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Why can meditation cause extreme negative reactions in some people?

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/the-dark-knight-of-the-souls/372766/

"Britton, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, works at the Brown University Medical School. She receives regular phone calls, emails, and letters from people around the world in various states of impairment. Most of them worry no one will believe—let alone understand—their stories of meditation-induced affliction. Her investigation of this phenomenon, called "The Dark Night Project," is an effort to document, analyze, and publicize accounts of the adverse effects of contemplative practices".

"Psychological hell," is how he describes it. "It would come and go in waves. I’d be in the middle of practice and what would come to mind was everything I didn't want to think about, every feeling I didn't want to feel." David felt "pebble-sized" spasms emerge from inside a "dense knot" in his belly."

I have read this tends to happen when people do too much, too quickly...what do you guys think of this :)?

Comments

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    I'd need more information, really....

    what kind of Meditation are they doing?

    How often?

    Who has taught them, or where and with whom are they practising?

    I would venture to suggest that there are few people affected who have learnt through Buddhism, but again, without knowing the full details of all those in need of assistance, I wouldn't really like to say....

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    OK, I took a look at the article, and to be honest, it seems to be a stumbling block, but need not be the end of their meditative practice....
    I'll be honest, I don't think I am a sufficiently-dedicated meditator to be able to respond to this as concisely as others might....

    Hopefully someone else will comment....
    But so far, for me, so good....

  • EarthninjaEarthninja Wanderer West Australia Veteran
    There are definitely different states of consciousness that can be reached through meditations as well as feeling energies.

    Some people do energy work meditations to elicit unexplainable bliss. I think it's called Kundalini awakening.
    It's energy the rises up through the chakras .

    This has also created intense fear and paralysing of the body. An created what is like an epileptic fit.

    Interesting post. I'm sure these things can happen to people.

    I've had some experiences that were creepy but I had an understanding of what they all about. So I didn't run away screaming.

    People can enter "alternate realities" see their spirit guides. Battle demons... Through meditation.

    Meditation is such a personal unmapped practice.
    Rowan1980Traveller
  • Rowan1980Rowan1980 Keeper of the Zoo Maine Veteran
    It happens. I've practiced guided meditations and felt terror a couple of times many years ago, one of which was PTSD-induced. I'm better equipped these days to handle negative feelings and thoughts that pop up, and I think part of that is from continuing to practice meditation and better familiarizing myself with the concept that we are not our thoughts.
    silverTravellerEarthninjaDhammaDragon
  • I have read this before, read it again.

    Everything mentioned is perfectly valid and worth exploring.

    I could mention people from experience suffering from incapacitating anxiety and depression, trying every conventional treatment and turning their life around through meditation.

    Meditation is strong medicine, therefore potentially toxic.

    Couch potato Buddhism is far more pernicious.

    The problem is the incompetence of self administration and inexperienced teachers. How many here have been through the dark night of the soul as Mystics or Buddhists. I have. Does that make me competent to offer anything more than my experiences?

    Here is a more Buddhist orientated awareness of this phenomenon.
    http://buddhism.about.com/od/becomingabuddhist/fl/Buddhist-Meditation-and-the-Dark-Night.htm

    . . . anyway I am off to whisper 'sweet nothings' to Mr Cushion . . . what will the Buddhas say? o:)

    EarthninjaDhammaDragonRowan1980SarahT
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    I've come across the odd case, it seems to be where the person has a pre-existing mental health issue, and where they are not getting appropriate support from a teacher or sangha.

    lobsterRowan1980
  • OK back from a bit of dangerous meditation . . . :p

    As @SpinyNorman‌ says it is the fruitcakes (a Buddhist technical term) who are most likely to have issues arising most dramatically.

    On the Buddhist psychological spectrum we are all fruit cakes; crazed by samsara, karma and Dukkha.

    Who ya gonna call? Couch potato lamas, few meditation retreat 'spiritual directors', 'I haz bin on de path for fifty years boy' veterans, man with a jet plane on his head (see pic) or far shore residents? What makes you think far shore residents are obligated or capable of speaking the ineffable? I suggest you are practicing delusional fruitcake dharma [too harsh?]

