Unsettling Images and Feelings in Meditation

Question

Recently when I meditate, I visualize graphic content where I have to shake my head to snap out of it. I feel these visions are coming up from previous jobs and/or lives, bringing up anger and distrust in humanity. This is very unsettling. I understand it is coming up for me to process suppressed emotions, yet it effects how I relate to others. My heart feels impure at this point. How can I overcome this? Thank you God...

—aramati, United States

Answer

Dear Aramati,

The intrusion of subconscious images and memories is one of the side effects of meditation. Our meditation technique and motivation for meditation play key roles in the influence of the subconscious on our meditation.

There are several aspects to what you are reporting, and they bring different approaches. Let me list some of them:

  1. There is value in the instruction that responds to such images with the guidance that says to us, “When negative images appear in the mind, do not react: do not suppress them; simply observe them with a calm, steady mind until they dissolve like fog under the noonday sun.” This instruction can be related to Patanjali’s second sutra: “Yogas chitta vritti nirodha” (The state of yoga comes when the mental and emotional reactive processes are stilled). This practice requires the ability to concentrate deeply without an emotional response. Accordingly, this approach does not always work when the images are overpowering. This is the stoic, or gyanic, approach.
  2. Energy control (karma yoga): This approach, based on raja yoga, encourages the meditator to raise the prana/energy to the higher chakras and thus bypass or lessen the influence of the memories stored in the lower chakras. This approach instructs the meditator to anchor the attention at the point between the eyebrows and to awaken the natural love of the heart in order to raise that feeling upward to the kutastha (point between the eyebrows). Then, when and if negative images appear to the mind, simply hold steady with one’s attention at the spiritual eye, reinforced by devotional pulsations from the heart center upward. Here, too, however, it is important to stay calm and centered in the spine. The more one reacts emotionally to such images, the less control one will have in facing them or transcending them.
  3. Bhakti yoga: The devotional path is greatly helped by the suggestions above, but for some people devotion (alone) is their Ishta Devata or Chintamani. Accompanied by prayer or mantra and offered upward from the heart, devotional fervor, the grace of the Mother, can dispel the gloom of past lives, which are for all people, Swami Sri Yukteswar explains, “dark with many shames.”
  4. General: Transcending hidden subconscious memories should never be a process of denial or suppression. (“Of what avail,” Krishna asks, “is suppression?!”) At the same time, their stored-up energy exists and can be best countered by putting out conscious, intentional, and present-tense energy upward toward the seat of the soul (crown chakra — approached via the point between the eyebrows). A practical view of this is to suggest a multi-level approach to your sadhana: yoga exercises (or Energization Exercises taught by Yogananda — see YouTube or the Ananda meditation app); prayer, including healing prayers for others; mantra and chanting; breath control (pranayama); and silent, inner communion. Supporting sadhana can be daily service in the spirit of nishkam karma (non-attachment to results), spiritual reading and study, satsang with other devotees, seeking the company of saints, pilgrimage to places made holy by the presence of saints and masters, and living according to the precepts of yama/niyama.

Lastly, the only reality is here and now. Calmly dismiss images from the past as easily as you would turn off the television, like a rerun of an old sitcom or Bollywood movie. Respond to these with dis-interest. You can even address them like old friends from whose company you have decided to depart. “Oh, you again! Hey, sorry, I’m just not interested, thanks for the visit, but I’ve got more important things to do.” What did Swami Sri Yukteswar say about the time, as a child, that his mother tried to scare him by saying, “There’s a ghost in the closet”? He marched over to the closet; opened the doors; and guess what? NO GHOST. He concluded the story with the lesson: “Stare fear in the face and it will vanish.”

Okay? I’ve given you lots to “chew on!” Bite it off and chew it (as Paramhansa Yogananda has said).

Nayaswami Hriman