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My mindfulness practice led me to meltdown (danlawton.substack.com)
502 points by mudita 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 567 comments





Since this is a long article, here’s a summary for fellow readers — it’s mostly about the negative side effects of meditation that the author believes is under-documented or under-reported due to the ‘hype’ of meditation as the 21st century cure-all. He talks about dissociative experiences (which is well documented in medical research), it being a pseudo-religion, and lastly, his belief that the extended use of meditation is the ‘opposite’ of stoicism in the way that it can render a person not less, but more susceptible to breakage from smaller stresses, like one of a traffic jam. He also attempts to make a biological argument on how this works by invoking something he calls the limbic system feedback loop, however I have found that argument unconvincing due to lack of any actual evidence.

These sorts of things have been dealt with for centuries by Buddhists, it’s a fairly common effect when you start with Zazen. This is why taking one part of the practice and abandoning the rest (most specifically, an experienced teacher) isn’t a great idea for everyone. Most of the time all you need to hear is “just let whatever comes up during Zazen go, and return to the moment” but alas, if you don’t things can go a bit wrong.

I don’t think it’s actively harmful, but the “mindfulness industry” is full of charlatans and poor advice, and it does make me rather sad that it’s being monetised in such a way.

Just sit.


This is exactly what I took from it. He uses the terms "mindfulness" and "Buddhism" interchangeably, but they're not. Buddhism has ways to deal with meditations that "go bad", but mindfulness takes the Buddhism out of the practice.

Mindfulness is not Buddhism.


I wouldn't conflate mindfulness (or capital M mindfulness, you could say) with meditation either.

Meditation has always been a deeply spiritual practice; Mindfulness attempts to turn it into a psychological, clinical one.


From the article:

> "I spent my last day in Los Angeles riding on a Segway, buying legal marijuana and staring at some turtles in an on-campus pond at UCLA. I was unsettled yet intrigued by Britton’s message. Some of the adverse experiences she had described were similar to challenges I had faced. But, at this point I was a decade into my intensive mindfulness meditation practice. I was too deep to get out. "

There's just so many things that is bad with this new-new age wave.

First of all, doing spiritual practices generally do not go hand-in-hand with taking drugs. Just taking marijuana or hash may bring panic attacks, and even psychotic episodes. If you rely on drugs to keep your emotions in check, you're already dealing with them wrong. Meditation together with drugs won't help that, but may worsen things if done intensively.

Second, there's no such thing as "intensive mindfulness meditation practice". Mindfulness is gentle and short, and more about stillness than meditation.

Third, "intensive meditation" is something everybody should be wary about. Max 20 minutes is recommended per day, and there is no need to do more in order to "get anywhere faster". Most important of all, do it with an experienced teacher you trust. The most important ingredient in meditation is to let go and relax, and is not yet another "work".

In the end, something can always go wrong. Not everyone can deal with meditation, and not sure if there's a way to ensure to filter out people. Often people come to classes because they have some issues, not when everything's alright. So there are already things to deal with. Recommended is that people doing medication like antipsychotics, should be prescreened from joining class.

In the end, meditation is a powerful tool. But not sure the stress of Western life is the right way to channel the clarity and calmess one may get from it. You may come back from long retreats, but need tools to deal with the stresses in modern day life. So just meditation may be too confusing or not enough, to deal with one's life once more.


Crazy.

Agree with everything, although I would say at least in Soto 45 mins seems to be the maximum for one period during sessin, and 15 of that will be kinhin (walking meditation), I tend to do about an hour a day in two sessions, but any longer and there isn’t really any reward.

Drugs are a hard no, I mean do them all you want but don’t combine the two.


Of course, different traditions will have different meditation techniques of varying lengths. There are many, and best to follow one path where people don't experiment too much on you and themselves. That the same techniques have been practiced for a looong time (think: like a vaccine!).

As a "beginner" meditator, 20 mins a day is plenty though. As an "experienced" meditator 20 mins is enough too (you may in time meditate anytime/anywhere).

It's when people take on themselves to "do much more", mix several spiritual practices or follow cults that do extreme regimes that things might sometimes get crazy. Most people do OK, but there are people who need medication or have deep-rooted issues that maybe should not be doing meditation, at least not until those issues have been settled.

Another issue is that some deeper practices were basically developed for monks, to be learned after years of initiation and acceptance.


>Drugs are a hard no, I mean do them all you want but don’t combine the two.

Why not?


