There is a beautiful piece by April Resnick on Speculative Non- Buddhism. I’m going to share a couple of paragraphs as it resonates deeply with my experience too. Not only have I used the word “intimate” to describe the experience of meditation, I also have often underscored the difficulties that must be faced in honest and deep contemplation of any kind.
This process over time, though perhaps not explicitly pleasant, does become soothing in some sort of profoundly paradoxical and beautiful way. It is healing.
Right now, for the next few moments, I am interested in talking about the act of sitting. That’s it. And for me, there is no way around it. Meditation is an intimate act. I have rarely heard it discussed in these terms. Still, it keeps showing up for me as an intimate act. Intimacy is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “marked by a very close association, contact, or familiarity.” When I first walked into a meditation hall I was looking for peace. What I found was contact, and it was not peaceful. I was looking for something “spiritual.” What I found was contact, and it was not spiritual. I was looking for something to ease my pain. What I found was contact WITH that pain, and it was not easy. I quickly discovered this was not a soothing act, but one that brought me intimate association with all the things I had dissociated from so long ago. I immediately had a choice: either pay attention or not. I could choose contact with my breath/body/mind/stimuli and its embodied nightmares, or not. It was as simple, and as vulnerable, as that. The choice continues to be this simple for me, up to this very morning’s meditation….
…Once the sitting still is accomplished, the bodily sensations arise. I make the choice to allow myself contact with these sensations. Although it sounds elementary, this is no easy task. I am sure that I once experienced bodily sensation freely, as a child, before bodily dissociation during abuse was the only option for psychological (and perhaps physical) survival. But now, slowly, with each session of sitting I have been able to reconnect to my body in a way that does not evoke hatred, shame, self injurious behavior. I have let myself be vulnerable, let myself trust, and so then I am able to feel the sensation of clothing on certain areas of my skin without screaming. I am able to feel itches, tension, and pain in areas of my body that would have once caused violent self harming. The pulling away from these sensations still exists, but I am able to feel THAT in my body as well, long before they transition to sudden or violent reaction. Each session of sitting, although to different degrees, allows me safe contact, close association, familiarity with the bodily manifestations of being a human, a human struggling with PTSD. I am intimate, familiar now, with the havoc that still reverberates in my body after the abuse. Sitting does not make it less painful; sitting cannot erase the felt sense of the abuse that still arises. But, it does allow for safe contact, a full experience of that pain, rather than the habit of dissociation from it. (read more at Speculative Non-Buddhism)
I also highly recommend that those with trauma histories consider body oriented therapies and meditative practices. As important as it’s been for me to sit in the discomfort of those pains it’s also been important to know when to move those energies through the body. See: Trauma and your body and Meditate while moving — gardening, cooking, walking, etc…
A collection on Beyond Meds on the difficulties meditators might find along the journey: Meditation: not all bliss and roses — from the post: A very common misunderstanding about meditation that can lead to discouragement is that it’s supposed to be all bliss and roses. That is simply not the case on the ground, so to speak. Sometimes meditation is about being with the dark and ugly and anxious parts of our being too. Meditation is about being with the whole spectrum of human psyche and emotion. We cannot know ourselves without becoming intimate with those parts too. That means it’s just not always fun or peaceful or calm to practice meditation. Though it can lead to all those things in time. It can help us learn to live more skillfully in general.