Can Meditation Make You Feel Worse?

By Tergar Meditation Community• 3 min read


It Started So Well — What Happened?

When you first begin a meditation practice, you might have a rather pleasant experience – a sense of clarity, or a more settled mind, for instance. However, once you’ve tried meditation a few times, a flurry of thoughts might start popping up – or even a real overload of thoughts and emotions. “Hang on,” you might think, “why does my mind feel worse now? Before I tried this meditation business, I was better off!” And, if you did have that initial, peaceful experience, you’ll probably concentrate on trying to have it again, and feel frustrated if you can’t get back to that wonderful sense of calm. But don’t worry, it’s extremely common for the mind to react to meditation by appearing to overflow with intrusive ideas, associations, feelings, and so on.

Life Beneath the Surface

Think of it this way: if you observe a river during a heavy rain, you cannot see what is under its surface. There’s just too much turbulence; the water is roiled up and muddy. After the storm is over, though, and the river has calmed, you are suddenly able to see all kinds of things in it. Fish, grasses, stones, little snails and insects, shells and sand on the riverbed — so much becomes visible. All those things were there during the rainfall, too, but you couldn’t perceive them. Now that the water is quiet, pure, and clear, you begin to see what is there. It is exactly the same with meditation. Before you have a practice, your mind rushes just as much. But you don’t really notice the content – the stuff under the river — because you don’t have any distance from it. Once you start to meditate, as your mind quiets down, you become more aware of thoughts and emotions as they arise. It can feel like an overwhelming torrent, but it’s actually a sign that you’re on the right track. In fact, there’s even a traditional name for it – the “waterfall experience.”

You’re Doing it Right!

One of the most common misperceptions about meditation is that it means to think of nothing—no thoughts, no emotions. So if you’re a beginner and you find yourself having the waterfall experience, you might assume that you’re doing it wrong, or that you got bad instructions. Maybe you conclude that you “just don’t connect with meditation.” But actually, the opposite is true — the waterfall is the first sign that your mind is beginning to become calm and peaceful. So take heart, because it is something to be happy about!


“Once you start to meditate, as your mind quiets down, you become more aware of thoughts and emotions as they arise.”

– Mingyur Rinpoche –

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More Resources

Can Meditation Make you Feel Worse with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Often when we begin to meditate, we can be overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions. For Mingyur Rinpoche, this arose as experiences of panic and confusion. In this video, Mingyur Rinpoche explains why this is the case.

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About the Author

By Tergar Meditation Community Team

Tergar Meditation Community supports individuals, practice groups, and meditation communities around the world in learning to live with awareness, compassion, and wisdom. Grounded in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage of our guiding teacher, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, our online and in-person programs are accessible to people of all cultures and faiths, and support a lifelong path toward the application of these principles in everyday life.

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