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 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 →
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 →
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 →
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.
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’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, 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 →
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 →