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Thread: Negative effects of meditation?

  1. #1

    Negative effects of meditation?

    Howdy!
    I've noticed this article making the rounds; some version of it has appeared on my radar from many different publications. I thought I'd submit it to Treeleaf's hive mind and see what happens. My take, upon reading the article, is that it seems like negative effects are already there in most people, and they just get noticed more in meditation. That jibes well with my own anecdotal experience; when I was practicing acupuncture, my patients with PTSD, severe anxiety, and other such things would report being unable to handle meditation because of it, until they'd gotten a handle on some of those issues.

    https://www.newsweek.com/meditation-...e-been-1422008

    Gassho,
    Kyōshin
    Satlah

    Sent from my Pixel using Tapatalk

  2. #2
    Seems to me that meditation is a mirror. Sometimes a particularly intense one. Unfortunately most meditators don't have a teacher who can help with this.

    Sent from my Pixel using Tapatalk
    "Heaven is right where you are standing, and that is the place to train"-Ueshiba Morihei

  3. #3
    This feels like non-news for anyone who has been meditating for a while. I am constantly surprised by the things that surface while sitting. I have learned (and continue to learn) to not attach to them. I can certainly see why this would be a turn off for anyone believing and hoping that meditation is an opportunity to escape or bliss out. That’s not why I sit.

    Thanks for sharing the article


    Tairin
    Sat today and lah
    泰林 - Tai Rin - Peaceful Woods

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Victor View Post
    Seems to me that meditation is a mirror. Sometimes a particularly intense one. Unfortunately most meditators don't have a teacher who can help with this.

    Sent from my Pixel using Tapatalk
    Yes exactly! IMHO a teacher is so important.
    Even the most benign of medicines can have unexpected adverse effects. Some Zen centers screen would-be practitioners pretty intensely now to make sure they are able to cope with long periods of Zazen, both physically and mentally. At ZMM I had to first do their introductory weekend, and then also have a phone interview with one of the monastics prior to enrolling in Sesshin.

    It gets easy after awhile to forget how difficult it is sometimes for a novice sitter to begin learning to look directly at what is in their own mind. Itís not just mind theater yet, itís still real and true to them.

    Gassho
    Jakuden
    SatToday/LAH

  5. #5
    Eggs are good. Eggs are bad. Eggs are good again. Wait maybe they are not. There is always an alternative view and with the internet we are inundated with every thought. Seems that folks have been meditating for thousands of years and some still do it. All this said with a little humor embracing my brain. My takeaway from the article...if if works for you do it. If it doesnít donít.

    Gassho
    Doshin
    Stlah

    PS...I live and worked in a very conservative World. I remember 30 years ago while riding around in some state, for some reason, my colleagues got on a rant about meditation and how it was so ďnot ChristianĒ thus not good for ya. I never shared with them that I did it (now and then) nor did I defend it, I was not interested in changing their mind,
    Last edited by Doshin; 05-11-2019 at 01:37 PM.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Doshin View Post
    Eggs are good. Eggs are bad. Eggs are good again. Wait maybe they are not. There is always an alternative view and with the internet we are inundated with every thought. Seems that folks have been meditating for thousands of years and some still do it. All this said with a little humor embracing my brain. My takeaway from the article...if if works for you do it. If it doesn’t don’t.

    Gassho
    Doshin
    Stlah
    Lol! The egg debate drives me crazy especially now that I had a stroke. I have chickens and always have a fridge full of eggs! But guess what, my LDL is 48 now even with the egg consumption: the miracle of Statins! 🥚 🍳
    Gassho
    Jakuden
    SatToday/LAH

    PS Sorry I know thatís not relevant to meditation. But an important issue nevertheless 😂

  7. #7
    "The researchers didn't assess possible pre-existing mental health problems of the participants." Really? It didn't occur to them that this might be something to consider? Junk article.

    Gassho
    STlah
    James

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by James View Post
    "The researchers didn't assess possible pre-existing mental health problems of the participants." Really? It didn't occur to them that this might be something to consider? Junk article.

    Gassho
    STlah
    James
    You have no way of knowing this.

    Gasho, Jishin, _/st\_

  9. #9
    Treeleaf Unsui Geika's Avatar
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    This comes up from time to time. Anxiety can cause me to really focus in on every little trigger inside the body, and sometimes zazen can exacerbate this. With anxiety itself I learned to basically ignore these triggers over time, and eventually zazen followed.

    Gassho

    Sat today, lah
    求道芸化 Kyudo Geika
    I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Jishin View Post
    You have no way of knowing this.

