In a recent Guardian article titled "Mindfulness Is Making Us Ill" by Dawn Foster we are told the story of Dawn recounting her experience in a corporate meditation class. After being instructed to close her eyes and simply breathe she felt a wave of panic and fear overcome her body. Dawn difficulty in her breathing and began to hold her breath and panic continued to washed over her. Understandably Dawns experience was a negative one and she left feeling unsure about the benefits of meditation.
Later in the article Dawn goes on to argue the "dark side of meditation" or negative benefits of meditation go unspoken amongst its rise in mainstream popularity. It's true, A misguided meditation practice can quickly become a scary experience for those who live with trauma and/or anxiety. Dawn is not incorrect in saying that there can be a "dark" experiences in our practice. Within us is the capacity of experiencing joy as well as fear - pleasure as well as pain. A perfect balance. Our practice is to bring awareness to this balance.
It's helpful to first get clear on why we want to begin a meditation practice. To know our "Why" is a fundamental step in understanding what practice will best serve us! For some it may be a relaxed practice incorporating alone time to take a few deep breaths and recenter oneself. If we are seeking more focus in our day to day life perhaps a slow-walking meditation would serve us best or a mindful drawing books will be best suited.
Dawn may have been feeling forced into a meditation practice that simply didn't suit her or her needs. As a teacher it is the utmost priority to make sure the students feel comfortable and empowered to make this shared practice their own. There is no one way of meditating. Depending on our history of anxiety and trauma we may be better suited to find alternative techniques that best serve us. For some that may mean leaving the eyes open and to others it may mean laying down. There are no wrong answers.
Our mental health is a very serious reality and should be treated as such, Especially in our begginning meditation practice. Honoring the dark aspects of ourselves is just as important as emphasising the light aspects of ourselves. Finding a balance between the two is the practice.