An article at DailyMail.com sniffs the edges of "the dark side of meditation."
The shortage of rigorous statistical studies into the negative effects of meditation was a ‘scandal’, Dr Farias told The Times.
He said: ‘The assumption of the majority of both TM [transcendental meditation] and mindfulness researchers is that meditation can only do one good.
‘This shows a rather narrow-minded view. How can a technique that allows you to look within and change your perception or reality of yourself be without potential adverse effects?
‘The answer is that it can’t, and all meditation studies should assess not only positive but negative effects.’
Interesting that "confusion" is a negative side effect. Daily life is confusing, lol. I think that for most people, just following their breath and letting go of thoughts isn't going to be harmful. But the more advanced practices get into stuff that can be, and it's one of the big plusses to having a teacher. Then you have someone to go to with your experience versus being stuck in your living room with no where to go because the article you read about meditation in Yoga Journal didn't tell you THAT could happen.
It's pretty astounding the things that are covered with not only little explanation but skewed advice in things like YJ. There was a recommendation recently taken from a Ayurvedic practice that YJ recommended as a way to burn fat and lose weight...which involves throwing up. Seems like a good idea to recommend in a magazine that "to lose weight, you just need to throw up sometimes." Nope, nothing can go wrong there.
The number of people taking on such practices as meditation and other things based on silly magazines is probably rather high. They are also much more likely (it seems to me) to experience negative side effects because they don't really know what they are doing. Facing yourself when you have been hiding it for years...decades...is scary. If you aren't expecting it, yep, there will be side effects.
I thought of the same thing as karasti in that a teacher might help sort out negative effects of meditation.
Thinking is dangerous. The mind is dangerous. Living causes death (my god who would have thought). Emotions can lead to sensations ... Balance may lead to extreme indifference. People found dying in their sleep ... read all about it ...
Truth to tell, I didn't read the whole article any more than I read articles depicting the meaning of monks' meditative brain waves. A 'scientific' approach to meditation strikes me as iffy at best just as a a woo-hoo love affair strikes me as iffy at best: Either way, in practice, I think something unexpected -- maybe pleasant, maybe unpleasant -- is likely to crop up. And the thing that crops up today is unlikely to crop up in exactly the same dimensions tomorrow. As a result, dissections and proofs are wobbly where science seeks out assuredly replicable results.
Still, I think it's worth keeping in mind that shit happens, in meditation as elsewhere. An idealized view of Buddhism is as hazardous as an unremitting skepticism about it.
Just thinking out loud.
I haven't read the article in whole yet, but it's only 'fair' to go in with the hypothesis there may be negative effects of meditation.
Having a sacred cow (even if it really IS sacred ) is a bad idea all around.
And whatever a study like this comes up with, how many of us here are gonna stop meditating or recommending it?
My knees are totally messed up, thanks to inheriting knees that don't last as long as the rest of the body so I take Naproxen twice a day -- with great improvement! Yet Naproxen has negative side effects to keep in mind and be careful of. So far, it's not bothering me (and it's really helped muh knees!), but KNOWING the downside is vitally important, it could be life threatening if I was clueless (or the doctors were!)
So applying ye olde scientific method to meditation is just smart. It crunches my butt a bit, I mean how could meditation EVER have downsides?? but lets get real here. If we keep meditation a sacred cow we prevent it being studied the way we expect everything else to be studied in our lives.
And, a more 'scientific' approach will make meditation appeal to more people -- like me! I believe there is so much more to be discovered about it. A study is a study -- it will highlight the good and the bad if it's done well, ESPECIALLY if the hypothesis going in is that there are downsides to meditation.
"the downside potential of meditation"
...the loss of self
"the upside potential of meditation"
...the loss of self
A win win situation
I think that the downside potential of meditation is getting
stuck having to write something credible about that subject.
When writing for a titillation rag such as the Daily Femail, it is sensationalism and making one unthink (unless about women's bodies) that is the motivation.
For those trivial dabblers in practice, the undisciplined triviality is the major downside. Meditation discipline is what resides with us through the dangers, arisings, fallings, high lows etc.
There are potential dangers in breathing, sitting still [yes really] but everything has a time and place.
The place for the Daily Mail is the Dharma has bin. Even the most rudimentary search produces better results than celebrity populist 'dharma twaddle'. Too harsh?
and now back to the dangerous news ...
The highly dangerous Middle Way strikes again ...
I will be contacting the news desk immediately ...
