Mindfully Sitting with Shame
Shame surfaced during my sitting meditation. When it first arrived, I wasn’t sure what to do. I wanted it to leave. It was going to ruin my calm meditation! And I was in a group meditation, which increased my discomfort, so I sat, hoping for something else to surface quickly.
Nothing else surfaced. We all sat silent. Shame was determined to stay, and in that moment, I was reminded of the poem, Guest House, by Rumi:
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
And so, I welcomed and invited shame to come sit with me.
Shame wants attention. Shame is very kind as it calls for us to look at it, to give it a moment of attention. It comes with a good intention. It wants to help us in some way.
Allow it to be. Sometimes, shame just surfaces, and that’s all it wants to do at the moment. Maybe shame isn’t ready to fully reveal all that’s wrapped around it — as if shame has layers of blankets, and every time it surfaces, one layer comes off at time, until it’s ready to let them all go.
At some point, it’s nice to invite shame in when it knocks at the door. Shame is one of the most gentle, but persistent, guests. If we can allow it to come in, and maybe take a layer or two off, instead of pushing it back out the door, then maybe we can lighten the heavy load.
Shame is scared and lonely. It’s a part of ourselves that we constantly push away. We keep it out in the cold and refuse to acknowledge it, like a child whom we have disowned. We refuse to give it attention or offer it any kind of compassion or love. This is why shame cries.
We carry shame in our hearts. That’s where it resides. Shame can reveal itself in many ways and it might hurt like a pain in your heart. Pain is good when it comes to shame. It means you feel it, and have allowed it to start speaking. Cold, numb, ignored, or covered shame is not ready to speak, or you may not be ready to listen, and this can be OK too.
Shame seems to be the most sensitive of emotions because each person’s shame is unique. Shame’s feelings get hurt when we are quick to accept and embrace another person’s shame, but not our own.
You have to pay close attention to the needs of shame once it has removed a blanket. Under one blanket might be pain, maybe even physical pain. Under another, there might be sadness. There may be guilt, embarrassment, or anger. What if it throws all the blankets off at once? It may need to speak out loud. Shame needs keen, close attention.
The reality is that it is there. I did this, or this happened, and it is part of my truth. Trying to ignore or erase what is real is not really an option when you think about it. Our only real option is to accept it. Truth is not always easy, but it is necessary at times.
Once shame is accepted, many different things could happen. It might need to keep coming back until it is fully able to sit naked. Shame can carry a sense of vulnerability that somehow turns into a gift of being more authentic. Many of us who meditate long to live a more authentic life, and our shame can be just what we need to do so.
Shame can open our hearts, even if it needs to break it open. During my sit with shame, one of my shameful experiences surfaced and I looked down to notice my hand on my heart, as if my hand was providing some comfort.
Finally, at some point, the presence of shame was no longer with me, and I was left with a deep sense of compassion — for myself, for all of us in the room, and for things deemed shameful in the world. I figured this was a face of shame as well — that somehow, one of the greatest gifts shame will leave on your table (if you invite it in) is true, authentic compassion.
Meyer, L. (2018). Mindfully Sitting with Shame. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 7, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/mindfully-sitting-with-shame/