Dark Night of the Soul

Dark Night of the Soul

By Damcho Pamo

Dark night of the soul - meditation difficulties
St. John of the Cross

The concept of the Dark Night of the Soul, Noche Obscura del Alma, was first developed by St. John of the Cross. He was a Spanish Roman Catholic friar and priest of the Carmelite Order who lived from 1542-1591. His exposition of his poem, The Dark Night of the Soul, which he wrote while imprisoned, became available in 1619. His essential view was that our true nature is God and that through denial, attachment and clinging this truth is obscured (obscura) and we enter into the Dark Night of the Soul. Continue reading

Jared R. Lindahl, Nathan E. Fisher, David J. Cooper, Rochelle K. Rosen, Willoughby B. Britton. The varieties of contemplative experience: A mixed-methods study of meditation-related challenges in Western Buddhists. PLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (5)

Summary

This study looks at meditation-related experiences that are beyond health-related outcomes such as experiences that are challenging, difficult, distressing, functionally impairing and/or require additional support. The qualitative data collected was based on interviews with Western Buddhist meditators. The interview questions probed meditation experiences and influencing factors including interpretations and management strategies. A follow-up survey provided quantitative assessment of causality, impairment and other demographic and practice related variables. The results showed that participant interpretation and responses to the experiences differed considerably, ranging from very positive to very negative and the associated levels of distress and functional impairment ranged from minimal and transient to severe and enduring. This study aims to increase understanding of the effects of contemplative practices and to provide resources for meditators, clinicians, meditation researchers and meditation teachers. Continue reading

Shapiro, D. H. (1992). Adverse effects of meditation: a preliminary investigation of long-term meditators. International Journal of Psychosomatics, 39(1-4), 62-67

Summary:

27 long term meditators were studied before and one month and six months after a retreat. 17 (62.9%) reported at least one adverse effect 6 months after the retreat and 2 (7.4%) suffered profound adverse effects. The paper discusses the implications for personal and spiritual growth. Limitations of the study and suggestions for future research are also offered. Continue reading

Lustyk, M. K. B., Chawla, N., Nolan, R. S. & Marlatt, G. A. (2009). Mindfulness meditation research: issues of participant screening, safety procedures, and researcher training. Advance, 24(1), 20-30

Summary:

This paper discusses research safety in relation to Mindfulness Meditation (MM). In this paper recommendations come from consulting 17 primary publications and 5 secondary reports/literature reviews of meditation side effects. In this field of MM mental health issues are the most frequently reported side effects followed by physical health then spiritual health consequences. For each of these categories of potential adverse effects the paper offers MM researchers methods to assess the relative risks of each as it pertains to their particular research program.

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Kuijpers, H. J. H., van der Heijden, F. M. M. A., Tuinier, S. & Verhoeven, W. M. A. (2007). Meditation-Induced Psychosis. Psychopathology, 40, 461-464.

Summary:

Kuijpers, van der Heijden, Tuinier and Verhoeven (2007) reported on a male patient who after meditating experienced a psychotic episode. Further study revealed that this was not an isolated incident. The examples found included both those with a pre-existing psychiatric history and those without. The researchers suggest that meditation could act as a trigger in vulnerable patients. Continue reading

Lazarus, A. A. (1976). Psychiatric problems precipitated by transcendental meditation. Psychological Reports, 39, 601-602

Summary:

Lazarus’s study (1976) concentrated on Transcendental Meditation. It concluded that while the practice was shown to be beneficial, this was not universal and could initiate psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia and was therefore not suitable for everyone. Continue reading

Lomas, T., Cartwright, T. Edginton, T., Ridge, D. (2015). A qualitative analysis of experiental challenges associated with meditation practice. Mindfulness, 6, 848-860

Summary:

Lomas, Cartwright, Edginton and Ridge (2015) interviewed male meditators. Analysis of the results showed that, while beneficial for most, a quarter of the data revealed significant difficulties. Meditation for some is a difficult practice to learn, giving rise to challenging thoughts and emotions. Conditions such as depression and anxiety were made worse in some cases and psychotic episodes triggered in others. Continue reading

Yorston, G. A. (2001). Mania precipitated by meditation: a case report and literature review. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 4(2), 209-213

Summary:

This paper reports a case in which two separate manic episodes arose after meditation using techniques from two different traditions (yoga and zen). Other cases of psychotic illness precipitated by meditation and mystical speculation reported in the literature are discussed. Continue reading

Panic Attack and Depression

 A women when she was 22 years old experienced a panic attack followed by depression after following  a Mindfulness course.

To all those who are considering mindfulness meditation, I would like to tell you that I wish everyday of my life that I had not agreed to practise it. My experience with mindful meditation is perhaps the opposite of what you have heard. It is one that precipitated and I believed caused my depression and anxiety. It provided the opposite of its touted benefits. Continue reading

Re-experiencing Trauma and Relapse of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Summary: A 38 year old British women, whilst on a silent Mindfulness Teacher Training retreat, re-experienced trauma and had a relapse of OCD symptoms

My history with meditation and contemplative practice feels quite long. All through my primary school years, I used to visit with the nuns in the local convent who taught me to meditate in stillness on the Tabernacle. In times of adversity in childhood and in adolescence, I always knew how to find this “still place”: the watching place. I found it a great source of comfort, often sitting in silence in nature during troubling times.  At 19, a few short months after a particularly traumatic event, I took my first retreat – two days teacher led and seven days within a retreat setting which I found quite healing. Continue reading