!

  2. This persecptive really helped clear things up for me.
    I thought it was “just me” and of course that something was wrong that I felt so much sadness..anger..(fill in emotion blank)..I also have had the preconceived notion that I was suppose to feel “blissful,peaceful, instantly happy” if I was doing it “right”! THANK YOU!

  3. Debbie Hampton Reply

    Hey, Angela! I am glad you found it helpful. I have never seen this particular aspect of meditation covered before. That is why I wrote it. It is only my opinion, but, I think that is what matters in meditation a person’s opinion and interpretation of their experience. Be gentle and patient with yourself.

  4. Hi Debbie – I don’t think my meditations have been too emotional. But meditation is a good way to observe the emotions that flood over us. It’s like watching waves pass us by but instead of riding them to the shore, simply watching them go by.

    My challenge is continually having to bring my attention back to focus on my mind instead of what cereal I’m having for breakfast!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Vishnu, you must not have a bunch of emotional crap to process. Lucky you! I like your wave analogy. Exactly.

  5. Hi Debbie!
    This is a wonderful post on meditation! I love how you say this: “Trying to meditate IS meditating” as that’s about where I am – still! I was in the habit of meditating years ago but fell away from it. I remember at the time feeling the way you describe: “When first beginning to meditate, a person is going to wonder what in the heck they are trying to do and if they are doing it anywhere near right.” Thanks for the reminder. I need to stick with it again 🙂

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Lori, thank you for your comment. I think too many philosophies make meditation too complicated and too rigorous. This dissuades many from trying it or sticking with it, I believe. It does not have to be so hard.

      I am back to trying to meditate. I feel that because I have worked through the hard stuff, I am not having the productive meditation sessions I used to. So, it feels too easy and relaxed. But, I tell myself that “it is what it is” and “it is what I need right now . It is meditating.” Some might disagree, but I am all for being gentle with ourselves.

  6. Debbie,

    You’ve painted a very accurate picture of meditation! Through meditation we have the opportunity to “purify” our habitual patterns of thoughts and emotions. It can be uncomfortable at times! But once you get the idea, there’s more space between you and the emotions that arise and gradually we relate to whatever rises with less and less of a sense of pain or suffering.

    People report lots of bright spots along the way in my meditation courses so it’s not all about dredging the pit of our pain! The main point though is not clinging to either the bright spots or the dark ones.

    I don’t necessarily agree that there is no “wrong” way to meditate, but I concur with the essence of what I think you are saying, which is that there are lots of hills and valleys as we learn to meditate. Often, we learn more moving through the tough spots!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Sandra, thank you for your comment. In reading it, it made me think that I have probably not represented the good qualities of meditation very adequately enough in the post.

      Upon reflecting on it, I can think of some “wrong” ways to meditate where a person may do more harm than good. However, I do think that the initial hurdle for many people is to do it “the right” way. My intent was to encourage a person not to let this be an intimidating factor – just to get started and, then, they can worry about technique.

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  8. Thank you for this. Today was my first time trying meditation and I couldn’t even finish…..I was overcome with ugly sobbing! ugh~ Anyway thanks to your article I am encouraged and plan to continue on this new path I am on. I am actually looking forward to purging out this mess of emotion and find my way to clarity.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Jen, I am so glad these words resonated with you and had some meaning for you. I am no expert and some purists would disagree, I have no doubt, but I would say that the ugly sobbing was your meditation for the day. Meditation is not always sitting peacefully with a serene expression. It is whatever you need it to be that day, I believe.

      When I was doing some serious mental and emotional healing, my meditation sessions were messy, emotional, and hard work. I cannot say it enough…meditation IS whatever you need it to be that day. There is no right or wrong here. Only when you have worked through all the shit…and this took YEARS for me…then maybe, just maybe, meditation becomes like the pictures you see of the monks sitting. Even then, you will still have ugly days where you are using the meditation to work through what comes up in your life. In my opinion, that is what it is all about. It is a mental health tool just for that purpose.

