I’m not sure why that headline unsettles me a little; I may have to look deeper into myself to find out why I suppose. Oh wait, I can’t do that all important introspection because apparently I risk unearthing a whole heap of unpleasant emotions and things better left buried inside. But isn’t that why we meditate in the first place? – to remove the so called uncomfortable and dark emotions inside.
Yes, I’m still unsettled and the reason why is because Dr Miguel Farias, a Reader in Cognitive and Biological Psychology at Coventry University. Farias has concluded that far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces. Dr Farias reached this conclusion after researching the cognitive behaviour of people involved in a mass murder.
However in his published report, Dr Farias says meditation is so subjective there are no right answers when it comes to compiling a list of the dangers of meditation. Everyone is different. Meditation might bring up trauma or unresolved past issues at which point you might need to see a therapist or the meditation teacher should be made aware beforehand. Alternatively, “you might jump into a practice too soon and feel overwhelmed or experience a disturbing internal awakening”, he said.
In 1992, David Shapiro, a professor at UCLA Irvine, published an article about the effects of meditation retreats. After examining 27 people with different levels of meditation experience, he found 63 per cent of them had suffered at least one negative effect and seven per cent profoundly adverse effects.
The negative effects included anxiety, panic, depression, pain, confusion and disorientation. However, perhaps only the least experienced felt them – and might several days of meditation not overwhelm those who were relatively new to the practice? The answer was no.
When Shapiro divided the larger group into those with lesser and greater experience, there were no differences: all had an equal number of adverse experiences. And an earlier study had arrived at a similar, but even more surprising conclusion: those with more experience also had considerably more adverse effects than the beginners.
The beauty of meditation is that there are many different ways to do it. If someone is telling you that a particular meditation is the most effective or is better than others, I’d keep an open mind. Never dismiss something without first questioning, but at the same time, never blindly follow. And never feel stupid for asking lots of questions.
In the meantime, burn that incense, light that candle, dim the lights and do summon that inner peace. Alternatively, find another source for that inner peace, if at all possible.