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 https://www.webmd.com/brain/ss/slideshow-conditions-brain, 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.