Why Meditation Can Make You Angry & What To Do About It
It's the end of a long day or a long week. You decide that it's time to put down your yoga mat, light incense, lower the light, and sit to meditate. And there you are, just when you think you are about to enter into that peaceful abyss, you suddenly find yourself getting irritated and impatient.
And unfortunately, these annoying thoughts that stem from criticism from your boss, a fight you had with your spouse, or that jerk who cut you off on your commute home can grow bigger, louder, and more commanding the longer we sit in silence. Rest assured that becoming angry while meditating is quite a common experience.
So, why am I becoming angry during meditation?
Our bodies hold on to almost everything that happened to us over the course of a day—pleasant or unpleasant. And neuroscience tells us that unfortunately, our brain is hard-wired for a negative bias. That means we tend to hold on to the unpleasant things more than pleasant ones. Just think about it: If someone gives you 10 compliments and one insult, what sticks around longer? This bias activates what I call in my book, The Power of Vital Force, the "anger spectrum." It can lead to regret, guilt, and blame unless we nip it in the bud. Here are four ways to do it.
How to work through the anger mindfully:
1. Don't fight it.
Meditating is kind of like cleaning out your closet. But instead of looking through your clothes and finding things that are old, ill-fitting, and outdated to free up some more space, you're looking through the storehouse of memory.
The only way to create space in the closet is to first become conscious of what you don't need and what isn't working for you. Then you simply pick it up and let it go. That's exactly what we do in meditation. We're becoming conscious of what we're holding on to so we can make room for the peace, the calm, and the happiness we seek.
The trick is: Don't fight the negative emotion that is coming up in meditation. It's a sign that you are noticing what you've outgrown and don't need to hold on to. Appreciate that the anger is coming up so that you can empty and release it and create space in your mental hard drive.
2. Be grateful.
Building off of Step 1, tell yourself, "Oh! Meditation is working. I am getting rid of what was stuck in some corner of the mind-body complex. I don't need it." Reframing your anger in this way can be a powerful way to strip its power over you.
3. Understand that the thing you're angry about is in the past.
Remember that anger, impatience, and irritation are all about something that has already happened—something that is dead and gone physically and is now simply rearing its ugly head in your mind and body. You can't change what has happened—but you might be able to learn a lesson from it. You'll know that's happened once the situation loses its electrical charge, and you can now talk about it and share it calmly. If the charge behind the situation or person isn't gone, then it could be a sign you haven't yet learned the lesson. So, during meditation, if some unpleasant emotion continues to come up, tell yourself, "This is over. It's dead and gone."
4. Breathe through it.
And finally, don't forget, take a breath. Breath has the ability to energize your system, which is exactly what we need when we are angry or upset. The answer to dealing with our emotions, transforming our perceptions, and gaining back control is right under our nose. So the next time you find yourself getting angry or impatient during meditation, take a deep breath and imagine yourself releasing the negative emotions on an exhale.
Rajshree Patel is a meditation expert, self-awareness coach, and author of The Power of Vital Force: Fuel Your Energy, Purpose, and Performance with Ancient Secrets of Breath and Meditation. Over 30 years, she has conducted 40,000 hours of coaching on the power of meditation, mindfulness, and breath work for organizations such as Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce, Lyft, NBC Universal, LinkedIn, Gap, The World Bank, Shell Oil, Morgan Stanley, Harvard University, and MIT, among others. She has also started 600 meditation centers worldwide. Before Patel began her meditation and coaching career, she was a prosecutor, obtaining her jurist doctor of law degree from St. John's University School of Law. She is based in Los Angeles.