The point is to stabilize and calm the body-mind-spirit complex, a harmony which is called yoga.

Taking drugs, even alchohol, stresses the body and mind, and may distort and cloud the spirit. This work against yoga / equanimity / clarity.

There are traditions that uses drugs ritually, so is part of those traditions. Though, it is often a more perilous and dedicated path. Not everyone needs to live life as a sage or munk.

So doing sadhana (practices) will work over time. It's not a competition.


Because they destabilise the mind, which is particularly dangerous when pursuing powerful spiritual practices where balance and stability of body, mind, emotions and energy are basic requirements.

An imperfect analogy is taking drugs and then driving fast on a windy mountain road.


As a counter point, there are meditative practices that use cannabis and/or DMT.

Intensive meditation does seem to be oxymoronic, too.

Meditation will take you down many unknown paths: difficult paths, painful paths, joyful paths...

An intensive meditation sounds more like a doing, like hitting the gym hard on a 30 day diet plan, rather than a state of being meditative and progressively turning inwards. You can't intensively find your inner peace, as an intense thing isn't a peaceful thing.

To my mind, intensive meditation is still going to result in something that feeds the ego, rather than something that feeds the soul. You wouldn't call it intensive if it wasn't ego-driven.


Not the op, but “intense” has a different meaning here. Your comment is still valid for people who don’t understand it.

There’s a saying, “if you see the Buddha, kill the Buddha” which effectively addresses the comment that I think you are making.


I think it's a bit of a I want my cake and I want to eat it too mentality, or maybe just ignorance. The Buddha did teach to refrain from taking intoxicants, I guess there was a reason he said that?

For some reason, since meditating fairly regularly over the last 5 years, I seem to be quite attune to the troubles drugs and alcohol cause me. It's probably one of the dangers of new practitioners who download applications and get started without any background fall into, they haven't read some of the wise teaching that other may have been exposed too.

I'm not a Buddhist per-se, but I do believe the teachings exist for a reason.

I also remember having a very rough time early in my practice, I think I did too much too early and I was also using Marijuarna which seemd to make some of the issues worse. I backed off that and I recovered and meditate now with no issues.


Marijuana intensifies many aspects of the mind. It's dangerous, but it like jumping into deep water to learn to swim, or training to drive on a fast, manual car. If you can bring your mind back from psychosis, you can bring it back from the lesser anxiety you felt before.

Here is a multi-hour playlist from a retreat by Sujato on the main mindfulness sutta that covers various points like this;

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PL70fWqztn7OXdbGqWEOvhOVqf...


Mindfulness is a category of meditation, which has been somewhat bastardized in the West. Most Buddhist practices incorporate both mindfulness and focus-oriented types of meditation.

>Meditation has always been a deeply spiritual practice; Mindfulness attempts to turn it into a psychological, clinical one.

Interestingly this is covered in the context of psychedelics too (which in my opinion are often touted in a similarly misleading way) by Dr Rick Strassman's fascining DMT: The Spirit Molecule. Making things like this too clinical or for lack of a better word mundane can alter their effects enormously.


Agreed that you shouldn't conflate them, but there are many types of meditation that you can practice and:

- not all are rooted in spirituality

- some are directly related to mindfulness

I find that if I meditate regularly, I'm more likely to catch myself practicing mindfulness by accident in my daily life. In those moments I usually discover something about my surroundings that I didn't know before. Really practical stuff, like an unexplored trail that's a better way to take on my commute home from work.

Intentionally practicing mindfulness is fine, but for me it's the cases of being mindful without explicitly setting the intention that make it worthwhile. They're really pleasant, nothing spiritual about it.

And meditation is linked to those moments because, if I'm lucky, it causes them.


Mindfulness is one of the 7 factors of awakening. It's a skill, a pre-requisite to the work of insight and transformation that is the path of Buddhism.

It's literally just the skill to not get distracted by the small waves.

So definitely: Mindfulness is not Buddhism.


> the “mindfulness industry” is full of charlatans and poor advice

Thank you for saying this.

There is an endless, dangerous trend of dismissing monastic traditions like Zen and trying to extract meditation from its context, under the assumption that teachings and formal practice are unnecessary.

It happens in scientific research on meditation as well as on popular McMindfullness.


Every industry is full of charlatans and poor advice. Unfortunately, some cost you more than just lost money or lost time.

In this case, however, the participants may more likely be vulnerable. They are seeking some solution to their problems, and mindfulness is promoted as one. As the author makes the case, it really was a solution to his problems. But it seems he took it too far.


