Mental health risks of meditation?
Jundo's blog recently linked this PDF file debunking Ken Wilber. When I read it, I noticed there was a section (in Chapter IV) on the negative side effects of meditation.
I'm not quite sure where this data came from? I think it was a few late 70s/ early 80s TM studies? Maybe? (I had a bit of trouble understanding this eBook.)
Long-term meditators reported the following percentages of adverse effects: antisocial behavior, 13.5%; anxiety, 9.0%; confusion, 7.2%; depression, 8.1%; emotional stability, 4.5%; frustration, 9.0%; physical and mental tension, 8.1%; pro-crastination, 7.2%; restlessness, 9.0%; suspiciousness, 6.3%; tolerance of others, 4.5%; and withdrawal, 7.2%....
Does anyone know of any recent information on adverse effects of zazen? Because I'm a little confused now. :?
Re: Mental health risks of meditation?
Originally Posted by paige
I need to speak from personal experience and common sense on this (I am not a psychiatrist, I just play one on TV). I would say that particularly intense forms of meditation, seeking supposed 'special states' under extreme conditions (for example, locking someone in a sensory deprivation tank for hours, subjecting a person to intense pressure to 'realize' in a multi-day retreat, cult-like techniques of sleep and dietary deprivation, and the like) could easily bring about some or most of those symptoms in most or all of us. No doubt. Also, some very susceptible people, with egg-shell personalities, will have particular negative reactions just as a result of very gentle meditation. Anyone leading a Sangha that holds retreats needs to be able to recognize when someone is having a bad reaction, and to deal with it. I myself have felt various degrees of depression, anxiety, paranoia and the like during a long Sesshin, although it all quickly passed in my case. I have seen some people have seriously bad reactions in retreats where I have been sitting (fortunately, very rare).
On the other hand, ANY activity if done to excess (for example, running or jogging) will trigger the identical reactions in people (I have known runners who were addicted, and exhibited many of the above symptoms when they needed to 'withdraw' from the running habit).
Now, with regard to the benefits of meditation, study after study has shown that the psychological (and physical) benefits are much clearer and prevalent than any such risks (again, just like running and jogging done in moderation). That is particularly true, I believe, for types of meditation that have a basically relaxing effect as opposed to those seeking extreme emotional states or which involve a hard pushing for 'attainment' (Yes, Paige, I could make a comment about Koan meditation in some extreme 'your hair is on fire' forms ... not perhaps the gentle forms you describe at the Ch'an temple).
The book you are looking at is most interesting for its description of the cultish behavior that can form in groups teaching Eastern religion and philosophy. It is a good description of the cult of personality that can build up around a 'Guru.' (It is one of the reasons that I am working very hard to keep Treeleaf down to earth, the claims of what we 'seek' through our Zen practice 'magical' for being so ordinary, and the personality of the teacher as that of a clown and 'bozo on the bus' ... ). I recommend that EVERYONE interested in Eastern philosophy and religion, and involved in groups, read for example Chapters 9 and 10 of the 'Norman Einstein' book. Also, PLEASE have a look at this blog with writings from folks who escaped from the mind games of the Andrew Cohen cult:
These are written by insiders, and show the mentality that creeps up in so many of these groups. Buddhist groups, and even Zen groups, can go exactly the same way (It happened at San Francisco Zen Center in the 'Shoes by the Door' days of Richard Baker). (You posted a check-list of cult behavior a few months ago, and I will look for it).
I keep things around here down to earth and make few silly claims about what we are doing here. At least I try. I believe that the ordinary IS 'magic', that not seeking for special states IS a special state, that being at home right where you are IS finding nirvana here and now. If you ever find me pulling any of the psycho-babble crap or guru stuff or other cultish activity described in this book or that blog, please call me on it right away and make your escape from here. I will give you your money back (by the way, I will never ask for any).
By the way, Kelly M, you should also read criticisms such as the following of the TM cult in its more 'advanced' stages. That does not mean that it applies to the local group in your town.
Again, if you find any of that around here, call me on it.