An article has been published in several national newspapers this week stating that meditation can be a dangerous practice, leading to anxiety, panic and depression. In the article the author, Dr Miguel Farias, clearly states that the problem lies with excessive meditation practice, the kind done for hours on end such as you would find on a meditation retreat. However once a statement gets into the mainstream media, it is all too easy for claims to be exaggerated and the entire subject of meditation to be viewed in a very negative light.
First let me say that the claims made would pose no problem for people who meditate fifteen or twenty minutes a day, maybe a couple of times a day, or for those who take a five or ten minute breather out of the day to re-centre and refocus. We need to maintain perspective here and bear in mind that potential problems only arise when practices are taken to extremes.
The true goal of meditation is to go into the space between the thoughts with a view to expanding the sense of self and your concept of reality. It can take you beyond the mind and the ego and therefore beyond your sense of self. The ego is a construct of your beliefs and life experiences through which you define yourself. When you go beyond Mind into nothingness, the ego disappears and we lose our sense of self and who we are. Psychological breakdown can occur when you do not know what is happening and are not prepared to deal with it. The resulting ‘breakdown’ can send you in to what is termed ‘spiritual crisis’, some symptoms of which include anxiety, panic, fear and depression. Other symptoms include muscle spasms and jerking, ego inflation, confusion, vibration in the body and rushing/roaring sensations in the head.
Spiritual crisis is the extreme end of spiritual awakening. Many people are awakening spiritually at this time, exploring various healing modalities, crystals, meditation among others. Spiritual awakening itself is a journey of healing past trauma and wounding. It is a process of learning, growth, healing and purification; learning to love yourself and forgive others who have caused pain and wounding. A spiritual awakening can turn into crisis however when it happens too quickly, the person is no longer in control, and it is all happening too much too soon. The crisis can be triggered by excessive spiritual practices such as meditation and qigong as well as taking too many Reiki/energy attunements in too short a space of time. The speed of the awakening is unmanageable and the person is left experiencing terrifying symptoms of mental breakdown.
During intense meditation, the meditator opens up to the transcendental state beyond Mind. Unresolved trauma and wounding that has been suppressed, repressed and denied over the years comes up to the surface seeking to be resolved and healed. The inner wold takes over and the person often finds it hard to cope with everyday tasks.
Meditation can produce great highs and feelings of Oneness, inter-connectedness with all things, blissful inner peace and love but it can also be followed by great lows. When you have let more light into your energy body, more of the shadow self is exposed and thrown into that light for healing. Life can start to feel like a constant inter-play between the themes of light and dark. Ultimately however the goal of the psyche is always to heal, transform and move towards wholeness. Spiritual crisis is part of that process, albeit a painful one.
For those people who want to practice meditation as safely as possible, I believe Mindfulness to be the ‘safest’ form of meditation. It is body-focused, particularly on the physical senses of taste and touch. It is very grounding and is excellent for bringing you back into your body if you have a tendency to zone out and be carried away by your own thoughts and worries. For this reason it is very beneficial for anxiety and mild depression. If you want to try it, start off with something very simple: next time you have a cup of tea, eat a sandwich or brush your teeth, focus entirely on the sensations in your hands and mouth. Follow the sensations in your body as you drink the tea or eat the sandwich. If you can become totally absorbed in what you are doing, you are being mindful. With Mindfulness there is no attempt to go beyond the realm of mind into the space between thoughts; you are simply absorbed in what you are doing in the physical realm.
I hope I have provided some reassurance that meditation is perfectly safe when practiced sensibly and in moderation. There are great benefits to having a regular meditation practice (including lowered blood pressure and stress levels, managing anxiety and mild depression, and improving clarity, focus and creativity). It would be a shame to tarnish the reputation of such a beneficial spiritual practice unnecessarily.
1. Help and resources are available for anyone who believes they are suffering the symptoms of spiritual crisis. Visit www.SpiritualCrisisNetwork.org.uk for further information.
2. Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Helen Shortland is a Reiki Master Teacher, Holistic Therapist and Meditation Teacher based at 15 Wheeler Gate in Nottingham city centre. For further information please visit her website http://helenshortland.com or ‘like’ her Facebook page Helen Shortland Holistics.