Isn't this a common/popular stereotype in so many movies? Hoity-toity protagonist believes they're more educated/better than the savages who follow old tradition, then have to eat some humble pie.

An age old tale we can't seem to learn.


There are equal number of these where after a short training montage the protagonist is not only an expert in said tradition, but in many cases better than the long term practitioners.

So maybe people are focusing on the second lesson rather than the first.


This is exactly the kind of inappropriate advice that the author is cautioning against. He was not just starting out, he had experienced teachers, and the horriffic panic-attack-like state he was not something that could have been addressed by "returning to the moment".

He was an instructor in "Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction" -- sorry, this is not a real thing. He's been teaching things he clearly does not understand, and his mind was blown by this. When I say "a teacher would tell you to come back to the moment" it's not quite as simple as I make it sound, the key thing is who the advice is coming from (read: an actual zen teacher who has received transmission, not a charlatan mindfulness camp fleecing wannabe mindfulness bro's out of several hundred dollars to sit with no experience for 10 days).

I don't really have much sympathy here, it seems, but I don't really understand how one could not expect something like this to happen unless they really avoided speaking to anyone with actual experience (which, yes, means a zen monk, and not someone who spent 3 days in a Hilton doubletree learning how to teach people to 'breathe' and 'unlock their chakras' -- which is all bollocks.)


"the key thing is who the advice is coming from (read: an actual zen teacher who has received transmission, not a charlatan mindfulness camp fleecing wannabe mindfulness bro's out of several hundred dollars to sit with no experience for 10 days)"

Why Zen specifically? There are many different types of Buddhism.

Even if it does have to be Zen, which kind of Zen? Rinzai or Soto, or some mix of the two (which some Zen schools advocate)?

And why Buddhism, anyway? Meditation is practiced in many different religious traditions.

"mindfulness" is itself rooted in the Theraveda -- not Zen -- Buddhist tradition, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the "right" way to meditate must be a Buddhist way as opposed to, say, one of the many Hindu forms of meditation.


I can only speak from my own experience as a Soto zen Buddhist. It’s ridiculous really, to spend years staring at a wall.

Of course there are many paths, however I am only aware of the one I’ve been down. So, yeah, I have zen tinted glasses on such subjects and whatever I am saying should be taken with the appropriate sodium chloride.


No one is obligated to list every facet to anything just to tickle your "I'm included in what some random person is saying". The commenter is speaking out of their own experience. It's not about you. Actually add something regarding those other practices instead of virtue signaling.

The OP is mentioning different forms to probably indicate some forms might be easier to learn.

If you don't have anything positive or constructive to add, why not stay silent? That too is a form of mediation.


Theravada developed around the same time the Mahayana emerged. Mindfulness practice predates the Theravada by 500 years.

> an actual zen teacher who has received transmission, not a charlatan

I'm really hoping you were going for darkly ironic humour, if not, please reread your sentence I quoted and, I don't know, contemplate on it.

Received transmission? From the Trisolarians perhaps?


Transmission simply means their teacher considers them ready to also become teachers, it’s not some whoo science fiction mind meld or something… There are some cases of teachers giving this out inappropriately however these are rather obvious if you were to speak to one who has achieved the real deal vs not..

Buddhism is largely an oral tradition, in that the teachers who exist today can trace their education back up a tree, this is all I mean by transmission.


Transmission occurs when one has fully internalised a practice that one has learned from a master (of that practice).

You may be able to teach yourself meditation from a book, without a teacher. But that can't confer on you the confidence that you're doing it right. Many practices depend critically on confidence. Of course, you have to be confident that your master has really mastered the particular practice; you gain that confidence by knowing that the master received transmission, from someone who received transmission... etc. That line of transmission is referred to as the "lineage" of that practice.

There are no ritual formalities for mindfulness; every monk learns mindfulness, from other monks. The first monks learned it from the Buddha; but if you're going to learn the practice from a layman, you need to start inquiring into your teacher's transmission lineage.

In tantra, there are rituals that accompany the process of mastery: permission to study the text, a reading of the text, a commentary on the text from the master.

But these rituals are not the transmission.

There's usually some kind of "inner" transmission that depends on a personal relationship between the master and the student. But even that doesn't seal the transmission; the student still has to internalise the practice, which might take years.

