Special Topics

Fifth Impediment: Meditation Makes Me Very Irritable, and Unable to Settle Down

First of all, we need to clarify that it is not "meditation" that makes you irritable. Instead, meditation helps you identify the causes of irritability.

Feeling irritable and unable to settle down during meditation is a natural physical and mental reaction. While meditating, our body will naturally begin to adjust itself as we sit up straight with our legs crossed. During the process of adjustment, our body may experience feelings of soreness, pain, itchiness, or numbness. Perhaps we would have even more delusional thoughts or feel drowsiness, and agitation could also be one of the reactions arising from adjusting the body to meditation practice.

Why do we feel agitation during meditation? There are many reasons for it. Sometimes agitation may be due to physiological factors, including inadequate rest or excess heat in the body; other times it may be due to some psychological factors, such as accumulated physical or mental issues including interpersonal relationships, our past life experiences, etc. The psychological factors are associated with the long-term accumulation of life experiences, and therefore should be re-examined through our daily activities.

In our daily routines, be they domestic or work-related, we inevitably interact with people, matters or objects around us, which in turn leads to feelings of joy, anger, sorrow or happiness. For example, when a colleague's remark makes us uncomfortable, or an unwholesome thought fills us with guilt, these emotions will fester in our minds unless they are detected and handled in a timely manner. When accumulated, these states will make us easily irritable.

In this regard, the Malaysian monastic Venerable Chi Chern once shared a method of meditation before retiring at night; that is, to meditate without using any method and just simply let your daytime experiences naturally flow in and out of your mind. When a random thought emerges accompanied with feelings of discomfort, in that moment we dont need to hurry to label it and judge it to be right or wrong, good or bad. Instead, we can try to be with that feeling, for it will dissipate if given the chance to show itself.

When facing various strong emotions, we habitually try to suppress them; however, sooner or later, they will erupt. If we can process these emotions in a timely manner, there will be room to reverse their course. We may not always be able to deal with all the emotions on the spot, so let us try this bedtime practice: let every thought that appears in our mind come and go, without trying to suppress them. In doing so, we may rest in peace with a mind free from burdens.

Extended Reading:

Practice Chan Without Vexations

First Impediment: How to deal with leg pains, soreness, aches, itchiness, and numbness while meditating?

Second Impediment: Why do I feel drowsiness and leg pain when practicing in the Meditation Hall, even though everything feels fine during my meditation routine at home?

Third Impediment: Inability to Relax the Chronically Tense Body?

Fourth Impediment: Inability to Stop Unending Delusional Thoughts

Fifth Impediment: Meditation Makes Me Very Irritable, and Unable to Settle Down

Resource: Issue 383 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Photos: Issue 383 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Translation:  Bright Su 
Editing: Cheng-yu Chang (張振郁), Keith Brown