    Gasho, Jishin, _/st\_
    Jishin,
    I have no way of knowing what? That the researchers did not assess pre-existing mental health problems of the participants? It clearly states that in the article.

    Gassho
    STlah
    James

  11. #11
    A couple of comments from looking at the study, and also having read some similar reports of recent years. Here is the full study:

    https://journals.plos.org/plosone/ar...l.pone.0216643

    The "unpleasant experiences" here are defined as:

    Participants were asked ... the following question regarding particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences: “Have you ever had any particularly unpleasant experiences (e.g., anxiety, fear, distorted emotions or thoughts, altered sense of self or the world), which you think may have been caused by your meditation practice?”. The term “particularly unpleasant” was chosen over other potential labels (e.g., adverse, aberrant, negative, challenging, unwanted), which we evaluated as more likely to predetermine the value and significance (or lack thereof) of the experience and nudge participants towards theorising about their experiences. ... Approximately one quarter of participants reported that they had encountered particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences (e.g., anxiety, fear, distorted emotions or thoughts, altered sense of self or the world) in the past.
    That is a wide range of "unpleasant!" A little fear, a little anxiety, a little sadness or an old unpleasant memory arising even once while sitting would all be included, and even then, for only 25% of participants. The test results say:

    Our data did not provide any indication of the exact type of experiences or their severity and impact.

    There is another scholar researching the negative effects of meditation called the "Dark Night" project.

    https://www.brown.edu/research/labs/...ive-experience

    However, it is my general belief that most truly extreme and powerful negative psychological and emotional states would arise from highly concentrated, intense, very long or focused forms of meditation seeking to give rise to unusual and radically altered mind states. The Shikantaza we sit is rather relaxed, "ordinary mind", low-intensity in style, so I believe that triggering truly extreme negative mental states is unlikely in the way we sit. However, one still needs to be careful for some particularly fragile or sensitive individuals.

    Thus. I advise people that mild sadness or anxiety that might appear once in awhile is just something to experience and let go. It too shall pass. Old memories or emotions bubble to the surface in the quiet of sitting. If an experience is truly intense, break off sitting. If that happens regularly, STOP sitting ... talk to a teacher about not resuming, it may not be right for you. Other issues are likely at work, and they are manifesting in the sitting. However, my experience with Shikantaza is that such people are rare. The handful of times that someone has reported deep anxiety or the like from sitting, I have advised them to give up the practice and seek counseling from a mental health professional for the anxiety, and to only resuming meditation with that professional's encouragement and approval. That has been rare.

    However, for a little passing sadness or the like, something that just pops up now and then which does not particularly feel like something too hard to handle, I would just take it as more scenery passing on the journey.

    Gassho, Jundo

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 05-11-2019 at 07:49 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by James View Post
    Jishin,
    I have no way of knowing what? That the researchers did not assess pre-existing mental health problems of the participants? It clearly states that in the article.

    Gassho
    STlah
    James
    It was assessed. They told you so.

    Gasho, Jishin, _/st\_

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Jishin View Post
    It was assessed. They told you so.

    Gasho, Jishin, _/st\_
    If I am reading the study correctly, they did not ...

    Fourth, we did not assess possible pre-existing mental health problems, which could have confounded our prevalence estimate of particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences.

    https://journals.plos.org/plosone/ar...l.pone.0216643
    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    If I am reading the study correctly, they did not ...



    Gassho, J

    STLah
    They acknowledged and then excluded. This is an assessment. Additionally, it is not known if it was assed and not included in the study for various reasons.

    I donít agree with what they say BTW.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Jishin View Post
    They acknowledged and then excluded. This is an assessment. Additionally, it is not known if it was assed and not included in the study for various reasons.

    I don’t agree with what they say BTW.
    If they did assess, why would the original article state "the researchers did not assess..." ? Did they assess and then not include it as part of the study? If that's considered an assessment I don't understand why they have the "researchers did not assess..." quote. Have not had a chance to read the full study with family members here and a roofer banging away above me.

    Gassho
    James

  16. #16
    I definitely think the title is overblown clickbait, but it started some good conversation here!

    Gassho,
    Kyōshin
    Satlah

    Sent from my Pixel using Tapatalk

  17. #17
    The article seems to have a broad definition of unpleasant experiences - I'm surprised that only 25% claimed to have something unpleasant arise.