    We are on a path. We are travelling from diversity. There are signposts. There are teachers, teachings and methods. There are dangers [Mr Cushion says watch out for the Crazy Cructaceans] . . .

    EarthninjaRuddyDuck9
  • EarthninjaEarthninja Wanderer West Australia Veteran
    @lobster‌ your link to the dark night of the soul reminded me of when I had an experience. You could roughly call it I Am experience I guess.

    The following two or three days I was completely miserable following that experience. Very depressive.

    It had given me a healthy perspective of just how lucky I am not being in that hole.

    Thanks for the link. It makes me feel that I went through as normal! :)
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran
    edited January 2015

    Like they say in work situations, you don't have to mad to work here but it certainly helps. ;)

    EarthninjaRowan1980
  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    If a person is repressing something painful, meditation of any sort might collapse the compartment. If there's been significant trauma, those memories get stored as emotions but not much else, no continuity with a sequence of events. It makes sense that if they get 'liberated' there would just be excessive terror but nothing externally provoking it.

    DhammaDragonRowan1980RuddyDuck9
  • The issues were allready there the meditation made the practisioner more aware.

    a person should be mentally 'fit' before diving inwards. Major issues should be resolved or they Will become enlarged.
    DhammaDragonDandelionRuddyDuck9
  • DhammaDragonDhammaDragon Carpe Diem Recidivist Samsarist Veteran

    In this age of information overload and 24/7 overstimulation, the one-to-one blind date with oneself that represents meditation proves already challenging to the mentally healthy, imagine what it cannot do to the more mentally fragile.

    We sit on our cushions, we lock out all outer stimulation, we grapple with the ceaseless chatter that pops up unwarranted in our minds, we get acquainted not only with the workings of our psyche, but also with some old material we've been carrying but had totally shoved to the back recesses of our unconscious...

    Some people are not ready to deal with some of the crap that comes up.
    Mindfully sitting in meditation ruthlessly digs up the nice and the ugly for us to contemplate in broad daylight.
    I can imagine that for some people with mental issues of hearing voices or split personalities the meditation experience can turn deconstructing.
    Some people definitely need to do their meditation under strict monitoring.
    To the rest of us, well, it's a point of learning how to handle the experience and keep growing.

    EarthninjalobsterRodrigo
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    I think there is are risks in pretending that meditation is a therapy of some sort.

    EarthninjaRowan1980
  • Rowan1980Rowan1980 Keeper of the Zoo Maine Veteran
    I can see it as being therapeutic in nature, but if there are long-standing emotional and psychological issues and traumas, I would think that relying on meditation alone could potentially be a recipe for disaster.
  • My own opinion is that this is a very one-sided and misleading article. I've read articles in fundamentalist Christian literature almost identical "proving" that meditation causes demon possession. Meditation has never "caused" anyone to flip out or drop out or do anything they wouldn't already be doing in the first place. In almost 30 years of practice, I've encountered exactly zero people hurt by meditation. Well, I did discover hemorrhoids are a problem for people who sit long hours on hard cushions.

    The case history they site as typical of the people whom meditation has hurt sounds like classic late onset schizophrenia. It is, at least, mentioned that the official and unremarkable stand is that meditation can exacerbate some symptoms of pre-existing mental problems. It sounds like this young man's life was about to go off the rails anyway. Meditation had nothing to do with it, and giving up meditation did not restore his troubled mind to normal. To begin with, "my body stopped processing food" because of yoga is pure delusion.

    There is one valid problem, in that schools of Buddhism that involve heavy guided meditation are not cautioning their teachers to recognize when someone shows signs of pathology and trying to get them help. Probably the opposite. Weird stuff is supposed to happen, and instead of "Dude, that's messed up. You've got something going on in your head. Let's get a doctor to check that out." it's "Oh, that your cha fixing itself" or some such.

    I've taught meditation and spent days sitting and staring at walls for most of my practice. I caution my students first day of meditation class, if they want mind trips they're at the wrong place. Meditation is sitting quietly doing nothing. There is no safer thing to do and nothing more boring. Meditation done right is about as exciting as mowing the lawn.

