I burned out in a meditation retreat. I started teaching in 1998. I started meditating in 2001. I burned out in 2005.
I was the poster child for meditation. I went to my first meditation retreat, a form of mindfulness meditation, called Vipassana, because someone recommended it for my stress. The meditation technique was intense. It is a discipline of mindful letting go. 10 days of silent meditation for 10 hours a day. After my first retreat, I was hooked. I was calmer. Things didn’t rattle me. There was a buffer between me and the things that stressed me. I loved it. It brought the calm I sought. I made it a point to meditate one hour a day. I even meditated with my class. The next year I went on another 10 day retreat. The next year I went on another.
The day after coming home from that third retreat I collapsed on my bedroom floor sobbing. I could not go back to work, I was wracked with anxiety, paralysis, hopelessness, I felt a terrible constriction. I couldn’t even meditate anymore.
You see, meditation soothes. You can actually be stressed, without exhibiting any of the signs of stress – until it all comes crashing down.
Meditation does not fix the underlying problems as to why you are stressed. It is a tool, not a root cause.
Meditation will calm you. You’ll think more calmly, you’ll react less.
But you need to not just think calmly – you need to think differently.
You need to disrupt the patterns, habits, beliefs that are toxic, limiting and unhelpful to being a happy, productive person. The causes of your stress need to be uprooted. They need to be named, examined and transformed.
What no one tells you about meditation is that it can be a powerful awakener. In Vipassana they refer to it as waves of the ocean slowly washing away the debris, until you hit a huge obstacle. These are karmas. If your meditation hits a big karma – you need to know what to do with it, how to work with it. If you don’t have the right guidance, this kind of awakening can feel like dissolution of self – a breakdown.
I prefer for people to have the awakening without the breakdown. That’s what the Teacher Wellness Code course is about. Unpacking the blueprint of teaching from the toxic culture of teaching and replacing it with an empowered teaching identity and a path to wellbeing. I created the course for that very purpose – you need to wake up from the spell of burnout, not be calm and relaxed in the midst of it.
I’m not against meditation. I actually think everyone should experience a Vipassana 10-day course. Meditation is a healthy practice. It’s a foundational maintenance practice – like brushing your teeth – but for your spiritual life. So is prayer. Yoga can be that way too. I do all those things – but it is not enough.
You can meditate until the cows come home – if you don’t change the underlying structures of teaching around you and within you, you will be in a constant state of burnout, even if you feel calm about it.