    I think that different meditation techniques generally have different results. Most of the articles I've read about negative side-effects of meditation were from insight meditation, sometimes referred to as vipassana meditation. These types of techniques originated from Burmese teachers reading ancient commentaries on the Pali cannon and have since spread throughout the Theravada Buddhist world, including the West. Mindfulness meditation is a simplified version taken from these techniques. Those same commentaries describe a series of stages people will go through, including fear, misery, disgust, and more before arriving at equanimity. This article mentions that "deconstructive meditators were 65 percent more likely to have had an unpleasant experience compared with those who chose other approaches." It seems that those techniques are more likely to cause problems, but they work well for many.

    Another approach is to calm the mind and let insight arise on it's own. In the Theravada tradition, this is usually called samatha (calm, tranquil) meditation. These techniques may aim for anything from extreme states of high concentration to a relazed balance of awareness and equanimity. The latter seems like zazen to me. Anecdotally, in my experience these techniques are 'safer,' but I think that in an intensive setting they too can have extreme unpleasant results for some. It's always a safe bet to have an experienced teacher and supportive community around.

    Do any of you know of studies that focus on shikantaza specifically?

    Nanrin (Southern Forest)
    st, lah

  18. #18
    Hi all!

    I look at this a little like I see exercise in society. We know that exercise is pretty good for us in general. However, it is also true that numerous people each year are hurt while taking exercise and some even die.

    Does that mean we should stop recommending exercise? I don't think so.

    If we are going to embark on a programme of exercise, the first thing to do would be to consult with our doctor to see if we are doing something appropriate, if we have any doubts. Then we should, if necessary, get some training in the form of exercise we are doing, maybe hire a personal trainer. The programme itself should start gently and gradually build up as we get used to it.

    If we go straight into a form of exercise that our body is not fit for or go too hard and too fast, such as an intensive army type bootcamp or marathon run without preparation, we can expect to get injuries. A lot of problems with meditation I hear about, including in the above article, are of people doing an intenstive retreat without a regular daily sitting practice. This seems like a bad idea and similar to running a marathon out of condition. You may get through it fine but it is not advisable.

    When starting meditation, it is good to get reliable instruction and preferably a teacher to talk through any issues with. If you have any mental health or emotional problems it is worth checking with a doctor to see if meditation practice is appropriate for you.

    However, even with all of the right preparation for exercise or meditation it is impossible to rule out that someone will experience negative consequences as a result. As Jundo says, most of this will be limited to experiencing unwanted emotions and having to work through psychological issues, just as in exercise we may get muscle pulls or strains. Occasionally there may be more serious issues such as depersonalisation. I can say, though, having met hundreds of meditators online and in person, I have never heard of this happening. That is not to say it does not but I think that the incidence is very low.

    My take home message from articles like this is to say that meditation is safe and unlikely to leave any permanent harm. However, it is important for students to get good advice and follow it and for teachers to assess whether students are in a good mental place for practice. Occasionally at Treeleaf we have needed to tell someone to give zazen a break for a bit. I know that some retreat centres in the UK ask people not to come if they have been bereaved in the last year or are suffering from bad depression as sitting for intense periods with thoughts at those times can be counterproductive. If we start to get worrying psychological states, we should stop and seek the advice of a teacher rather than continue regardless just as if we get leg pain when running.

    When we prepare for it properly, exercise is a necessary and healthy part of human life, and so is meditation in my opinion. We should neither catastrophise the number of adverse reactions to practice nor dismiss them but learn from the studies about what to look for in someone who is struggling and how that can be prevented from happening.

    This would seem to be the sensible middle way.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday-
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  19. #19
    Just wanted to thank you for your response, Kokuu. It hit home with me greatly

    Gassho,
    Anant

  20. #20
    Thank you, dearly Kokuu

    Gassho,
    Oleg
    Sat today, Lend a Hand
    [Gassholook]:Будда:: TL:

  21. #21
    Kokuu, most definitely.

    Also, I still feel that in shikantaza we bring all of ourselves to the cushion. Good, bad, nothing, the roller coaster in between. Life is not all rainbows and sunny skies, even as tv commercials might try to convince us that is possible.

    Experiencing the full spectrum of emotions and feelings is part of being alive and human -- but without getting trapped in believing that we ARE the feelings and emotions. (Scientifically it's technically biochemistry at work, but different topic ....)

    I have gone through times where I have shortened my sessions as needed. I lengthen them at other times as I learn what I can handle, or I sit a few short sessions per day. It is, however, my "home base."

    I have learned so much here at Treeleaf from Jundo and many others -- I don't often say it, but I do watch, read, and contemplate. And I work with it.

    Grateful for all of it.

    Gassho
    Kim
    St lh

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