      More information on my take on meditation for you: and

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  18. When I first meditated, tears and rage happened to me.

    When describing meditation to a friend I failed to mention this part originally. After having a bad time again and doing meditation I re-encountered it. I feel so much better now.

    • dblhampton Reply

      Steve, I hope you stuck with it. That is part of meditation’s healing benefits. It’s a process. All this stuff will bubble up at first. Then, it only surfaces when something is going on in your life that needs to be felt/expressed. Keep going. That means it’s working! 🙂

      • Chris Bonner Reply

        I am so glad to hear that I am not the only one who has experienced this emotion. I meditated for the first time this evening and tears just started to stream down my cheeks! I was a bit perplexed, and left wondering if it was normal. It felt intensely powerful but also kind of scary to an inexperienced beginner like myself.

  19. I’ve been meditating for decades (not always as often as I’d like) but I still get weepy sometimes. I thought I was weird. Now I know I’m not the only one.

    • dblhampton Reply

      Not weird at all in my book! I really would like for meditation to lose its romanticized image. It’s work. Good emotional and mental work. I know some “meditation snobs” who would disagree. But why put that kind of pressure on ourselves to do something else the “right” way? It is whatever you need it to be and however you do it is right for you….in my opinion.

  20. Thanks so much for the post. I have attempted meditating a couple of times and just felt the opposite of peace – thinking what the hell am I doing and ending up having 3 times more thoughts than usual instead of having none. I kind of gave up because it was so tormenting but noticed how chants got to me fast and clear my mind more “efortless”. Most times I’m fine but listening Japanese “Nothing but everything” put me on edge, feeling hot, stomach tight and crying histerically. Is it possible that the chant actually made me meditate cause it started soon after the chant begun? Or is it some kind of pannic attac? (I never had anything like this on other occasions).

    • I really don’t know what specifically is going on in your case, but I would encourage you to keep at it. The point of meditation is to learn to become aware of and focus your mind. Peace is a LONG way down the road. You sound like you have a lot of stuff to process, and meditation is trying to help you do that. The quiet mind will come later when you have dealt with the all that’s bubbling up, and it will get choppy again when new issues need to be dealt with. Meditation is learning to work with our mind not just some automatic bliss out session. I wish more people would understand that. Keep meditating. You are doing good work.

      • Thank you for encouraging 🙂 At first I was going to quit but now I actually feel better. If there are such strong emotions “hidden” in me, it’s good to work with them. Although I’ve started meditating because of spiritual searches not for relaxing purpose I never expected it will be so hard and so intense, like most I thought it will be just calming and peaceful.

        • Yes yes! Keep it up. You are doing very valuable work. The peace of mind will come. Whatever you feel is whatever you’re supposed to feel and is not good or bad, but it IS good work. Please keep going. It will change your life for the better.

  21. Greetings and salutations just like to express my happiness as a way of dealing with the lost of my child im a beginner but my heart tells me through continues believing and meditation i will honor and the guilt the hurt and feelings may not reside but help me through my days ahead thank you.

    • David,

      My heart goes out to you. Meditation will surely help you process your loss and whatever you feel and do that day is right for you that day. Blessings to you.

  22. Micheal Fults Reply

    This is by far one of the most well written accounts in the practice of meditation. I would recommend these exact words to anyone who is a beginner in the practice. I cannot verbalize the most vivid of my experience while in meditation, yet I can feebly describe a few, here, now. From feeling, hearing, and seeing the universe breathe with me, to the tiny dancing flowing lights that are always there, if we are aware. The cold hard feeling of complete isolation, to the complete release of the kundalini where my entire body resonated with all that is in a vibration so vast, loving, and unintelligible that my arms raised with no effort, and I felt as if I were crossing over into something unimaginable, as the tiny fleeting thought of family passed and I stopped saying yes, and said no, and began my life again, reborn, washed as clean as a newborn baby. The stinging frustration of not being able to achieve that state at will, with thoughts cluttering all perception. The bouncing between complete release and acceptance, and complete resistance, the no, it cant be, I cannot be that infinite everything, to yes, yes I am. in la’kech. Amazing author you are!

