The Disillusionment Phase

Learning to Trust the Meditative Journey

By: Emily Horn

"In meditation, we experience the disenchanting truths of change, unreliability, and selflessness on much more momentary levels. We can see so clearly that whatever arises also passes away, and that the whole cycle happens very quickly. At first this insight is exhilarating; there is a refined perception of what is happening and many of the factors of awakening are coming into balance for the first time. But then fear, and even despair, can arise as we look deeper and see the continual dissolution of both consciousness and its object. Everything seems to be crumbling away, leaving us with no place to stand. If we can stay mindful and balanced in our experience of this phenomenon, even when dissolving objects are not clearly discernible, we come to a profound equanimity, at which point the practice is going on all by itself." - Joseph Goldstein, Mindfulness

Dissolving Identity

If we were to view the meditative journey as an inclination towards healthy wholeness and connection then it may be helpful to keep a few things in mind during the disillusionment phase.

  • Double-bind : The shifting nature of identity cannot be resolved with control, manipulation, or by hiding. At times, there will be conflicting stories and difficult body sensations. We learn to return again and again to the direct experience of what is happening in this moment.

  • Catch 22 : It can feel counter-intuitive to let go of the part of us that wants to achieve goals. Mindfulness practice can, at times, appear contradictory. Especially when the goal of practice is to have no goal . When we let go of the part of us that we thought we were, it shifts us into not knowing.

  • Loving awareness : This journey is not for the faint of heart. Looking in the mirror can be difficult because it is a reflection of what is arising in our experience. It is both mindful and aware. Since it is is non-judgmental reality can be revealed in an unbiased way. It becomes important to combined this wisdom seeing practice with love. This ability can be cultivated and put into action.

Letting Go

"To let go doesn’t mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own." - Jack Kornfield

We let go by unwinding unhealthy habitual patterns. This unwinding happens at different rates, depending on the intensity of the stored experience. Some self-centered patterns are easily dropped, while others require an alchemical mix of modalities such as bodywork, psychotherapy, and meditation.

In the letting go process relationships are also needed. One can practice techniques, but to see the results embodied in another person, provides something unique too. In relationship we can be met emotionally & intellectually by another. Knowing our path, through another’s eyes helps us make meaning and shows us where we’re holding on.

In the disillusionment phase, embodiment can be quite painful since we are working with difficult parts of ourselves that haven’t had enough attention to heal and dissolve. When these patterns do begin to dissolve you are also working to let go of an old identity. We need to be patient and as kind as possible to ourselves.

Self-care becomes especially important during these times. Some of your attention needs to be on what would be good and healthy for you. Some people find that taking long walks, baths, light touch, hiking, and activities that support relaxation support the process of letting go.

Fear, Doubt, & Confusion

Part of what makes it difficult to let go of unhealthy patterns is that we are not usually familiar and comfortable with our emotions. Fear, doubt, and confusion are particularly challenging in the disillusionment phase.

In order to move through these sticky mind states, we need to allow them to arise while staying connected with our bodies. Then we can start to explore the experience. Eventually, even learning to accept that these are a natural part of existence. They can arise and pass with no need to push away, cling to it, or numb out.

Journaling practice: What is your relationship to fear, doubt, and confusion?

How do they show up in your practice? What do they feel like in the body? Are there certain stories that tend to repeat when these mind states are present? What is your breath like when fear, doubt, or confusion is present?

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