So have there been any studies into the negative effects of meditation? I've heard anedotally about a few people having problems, but I think they were people with pre-existing mental health conditions.
It's probably an argument for having contact with other meditators and getting some proper instruction.
@SpinyNorman -- I don't know of any studies, but anyone who practices knows that some days are better than others. The line between what is your average neurotic and what is your certifiably crazy is very thin.
Those who posit that meditation or spiritual life should always be nice and calm and holy and serene can easily find fault with days or states of mind that are not so smooth. "Just be mindful," they croon from the outset ... "or compassionate" or "let go." And of course it's easier said than done and it is at this point that the scientific community may prescribe a pill or a session on the psychiatrist's couch.
I figure everyone is a bit crazy and it is this craziness that helps inspire spiritual practice. But I have also run into the certifiably crazy who are using spiritual adventure as a means of camouflaging the pain ... glossing honest and deep problems over and hoping for a wondrous result dressed up as spiritual insight.
At the risk of being repetitive, here is a small experience I had:
One day, at a seven-day Zen retreat (sesshin), I got pissed. I mean I was really, really angry. Don't ask me what I was angry about -- I don't remember. But at one point, the bell rang and everyone ran to get in line to meet one-on-one with a Zen teacher, Soen Nakagawa Roshi. I didn't know him very well, but I knew him by reputation: He was a heavy hitter in the world of Zen. I was nervous about meeting with him, but not nervous enough to stop being pissed.
Finally, my turn came, I entered the small room where Soen was sitting, I did the ritual bows in front of him and settled on my cushion. We sat face-to-face, perhaps three feet apart.
"How are you?" he asked mildly by way of starting the conversation.
"Shitty!" I replied instantly and forcefully.
"Every day is a good day," he said, using the words of an earlier teacher who gave this as a response to a koan (insoluble intellectual riddle).
And that pissed me off even worse! I hadn't come to him to have some asshole scriptural teaching parroted to me.
Like lightning, I snapped, "Every day is a good day and some days are shitty days!"
And Soen began to laugh. I don't mean one of those oh-so-under-control serene laughs issued by men and women who wish to maintain their control and stature. I mean, really laugh ... as if I had told him the best dirty joke in the world.
He laughed and laughed.
I sat there flabbergasted.
Finally his laughter ran out and he looked me straight in the eye: "You're absolutely right," he said. "Every day is a good day, some days are shitty days AND every day is a good day."
And somehow he had me by the short hairs. There was absolutely nothing I could do ... but laugh.
the downside potential of meditation
There are active meditative forms that aggressively dig within, can have you facing what you are not yet equipped to resolve, and should only be practiced when under the guidance of a skilled teacher.
There are passive meditative forms that only seem to unearth what one is willing to face
and are generally benign enough to not require a spiritual paramedic to be on hand.
There are folks who's own Karma is about to ripen & uncomfortably unfold regardless of their meditation form or if they meditate or not.
So one answer to the question of does meditation have a potential downside is
"no more or less than love does."
The term 'spiritual paramedic' though humorous is exactly right.
Very good post from @how as it illustrates the range of potential within meditation and other meds.
@genkaku - it is so very true that "be mindful, be compassionate, to let go" are easier said than done.
But I love your Zen teacher's words, "Every day is a good day, some days are shitty days AND everyday is a good day."
Years ago, I was crying, alone, at a staircase. A (about 7 or 8 year-old) school girl was climbing up the steps, stopped---- then said "Please don't cry." I nodded my head, smiled and said thank you. She went on her way. Two minutes later, she reappeared, smiling, and passed me a small piece of folded paper, and ran up the steps. I opened the folded paper. In a child's handwriting....
Every day is a happy day!
I still have this precious note.
But it is only now that I understand the full meaning of it.
Yes, some days are shitty. Or maybe, a portion of some days, or maybe a fraction of a day.
Yesterday, someone threw my "meditation cushion" away, when I was not at home.
It was not a "proper" meditation cushion. It's a (15 / 15 / 2 inches) flat foam.
"Thrown" I was told.
Negative feelings arose.
Awareness took awhile, I must say, but as soon as I noticed it.. there are no better ways but..
I had to be mindful... my breath, my every movement in my activities
I had to be compassionate.. this person is angry, does not know how to control/handle the anger.
I had to let go/ non-attachment)... Of my negative feelings/thoughts and my meditation cushion.
With or without cushion, I will continue to do meditation.
OP - downside potential of meditation
let it come...
let to go....
@how - no more or less than love does