Observation of the self – thoughts, feelings and being – is highly beneficial for one’s health. It is also good to remember that, when the feelings are skyrocketing, expression may be the easiest and the quickest way towards healing. These two – observation and expression – are not mutually exclusive, and oftentimes go hand-in-hand.
Observation in meditation can sometimes take us deeply into our unconscious mind. This can be a very relieving and pleasant experience. But the unconscious also carries a great amount of unpleasant, repressed material from our past.
The younger we are, the stronger our defence mechanism, necessary for our survival. Many of the things that happened to us as babies and small children did not get properly processed (expressed), either because of the lack of feeling of safety, or for the sake of accumulation of energy needed to survive. If raised by parents who discouraged, or even punished natural expression of fear, anger and sadness, we are likely to have repressed many experiences and feelings. Later on in life, when social rules impose hiding the “inappropriate” feelings, again we seem unable to let them go. The repressed pain - according to many psychology schools - gets stored in our unconscious mind, and causes continuous problems in our adult life.
In meditation and yoga we sometimes dive into the unconscious mind. Memories may come up, usually provided we are ready to face them. It may be an image, an incident or a sensation. It may be a feeling of being small and helpless, a frustration, fear, or a feeling of not being loved or cared for. It may be the feeling of competition with fellow students, that in fact originates in early sibling rivalry. I have experienced many of these things both in yoga and meditation.
When intense feelings comes up, most spiritual approaches I have come across suggest observing the energy of the memory – it’s full impact - as a witness. This doesn't deny the seriousness of the memory, but it recognises it for what it is: mental concept of something that - however strong - happened in the past. Sometimes this insight can lead to a realisation on a deep, unconscious level that the memory has no real power in the present, and thus lead to healing.
Yet there are times when the memory - especially if relived suddenly in meditation - can be too overwhelming to keep the observation going on. In these instances I recommend expression instead - allowing the feelings to find their output in a safe manner for self and others.
The human body is naturally equipped with a powerful healing mechanism called crying. If in a middle of yoga or meditation practice sadness surfaces for you, for whatever reason, please know that there is no "inappropriateness” in allowing it to be and expressing it accordingly.
Not only is it acceptable, but it is also desirable not to hold back the tears, because the expression may lead you to valuable insights – such as the connection between the present state of mind and events from early childhood. These insights may have a permanent positive effect on your life. What’s more, you may even sense or develop a witness while you are expressing – a nurturing and caring part of you allowing you to truly be, maybe even for the first time. You may also recall and observe the whole process afterwards by yourself, or share it with someone close to you.Ideally there is a caring and understanding person, but we can always be that person for ourselves too.
Coming back to meditation and observation, you may find it easier to centre and meditate with all that junk out of the way. Wrestling with the feelings and not allowing them to surface for the sake of “detached observation” is in my experience way more difficult than expressing them safely. In fact, the detachment from a memory comes to me more naturally after I had allowed the body to release its accumulated energy.
If we had all been raised in an aware, conscious world, the natural functions of the body - especially its detoxifying functions - would have been honoured, not ridiculed. Safe environment would have been provided for the expression of feelings to take place as needed. Feelings would not be suppressed but probably even encouraged. We would have learned from early age that when we feel pain, our body deals with it at that very moment. When natural healthy reaction is allowed, there is no reason for the energy of the pain to be carried into the future.
Observation and expression have been inseparable on my own journey of emotional healing and spiritual freedom. Awakening a non-judgemental observer during and after the expression has offered an enormous support and relief. The observer is often that voice which sums up the whole thing - the trigger into a feeling, the relevant expression, regression and integration afterwards - the realisation that the present pain was offset by something belonging to the distant past.
Each individual is different, and will find their own combination of what works best for them. There is no “one size fits all” rule. Societies evolve, perspectives change, what’s crazy one decade is normal the next. What remains steady however, is the accountability of our inner wisdom. If we are kind, gentle and flexible to ourselves and others – even if only for moments in the beginning – we are coordinating with this wisdom of within, and with the wisdom of beyond. Whether we cry, work, dance or meditate to feel the unity doesn’t matter that much any longer. What matters is HOW we do it – how much awareness we bring into it, and how much we honour it.