Taking a Break from Life:  Meditation versus Dissociation

    Recently on Facebook,afriend posed an interesting question:  What is the difference between meditation and dissociation?  I find this intriguing.  Here in a nutshell is my answer:  The difference is “Presence.” 

First, what is meant by these two words: meditation and dissociation?

Re:  “dissociation”,   the dictionary describesitas “disunion,” and then “In psychiatry: the splitting off of certain mental processes from the main body of consciousness; to disunite, to separate.”  From the Thesaurus:  “detach, alienate, estrange, divorce, dismember, uncouple….The opposite of dissociate is to fasten, join, unite, tie, combine”. 

     In my general experience, I’d say the word points to various serious and less-serious ways that we separate our conscious awareness from things we don’t want to feel.  This could be small, short, and healthy, such as taking a nap after thinking too intensely, playing a game of solitaire to clear one’s mind,  going for a walk to calm  down.  In trying to calm down, one is present, aware, and consciously trying to change what is going on inside.  While taking these short breaks, one could probably still be consciously in control yet relaxed.  

    Dissociation becomes very different, actually opposite to meditation, the more the conscious mind is stifled. Using alcohol to free oneself from conscious inhibitions, using drugs to numb unpleasant feelings in order to feel good, or using imagination to quiet judgment. pretending to be someone one is not – these are dangerous precisely because we choose to stop being in control and are not accepting ourself.  Our real self is silenced.  Yet, we will be responsible for what our bodies do while our awareness is not functioning.

   In serious dissociation, we are not present.  We’ve checked out.  We’re letting our car drive itself, and we abandon taking care of ourself.

     For “meditation”,  the definitions from dictionaries are generally not up-to-date with the way people use the word today, or even in religions of the past.  The dictionaries generally describe it as examining something deliberately, “ruminating” as a cow chews its cud; it can include the idea of intending to get something specific out of the meditative work.  The Jesuits have recommended meditating on the life of Christ to become more like him.  Hindus have traditionally used Mantras, repeating certain words, to deepen spiritual growth.  Many today might use an affirmation over and over.  Dr. Coue’s “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better” is a famous one.

    Buddhists have brought to the West practices for emptying the mind, to quiet the chatter of the  monkey-mind in our head.  Breathing techniques, or just watching one’s thoughts go by while neither entertaining them nor resisting them, have become popular practices.  In emptying, one does not silence our hurting or confused feelings but one is aware without judgment.  The best meditation I’ve found for undesirable feelings is a method called “Focusing” where we stay in our center and embrace all parts, seeking to know better each voice in our head by listening to their concerns. 

     There is a third and interesting form of meditation consciously practiced by Quakers and intuitively practiced by all “artists”.  This is quieting the monkey-mind in order to receive guidance or inspiration, waiting for enlightenment from Something greater than one’s rational mind.   Friends take meditation a step further than Buddhism, believing that we are each guided by Higher Power, called by a variety of names: God, Spirit, the Christ Within, The Light within, The Seed, The Source of our Lives, The Inner Guide, Which cares about creation and is available to guide us.  Non-Quakers might call this power The Holy Spirit, or Guardian Angels, or The Muse. 

     In Quaker silence and often in artistic work, the purpose of emptying and waiting is to be available to hear inspiration.  Friends carry this further by consciously meditating together.  They await inspiration either for the individual or for the group or for any person in the group. They call meditation “worship” because there is a Presence Which Unifies All added to the group and to the individual.

    Though all these approaches seem different, the one thing meditations have in common is AWARENESS, or PRESENCE.  Sometimes it’s very hard to stay present with ourselves; we’d like to run away!  This may simply be because we’re afraid of making mistakes! We’re tempted to chill out rather than risk going forward in life, unsure of ourselves.  Thinking and reading on letting go of perfectionism and idealism will give us more courage to move forward as best we can and not get stuck on “mistakes.”  Meditating on the naturalness of mistakes will strengthen a person immensely!

    Choosing what our brains or emotions are doing is within our power.  It could be said that this is exactly what defines us as humans!  We are not our brains; we USE our brains. WE are PRESENCES, temporarily in bodies!                                        😊 Marti Matthews