Some people would like you to believe that it’s all sunshine, lollypops and rainbows when you’re sitting on the meditation cushion. People often regale the stories of blissful, releasing, or enlightening experiences they have. In my experience, that sometimes happens, but they are few and far between.

My more typical practice starts with the habitual excitement of brushing my teeth, then moves through the whirring of my mind making mental to do lists, then finally sitting down to practice and having a very brief (if any) pass through a moment of calm and peace. 

But here’s what else I know from my almost 20 years of yoga and meditation practice — when I’ve been able to sit with the unpleasant feelings and treat them as a messenger, I am in for a big growth spurt. Those clamoring voices demanding attention always teach me something about myself, about what I need, about how to handle a situation. Often sitting with these things for days, or even weeks, will yield some of my best and most difficult decisions and tough conversations.

There are other times in my practice when some unpleasant frustration, anger, or depression grips my mind and body. I might be ruminating over and over again about a challenging friend, family member, or co-worker. I might be frightened about some new job or task I’m learning. Or some long-buried grief or wound suddenly arises like it happened yesterday.

If you’re just starting meditation, I want you to know that hard feelings, memories, or thoughts may surface for you. That’s OK. Let them surface. Attend to them. Give these thoughts and feelings attention and try to welcome them as messengers, because I guarantee you they have something to teach you.

If many feelings and thoughts come up and become overwhelming, remember that you don’t have to feel all the things all at once. Take your time. Do what feels useful to you. If you need extra support, reach out to trusted support people.