    Rowan1980lobsterfedericaDhammaDragon
  • Rowan1980Rowan1980 Keeper of the Zoo Maine Veteran
    But I like mowing lawns! Riding lawn mower races are fun! :wink:
    CinorjerSarahT
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    @Rowan1980 said:

    I can see it as being therapeutic in nature, but if there are long-standing emotional and psychological issues and traumas, I would think that relying on meditation alone could potentially be a recipe for disaster.

    When I was running the Buddhist group a couple of people came along who had mental health issues. I think they were looking towards meditation as a "cure", but I had to explain that it wasn't really as simple as that.

    Rowan1980Cinorjerlobster
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @SpinyNorman said:
    Rowan1980 said:
    When I was running the Buddhist group a couple of people came along who had mental health issues. I think they were looking towards meditation as a "cure", but I had to explain that it wasn't really as simple as that.

    >

    This is precisely why, whenever we have new members who admit that they have psychological issues posting threads which, in brief, mainly seek assistance on that level, I am always both careful and clear to point out our true basis and reason for being here.

    In fact, I was quick to indicate such a fact in a very recent thread, as I'm sure many of you will recall.

    Rowan1980Cinorjer
  • ^^^

    Indeed.

    You have to realise that 'crazy wisdom' which I half use (I will let you decide which half) works in a very productive but potentially misconstrued way. Even though this is a forum for New Buddhists . . . we are always new . . .

    http://theidproject.org/blog/jeffrey-rubin/2015/01/11/mcmindfulness-craze-shadow-side-mindfulness-revolution

    There are people here who are very down to earth. Good. Grounded. There are people here with their head in the clouds. Mr Cushion has his head up people's ass (so to speak).

    We can move between stories and mind approaches. We must have a good grounding.

    Goatama <> not equal to <> Buddha

    In a similar way we have to leave our lesser, snoozing being and become real. We are not on the path to ungrounded insanity, futile game playing, dharma upmanship etc

    We are here to awaken . . . well us head cases are . . . B)

    Hamsaka
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran
    edited January 2015

    @federica said:

    Yes. What makes it tricky is that sometimes people start to meditate and then all this "stuff" comes up! One example I've heard is "Meditation makes me feel anxious" - but of course what's really happened is that the anxiety has always been there but now they're aware of it.

    lobsterRodrigoHamsakaRuddyDuck9
  • TravellerTraveller East Midlands UK Veteran

    Its funny you know, I don't have any problem with my paranoia arising in meditation, I just let it arise and disband like I try to do with everything else.

    HamsakaEarthninja
  • nakazcidnakazcid Somewhere in Dixie, y'all Veteran
    edited January 2015

    @iamthezenmaster said:
    The issues were allready there the meditation made the practisioner more aware.

    a person should be mentally 'fit' before diving inwards. Major issues should be resolved or they Will become enlarged.

    Actually, I disagree. Meditation really helped my depression. However, it is clear from this thread that meditation is not a cure-all for mental health issues.

    Hamsaka
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    @Lonely_Traveller said:
    Its funny you know, I don't have any problem with my paranoia arising in meditation, I just let it arise and disband like I try to do with everything else.

    That's good to hear, but I think some people do have problems - maybe not having enough experience of meditation to let go of these things.

    lobster
  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    @nakazcid said:
    Actually, I disagree. Meditation really helped my depression. However, it is clear from this thread that meditation is not a cure-all for mental health issues.

    As an old psychiatric nurse, depression or anxiety are well served with meditation, especially guided or structured meditation. There is a difference in magnitude between depression/anxiety and psychotic illnesses, where the person is plagued by hallucinations and has a 'thought disorder' that fragments their rational thinking process. The latter group are prone to deterioration without meds and close medical supervision at least for the first few years.

    The other 'group' that will have trouble with meditation is people with significant trauma be it abuse, war, natural disaster (though less so with that). They are perfectly sane but are victimized by how the human brain processes and stores traumatic memories. Meditation can weaken the defenses or amplify the occurrences of flashbacks and how long they 'last'. Thank goodness there are modern and effective treatments for trauma based mental illness (EMDR, Lifespan Integration).

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