The practice of meditation in and of itself can lead to interesting problems that aren’t usually discussed by the love and light crowd. The most common physical side effect is a slightly dizzy, light-headed sensation that makes getting up and resuming your regular routine a bit difficult. That silly little New Age rhyme – Energy flows where attention goes – has a tremendous amount of truth in it. Most meditation methods place all the attention in the head, specifically on the “third” eye. This is the source of most problems, as this inadvertently draws all the energy (or chi, prana, ki, or whatever you prefer to call it) into the head and leaves it there.
Don’t do that. Seriously, you can unbalance yourself and simple activities like driving to work can become extremely dangerous as that floaty feeling can impair your perception. Some Zen sects try to get around this problem by having you look down during meditation. This can create problems with quieting the mind because – according to NLP teachers – that’s exactly where we look when we talk to ourselves. I can verify that when I carry on extended conversations in my head as to why the Director’s Cut of Batman v Superman is superior to the theatrical edition, I tend to look down and slightly to the right.
On the psychological side, meditation strips away the masks you use to hide your truth away from the world. I say “your truth” because that’s all you have really. Obsessing over finding a universal, external truth that applies to all people all the time is a chief cause of human misery. You’ll either end up a bitter cynic or a religious loony. You’ll have to find a way to interact with others or waste time chasing illusions. The person you previously believed was “you” is far more expansive than you can imagine. Some of the goals you’ve spent years pursuing may lose their appeal overnight. Meditation forces you to drop your illusions and be more real. “Real” may not be what you expect. I’ve always prided myself on my grumpy countenance. Discovering a deep compassion for people underneath all my grouchiness was an annoying surprise. Imagine Darth Vader heading home to Mustafar, stripping off his intimidating armor, and reading bedtime stories to orphans.
We’ve all heard that one of the goals of meditation is to dissolve the ego. In this case, ego can be defined as the socially learned self, the “you” you’ve been developing since childhood. But, as the late Dr. Glenn Morris observed, what we consider our self is really just a mask we put on to face the world. The mask manifests as a constant stream of dialogue running through our minds at all time. An Internet meme possibly backed up somewhere by actual scientific research claims that the average human being has over 50,000 thoughts per day (I’m willing to bet over half of my thoughts are “Do I want tacos or pizza?”).
Who “you” are is far more than what you realize. Most of us place a tremendous amount of artificial restrictions on what we can and cannot do. Meditation offers us glimpses of a greater reality that we’re plugged into, but usually can’t see. The so-called “higher self” is a portion of ourselves that exists as pure energy and has a perspective that encompasses all of time and space. The “you” that spilled coffee on yourself on the way back to your desk and the “you” that has an unobstructed view of eternity are the same being, just on different levels. Meditation helps bridge the gap.
This may change aspects of your life that you’ve spent years on. I’ve seen Type-A people collapse from the energy wasted on trying to get ahead and suddenly take up painting full-time. Goals that were materialistic in nature are usually the first to go. It’s not that you no longer want a nice house or car, it’s just that those things become what you acquire as you pursue your goals, not the goals themselves. It’s hard to work for people you don’t trust or like, which makes the accumulation of wealth an interesting challenge. The realization that that there is a part of you that is eternal can be both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. The only thing you can do relax and enjoy the ride. Don’t stop, no matter how strange things get. The rewards are worth the rocky journey. Nothing worth doing comes easy.
While you’re dealing with the psychological ramifications, it helps to keep the physical symptoms in check. There are numerous grounding techniques out there. Here are the ones I use most often:
1. Keep Your Tongue Up – The first step in creating a more balanced meditation state is to place your tongue on the roof of your mouth, right behind the front teeth. This little trick isn’t discussed much outside of Taoist circles, but it really helps. Taoists state there are two energy channels in the torso; one running up the back through the spine, and another running down the front of the body. The tongue acts as a bridge to keep the energy from getting trapped in the head. Now, whether there is a scientific reality behind all that is beside the point. It works and you should always keep your tongue up while meditating.
2. Contemplate Your Naval – at the end of every session, focus all your attention down around the area around and slightly below your belly button. This area is referred to as the lower Dan Tien and acts as a storage facility for energy. Picture a ball of energy and circle it around your naval. Mantak Chia recommends 36 times in one direction and 24 in the other. Any time you feel light-headed, focus all your attention on your naval. You can also safely focus on the back of your knees and your feet.
3. Punch It Up – Most folks who follow a warrior mystic path (i.e. practicing meditation/energy work AND some form of combatic martial art) have fewer side effects than people who just meditate. The reason is that sometimes the only way to get rid of excess energy and ground yourself is to beat the living hell out of a heavy bag or grab a training partner and enthusiastically beat the snot out of each other.. Any strenuous activity will help though; weight-lifting, running hard on a treadmill, etc.
4. EAT! – probably the recommendation I get the most resistance to; heavy, starchy foods can go a long way towards getting those weird energy rushes to subside. I like a nice steak, mashed potatoes, and buttery rolls, but really anything that gives you a full, stuffed tummy will work to ground your body in physical reality.
You can, of course combine the above in interesting combinations. If your health prevents you from performing strenuous activities, simply going for a walk and focusing all your attention on your feet can work wonders. There are more advanced grounding techniques out there, but the above are the most easily and immediately applicable. If you’re getting too light-headed after mediation, slow down or stop for a bit.