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The other side of meditation retreats

KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonderThe Continent Veteran

I came across this article today about how a man went into an intensive meditation retreat and ended up being treated for psychosis after having quite an extreme reaction. It’s interesting because the article does its best to explore the difference between various stages of the meditative experience — ‘Arising And Passing Away’ stage vs ‘Dark Night’ stage — and features short interview sections with various authors who have written about the boundaries of meditative experience and psychosis.

It puts me in mind of a story I had heard about how Zen monasteries treat monks who have these kinds of experiences, which was by having a hut out in the forest where those monks could stay in isolation and silence, and were not allowed to talk to those who brought them their food.

It is a difficult situation, because there is no good solution. Sometimes the right response to these kind of reactions to meditation is prolonged hospitalisation, and that is something that Buddhist teachers running a resort cannot provide.



  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran UK Veteran

    Very interesting. I booked a place on a retreat at Gaia House recently, and they were very clear that you shouldn’t undertake a meditation retreat if you aren’t adequately psychologically resilient. But how can you know that until you try? Seems like a risk that has to be taken.

    Has anyone been on a Gaia House retreat? Are they good?

  • KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonder The Continent Veteran

    @adamcrossley said:
    you shouldn’t undertake a meditation retreat if you aren’t adequately psychologically resilient. But how can you know that until you try? Seems like a risk that has to be taken.

    It’s tough to say. He mentions in his own history that he has suffered from psychosis before, and so knew how to cope. He also mentions the history of a girl aged 24 who had a breakdown with no prior history, and ended up committing suicide.

    So the results of this kind of breakdown can be very severe, even if the chances of it happening are relatively low. And then there are the medications and their side effects to consider, which you might be coping with for many years after the event.

    It’s a personal decision. But you have the choice to avoid retreats where you do 11 hours of meditation daily, and instead opt for one where you do 5 hours with breaks for walking meditation. It might be wise not to push to the breaking point...

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    There are many possibilities and this is just one of many....

    It's possible psychosis is waiting patiently in some, (biding its time) for the opportunity to present itself, and long meditation retreats, for the inexperienced meditator can provide such an opportunity, by taking one out of their comfort zone mentality and into the realms of the unknown...Which can be a somewhat unstabling, mind blowing experience....and where one's patiently waiting psychosis answers the door when opportunity knocks.....

    As with all things ( including meditation ) ....everything in moderation and when the time is right, the mind will gradually open up and let 'Calm Abiding' into its little secrets....

    And from what I gather life itself (if lived right..."mindfully" ) can be one long meditation retreat...and there's no better time/moment to start this mindful retreat than the present there's no rush..... :)

  • Has anyone been on a Gaia House retreat? Are they good?

    I have. Rather I booked the coach trip but they considered me too flaky to attend. I went anyway but not to Gaia House. I did a private retreat in nearby countryside. I lot of my practice involved walking meditation around a tree and mantra to Guru Rinpoche from what I remember. It was great.

    Buddhists are as grounded as the next bunch of varied freaks

    However ...
    I try to stay grounded. That means I leave the flaky stuff to Cod ... and those who run crazy, set fire to their monkish-Ness or follow extreme practices ...

    Be middled, not muggled or muddled by crazed stints of dharma stunts.

    For example, I am doing daily exercise to grind ground the body. Formal sitting is now a right relaxed concentration.

    Stay sane. Develop clarity.
    You have a better plan?

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