    • Thanks much, Michael. I get a little put out with philosophies and people that try to make meditation so complicated. It is what it is and needs to be for each person. Sounds like you have found it to be very valuable and healing for you. Great. I did and still do as well. Thank you again for your kind words.

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  24. Great post, may I ask what kind of meditation are you using [and if/with website] ? 🙂

    • I don’t use any formal one kind. I do what feels right that day. Some days it’s a breath centered practice, some days Tonglen, some days I listen to guided meditations,etc… I would encourage you to do what feels right to you.

      • cool i’ll deff have to open my-self for more options as i was doing only mindfullness in ‘’ and I would like to be open for more visions/types. do you’ve maybe a blog-post you’ve wrote or a link to share where I can learn the most popular types of meditation and explanation about them [tonglen,mindfulness and i think there’s another big one if im not wrong]
        best regards!

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  27. scribbleartie Reply

    I’m here because I tried guided meditation for the second time, and cried like a baby! I wondered if it was normal, but now I see that it is. What I want to know is, what am I supposed to do? I honestly thought I would open my eyes and regain my composure, but I didn’t – i just let it happen and it stopped eventually. Why did it happen and how does it heal? Do I journal about it? I just feel a bit lost as to why I cried for no apparent reason. 🙂

    • Good for you! I would say that you are doing good work in meditation and beginning to feel repressed emotions. What are you supposed to do? Continue on the path. Let it happen. Let your emotions flow. See what they have to teach you. Explore them. It is the healing. You don’t need to “heal” from crying. Crying is the healing. It is not bad…only you put the label on it as “something wrong.” Pema Chodron says “The poison is the medicine.” Your feelings – even pain – are the medicine that will heal. I would advise you to read some of her works.

      • scribbleartie Reply

        Thank you so much for replying – and for the reassurance 🙂 I understand from what I have been reading about it, that crying as well as rage can arise from meditation, and all are perfectly normal. I just panicked a bit as it was so unexpected, because I do spend so much time bottling up and being in control. Regarding Pema Chodron, I have been watching some videos on Youtube, and I have enjoyed them – found myself nodding in agreement at some things she said. I will try to find some of her written work. Thanks again 🙂

  28. Harihar Sreenivasa Rao Reply

    Weeping,laughing, headache que etc., are also the part of initial meditation. The reasons for such things may be due to the biochemical changes that takes place in the body according to bio rhythmic breathing systems depending upon the individual body. Nowadays if one observes own breathing by measuring the time taken for each breath it would be 10-15 counts per minutes. According to medical science every human body requires 24000 litres of air per day. But by breathing 10-15 times per minute it will not be sufficient to fulfill the condition of air and human respiratory system. Hence if you slow down the breathing by systematic way of yogic exercises it will be helpful in increasing the oxygen intake slowly. There should not be any hurdle while breathing. It should be ease and normal. One should wait minimum 3 months by practicing perfect ‘Pranayama” .The period should be before sunrise. First one can practice at home/ yoga kendra examined by the expert in the breathing system. This will help in increasing the health as well as to keep the mind calm and cool.

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  30. Thank you so much for this article. I’ve been trying to meditate, off and on, for a few years now, and almost always have the exact experience you describe: gut-wrenching sobbing. I can be in a perfectly good mood before starting to meditate; it has nothing to do with my state of mind at the time. It has disturbed me for a long time, and I don’t know anyone else who has this experience. At first it really disturbed me. Since then, I’ve been trying to just accept it, but… it’s kind of a drag! It’s good to know that eventually it may stop happening.

    • You are most welcome, Sarah. Do stay with it. Your practice will evolve and morph. Believe it or not, you may even get to where you miss the sobbing sessions. I kind of miss the heavy, emotional meditation sessions. Now, for the most part, they are ho-hum but still good. 🙂

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