This website addresses some of the serious problems that can arise for some people from mindfulness and meditation practice. However there are many benefits from these practices it is just they are not suitable for everyone all the time. And this is why although meditation practice was one of the triggers for my health problems now that I am able to manage my condition fairly successfully daily meditation practice is an important part of that management strategy.

This comprehensive healthline article, Science-based benefits of meditation by Matthew Thorpe and Rachel Link, 2020, gives some of benefits of meditation supported by scientific research.

However I would also like to give my account of my own meditation experience: the particular benefits I have found over the years.

I first started teaching short periods of silence, billed as meditation, in the yoga classes I taught in the 1980’s. I had become a Quaker in 1976 so was already accustomed to communal group silence as a form of worship. At the time we were bringing up our two children and I was carrying out psychological research about the effects of yoga. The only time I could work on the research was when our children were at nursery. With the hurly burly of family life often the last thing I felt like doing when they were at nursery was focusing on my research; I really felt like sitting quietly with a cup of tea that didn’t get knocked over by toddler arms! However I found a few minutes of quiet meditation before settling to study really helped me focus on the work and gave me really good concentration for doing the meticulous research. I sustained this for several years. Also in beginning to develop meditation techniques I became much more aware of issues to do with mindfulness, this was before the days it became so widely known about, and so instead of breast feeding our baby, reading to our toddler and having a cup of tea I’d just do one of these activities at a time; much better!

In the 1990’s I took some interest in Buddhism attending an occasional session but it wasn’t until 1997 that I engaged fully with a Buddhist group and started practising regularly. I was motivated to become closer to the Sacred and to develop love and compassion. My sights were never on enlightenment as such. One Buddhist teacher I worked with was of the view that enlightenment was more a state of mind rather than a permanent state. This seemed to make some sense to me. During the first four years of involvement I had some very deep experiences of “ Be still and know that I am God” whilst on retreat which gave me a sense of becoming closer to the sacred but much of the experience of prolonged periods of meditation, 8 hours a day in half hour stints on a retreat, was an endurance test though because I was supple and strong from my regular yoga practice it wasn’t so arduous for me but certainly the involvement didn’t contribute to the development of love and compassion. The practice was designed to develop an enlightened state but none of it seemed to make much sense to me. And then in 2001 whilst on retreat I developed serious psychological problems. More details HERE.

I then joined a Tibetan Buddhist group in around 2002. They also had silent retreats but with a much kinder and softer atmosphere. If you really had a need to talk to someone this could be arranged and there was a strong community norm of looking out for each other stemming from a real respect for the quality of relationships amongst people; this was very much an integral part of their path. We were very thoroughly trained in modern constructive communication such as Non-Violent Communication; this was a great boon. The meditation practice was all based around very inspiring and constructive liturgy in English: traditional but very ably translated by our teacher. I certainly learnt a lot about developing a loving and compassionate attitude and how to overcome negativity in your own being. But the most influential effect was becoming more comfortable about just being myself and in particular becoming at peace with just my own company; no longer fearing isolation because the reality is that none of us are alone we are all interconnected. This approach really came into its own in having to cope constructively with lockdown.

But it is in recent years that I have really benefitted from all this quite arduous training. In the last four years because of a needed change in medication the only major problem I have is of a chronic lack of sleep. Because of the brain damage I have incurred from experiencing mania my system is too easily aroused during the night and my natural rhythm is of about 4.5 hours sleep a night; obviously insufficient for well-being leaving you really tired during the day and cognitively underperforming. At present I am working on having better emotional support in my life and tweaking my medication that should help. In the meantime my meditation practice has been a really large factor in coping with this chronic lack of sleep. An hour session of meditation can give me two hours of reprieve from tiredness enabling me to function fully cognitively and is a most welcome break. However it is not matched by just sleeping longer. This I think demonstrates the placidity of the brain. If one system isn’t working it uses another.

But in managing my illness I have experienced a lot of suffering. In recent years I have developed an attitude of acceptance of the permanent damage my system has incurred: see, and in doing this feel able to cope with the situation with greater equanimity and peace. It isn’t easy but there have been spiritual gains. I have had glimpses of the concept of emptiness and of the luminous mind of great equanimity and mindfulness.

In popular culture there is I think a sense of if it is spiritual it is sort of rose tinted, fluffy and delightful. I feel this is far from the reality. The spiritual path is often arduous and difficult as we face our own obstacles to spiritual development. However it is a path worthy of being followed and in facing challenges brings great fruits.


Photo by <a href="">Joshua Woroniecki</a> on <a href="">Unsplash</a>

Online Meditation Groups – Corona Virus Pandemic

Online Meditation Groups – Corona Virus Pandemic

Under the present situation several meditation/mindfulness organisations are generously offering free online courses to the general population.

I am sure they are well intentioned. However as this website shows although meditation and mindfulness practice can be very beneficial, for some people they can trigger severe mental health problems. As providers of such courses we have a responsibility to provide suitable support to any students should they develop severe problems. Under the present pandemic people are likely to be more stressed through isolation and  reduced medical support. This is likely to increase the chances of problems developing for them. I know such organisations often have safeguards in place but I just wonder how effective they would be in dealing with strangers under these extraordinary circumstances. I can’t envisage this being easy and possibly not effective.

In my view it is fine to organise meditation sessions at distance, either through the internet or just being co-ordinated by email/text etc for people already known to you. Having established relationships should be a good safeguard should problems arise for people. If organisations want to reach out to strangers I feel it would be better to have talking groups where you explore how people are structuring their time in these difficult circumstances and in particular supporting them to exercise daily. Some silent contemplation could be incorporated into these sessions to help with putting their intentions into action.

The Cognitive Behaviour Therapy organisation I am training with have produced some excellent guidelines for therapists on coping positively with the present situation. COVID-19 Self Care Guide April 2020.  These guidelines are aimed at therapists but could also be of value to others. The organisation SDS Seminars Ltd,, provides excellent training and I can highly recommend them.  There is also most helpful information from Time to Change (

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)


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


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


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.

Continue reading

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.


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


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


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