QUESTION: I have been developing a more serious meditation practice over the last year, and during two recent retreats with Buddhist monks, I had some very deep experiences, which, for the most part, were pleasant, if not intense (seeing nimitas, etc.). But following this, I have been noticing that when I am just alone at home without any major distractions, I “see” spontaneous images of something bad happening to me, and then when I sit, I sometimes also get images or the feeling of being attacked. When this happens I try to recall positive things about myself, evidence of my good karma, and also connect consciously with the light of the divine, but it is still unnerving. Most of the literature about spiritual experiences talks about feeling warmth and bliss, so I would really like to understand what this is and how best to deal with it.

ANSWER: It is a common misconception that meditation brings about specific experiences, such as warmth and bliss. Although it is possible to feel those things, attachment to them are impediments to remembering fully who we are. Our egos want to feel good, safe, warm. That is how it is wired. Who you truly are is beyond that. Be clear which “I” you are talking from when you say, “I had some very deep experiences”. That is the ego talking. You just had some experiences, no different than watching a piece of art or eating a great meal. Being that it was under a “spiritual” setting, it can be taken as a deep experience and a step towards awakening. What you are looking for is beyond experience. All spiritual paths warn us against attachment to these phenomena, exactly because they can be seductive.

In fact, your “negative” experiences and the fear that they bring up are more useful than the visions, as they show you the unconscious fear that we all have of annihilation. When we work on loosening the knot of the ego through any practice, we have to be ready for a strong and opposite reaction from the part of us that is comfortable with staying asleep. The ego wants things to stay as they are, where it feels safe and does not like change. The meditation practice that you are doing brings up a deep possibility of change. So the ego will try to disrupt it by throwing up all kinds of things. Experiences like the fear of being attacked can be one of those impediments.

Face your fears. Do not fight mind with mind (positive thoughts, affirmations, etc.). Look at these fears and see where their source is. Where are they coming from? Investigate the terror, as you would smoke, until you find the fire. It is not pleasant to sit in that experience, but that too shall pass. This is the work.

Lastly, meditation does make us more sensitive, so it is also possible that you are picking up energies in your surroundings that do not feel safe. Take a recording of a mantra that you like and let it play in your space for a couple of days. It does not have to be loud and disruptive. Let it play softly 24 hours a day, this can do wonders to clear the space. The Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra is one I use daily, and you can purchase a beautiful rendition here.