I recently read an article in the Guardian titled, “Is mindfulness making us ill?” I’d like to quibble about the title, but perhaps that is less important than the warning flag the author is waving.
As a long-term student of meditation, I can confirm that there are dangers associated with meditation. “Dangers” is too strong a word for the majority of people’s experiences, but for those few, it’s very much accurate. I myself have experienced psychological upheaval to the point of wondering if I was losing my mind (and did, actually). These experiences occurred while I was immersed in inner work.
While this is not the time to lay out for you the gory details of my dark night of the soul, I will say that when it happened I wasn’t sure I’d get through it. A later but related experience was different and dicey: whenever I got “too aware,” I’d feel like I was losing my breath; like I was going to be “snuffed out,” or “cease existing.” It wasn’t a feeling of pending death, but rather, pending DOOM, more along the lines of The Nothing in that good ole’ film, The Never Ending Story. Happily–with miraculous help–that time passed, and my trajectory continued toward greater awareness unimpeded by DOOM. Greater levels of awareness and awakening continue to be impeded by other factors, but I’ve not felt directly threatened in this arena for a long time now. In fact, the past couple of years have been blessed with a lot of light and well-being as a baseline.
I’ve witnessed at least one person (who was attending a workshop adjacent to one I was in) have a psychotic break: she called the police from the center we were all staying at and said she was being held against her will. When the cop arrived, he was not happy. He commented, “Does she always call the cops when she needs a taxi?” Happily the woman’s husband was able to come collect her and I hope she was able to regain her normal-normal.
At least two other friends have also experienced serious emotional and mental challenges after lengthy yoga workshops. One person, unable to find someone to help her understand the extreme energetic awakening she was experiencing, struggled with alcoholism and depression for years afterward. The other was hospitalized for a few weeks (following a vision quest and then a yoga retreat), and eventually recovered.
I used to (naively) think that of course everyone wants to be more aware, duah! It never even crossed my mind that, offered an avenue toward greater truth and awakening, a person would not fly directly in that direction. But as it turns out, some people do avoid that direction, and you know what? It’s absolutely NOT for anyone else to tell him or her that they SHOULD dive into personal growth this, or spiritual that. There are “dangers,” and that’s just the way it is. Yes, tell other people about your experiences, invite them along, and encourage others, by all means. HOWEVER, if someone is hesitant, leery, or just plain uninterested, don’t push.
The Other Danger
While the author of the Guardian article focused mostly on individuals, a much bigger red flag arose for me in the course of reading it:
“Mindfulness has been grabbed in recent years as a way to help people cope with their own powerlessness in the workplace,” Davies says. “We’re now reaching the stage where mandatory meditation is being discussed as a route to heightened productivity, in tandem with various apps, wearable devices and forms of low-level employee surveillance.” ref
Ok, so well before I get to the “employee surveillance” part, I’m already pissed at the phrase “mandatory meditation.” I’ve been trained in a school where public talks are just that: public talks. It is a specific policy of the founder to never introduce meditation exercises to an unsuspecting audience: techniques are kept strictly separated from the introductory talk. I’ve also seen it happen many times that people have asked him or other instructors at a public address, “Can you give us an example of the kind of exercises you do…?” and the answer is always, “No. If you want to experience the techniques, attend an Awakening the Third Eye weekend workshop…” Further, I’ve heard it said that all participants must expressly opt-in, and not under any circumstances be coerced by anyone–including employers–into attending.
So why is this an even bigger red flag? Because the idea that spiritual techniques could and are being co-opted by corporate interests to facilitate greater revenue is abhorrent; it’s about as abhorrent as marketing to infants, or conducting medical experiments on prison inmates, or the fact that Michigan’s government knew about the lead in Flint’s water for a year before Flint’s citizens were notified. This kind of manipulation will turn more people away from–rather than toward–spiritual learning. A backlash is the last thing we who would like to encourage spiritual education want in this way spiritually-under educated modern world. There is more to this, but I’ll leave it there for the moment.
If you or someone you know needs help in this arena, GET HELP. Keep asking questions of anyone and everyone you can until you find competent support. Not every psychologist is qualified to effectively facilitate your spiritual growth, so keep interviewing potential therapists or groups or what-have-you’s until you feel a click. Then, find ways to check yourself when the inevitable waves of distrust and disagreement arise.
I am not personally familiar with the following organizations, but I hope they might be of use to you.
For more general exploration, visit the Life Like Honey – Spirituality and Personal Growth pages. In particular, though I don’t know if Eckhart Tolle’s work would have had a stabilizing impact on me when I was truly in the midst of a spiritual minefield, his writings and recorded talks have been fundamental to helping me to become more emotionally grounded. Moreover, his work has helped me to establish well-being as a baseline.