04/01/2014 05:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Meditation vs. Talking Therapy


There's an old saying: "Least said, soonest mended." It's no longer heard very often. The expression, "The least said the better," is still used but in a very different context to the one that was originally meant. There was a time when people agreed that talking about things did not make them better. That indeed discussion about a disagreement or problem would only make it worse. There was the belief that a bad situation could be more quickly forgotten if people stopped talking about it. These are no longer popular notions. Monstrous abuses have been kept secret by victims too afraid to speak out. Some secrets are toxic. Talking in these cases is imperative.

But what about in our everyday lives, with our day to day neuroses and insecurities? Everyone wants to talk about their problems. There are talk shows devoted to it. Does it help? Not always. Endlessly talking about our feelings can sometimes keep us stuck in the very feelings we're trying to process and move on from.

In my own experience I have been to many counsellors and therapists, and I spent years in 12-step programs. They've all been helpful to a point. I was shocked to discover though, at my first silent meditation retreat, that events that I had talked through with these therapists, counsellors and 12-step sponsors, situations that I thought I'd gotten over, I had indeed not recovered from. In deep meditation I discovered they were still there. Not gone, just buried. Meditation breaks down the wall between the conscious mind, the mind we think is in control, and the unconscious mind that really is driving everything we do and think. Our conscious mind keeps us busy and distracted with beliefs, justifications, blame, causes and solutions. It works things out, it comes up with answers and then we think we're done and move on. Not so. It's a shock to realize how little power our thinking minds have. The power lies beneath. If we are willing to stick with it, to really do the work, then meditation can show us how unconscious conflicts are processed and recreated in the mind on a moment-to-moment basis. I've had realizations when I've been meditating that I never would have had from a lifetime of talking and with further meditation have been able to process them and finally let them go.

It's surprising then that Jungian critics claim that meditation is regressive, fosters dissociation and neglects the unconscious. This is countered by other theorists who contend that meditation may help access to previously unconscious material and transformative insight into emotional conflicts. A recent study has shown that meditation rivals other specific therapies such as talk therapy. The study focused on mindfulness meditation practiced for 30 to 40 minutes a day. This type of meditation emphasizes acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment.

What to believe then in a world of contradictory thoughts and theories? Perhaps it is time to go beyond thought, beyond theory and into the world of the experiential and give meditation a try. You have nothing to lose because there's one benefit no one can deny -- meditation is free.

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