Risks of meditation

Fascinating academic video about people who have breakdown/breakthroughs on meditation retreats. This is a real issue in which people often don’t find competent teachers who know how to help them through. Though there are certainly meditation teachers who’ve successfully helped such people through. It’s very good that people are talking about it.

Appropriately at the beginning of the video she says it may sometimes be more appropriate to call them  “difficult stages” of contemplative life rather than negative or adverse effects. Such breakdown/breakthrough is sometimes part of the contemplative experience.  The need for meditation teachers who are educated and understand the phenomena is very important.  When there is no one to help  it can be terribly frightening and confusing. Right now such understanding is very limited and fear of those who have such issues is common just like in psychiatry.

The “dark night” has been talked about for 100s of years in contemplative and spiritual practice. It was something that people knew something about in monasteries. Contemplative life has moved out of the monasteries today, however and there is a sort of democratization of the spiritual life happening which makes this a more common potential issue among lay people.


h/t Aloha Dharma

The flip side of this phenomena is that retreat centers may sometimes discriminate against those with psychiatric histories in order to try to avoid dealing with people in crisis, while in fact for many with psych histories meditation and a contemplative lifestyle may be a healing and important part of  recovery. Will Hall writes about that problem here in Freedom To Sit: Welcoming People with Psychiatric Labels at Buddhist Retreats.

Ed Knight speaks about discrimination of people with psych histories at retreat centers and the link between spiritual awakening and madness on Madness Radio, here.

As most of my readers know meditation and contemplation has been a very important part of my movement towards well-being. It’s in fact been central. Being aware of ones own sensitivities allows one to move more wisely and safely through all of life.

Another post that features Willoughby Britton’s work here.

MORE INFO: Meditation, not all bliss and roses  (a collection on the risks involved in meditation)


For a multitude of ideas about how to create a life filled with safe alternatives to psychiatric drugs visit the drop-down menus at the top of this page. 

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