It's very interesting to look into the process by which tulkus "produce" innovative practices. Often, the teaching is delivered to the tulku by enlightened beings, who learned the practice from some Buddha other than The Sage of the Munis. The tulku must then practice the teaching, usually for many years, until the insight stabilises, before it's safe for him to disseminate it.

Tulkus often have hard lives.


...I don't really want to hear about your religious beliefs, tbh, I've had a lifetime of it already, and I've decided you're all charlatans.

Especially if you unnecessarily revert to jargon when trying to explain your beliefs, you mention "tulku" four times, but define it zero times. This is indicative of in-group signaling.


May I suggest that you not read articles about Buddhist meditation then? Less still the comments? I sort-of supposed that nobody would read these comments if they weren't interested.

I avoid articles about pay in the SF area, AI models, Tesla cars, and many other topics. If I read one by accident, I just move on - I don't post a comment whingeing that I'm not interested.

I don't belong to an "in-group" here; I used to be a Buddhist, but I no longer profess any religion. The subject still interests me though; I devoted 40 years of my life to it, and unsurprisingly it has had quite an impact on me.

For what it's worth, a tulku in Tibetan Buddhism is a re-incarnating lama. I realise that I used the wrong word; what I meant was "terton", which is a revealer of hidden teachings. Those hidden/revealed teachings are a specialty of a minority of Tibetan Buddhists - so an "in group", almost by definition. Tertons an interesting subject - if you happen to be interested in such things.


Thanks for actually explaining your jargon.

Why did you stop after 40 years? That's a long time, and most people wouldn't.

A number of reasons. FWIW, I was trained in a Tibetan tradition.

- I had from the beginning espoused a non-religious view of Buddhism. About 20 years in, my teacher stated that Buddhism was definitely religious, and that devotional practices like pujas were non-optional. I didn't like it, but if you take on a teacher, it behoves you to at least try to go along with the teaching - which I did.

- I learned some things about Tibetan history that were the opposite of my earlier, naive beliefs. Pre-communist Tibet was not Shangri-La.

- While I never practiced tantra, the tradition was tantric; I eventually learned some important things about tantra that I found unacceptably obnoxious. I can't go into detail, because I don't want to undermine anyone else's commitment to tantra.

- The group that I had been involved with gradually changed, I became an outsider, and things got difficult. Friends in the group cut me off.

- The behaviour of Buddhist nationalists in places like Myanmar and Srilanka towards non-Buddhist minorities appalled me - this was the tipping point.

- I did my back in through long sitting sessions. The amount of my life that I had spent sitting was beginning to look like heavy expenditure for no obvious gain (I wasn't making much progress).

These are my reasons; they don't apply to anyone else, and I don't deprecate Buddhism or Buddhists. I just gradually came to see that I'm no longer one of them.

There is a great deal that I integrated from Buddhism. It remains the basis for my morality, and my world-view is still largely based on Buddhist thought. But I no longer do any kind of formal practice, and I don't identify as a Buddhist.


Transmission is a form of teaching/learning.

It’s just another word for matriculation - to contrast from those that learn meditation from YouTube.

Transmission refers to receiving chi, or a spark of energy from an advanced teacher. Perhaps less snark, and more curiosity would serve you on topics like this.

I've had plenty of curiosity in my life time, and have drawn my own conclusions. Here's three of them.

1) There's no scientific evidence for chi. Or qi, ki, whatever you're calling it in an Asian language, because it's just, like, deeper.[1]

2) "Energy" is the most wooly thinking word ever in pseudoprofound proclamations. For the love of Jesus. (Who most likely existed, but was very definitely not the son of YHWH)

3) You can believe what you like, and I'll believe what I like. And if I ever develop fantastical beliefs, I promise I won't expect you to treat them as real things deserving of your serious consideration. And I'll hope you do me the decency of reciprocating that implicit respect.

[1]: https://youtu.be/Z78_rAg4Ldg


Ah chi, well that explains everything, definitely 100% real and not made up bs at all.

I feel the terminology used in your post inspires it.

So, to clarify, you are aligning with the view he's opposing in the article that if someone has a profoundly negative experience due to meditation they're just "doing it wrong". That the practice, when done a certain way, carries 0% risk for very bad effects?

No, he's stating what the author seems to have missed: mindfulness is not Buddhism; mindfulness is based on some Buddhist teachings. The author talks about meditation, mindfulness and Buddhism as if it were all the same thing, but that's not true. It just shows that whatever they're selling as "mindfulness" lacks what basic zen teaches. The author is blissfully ignorant of Buddhism and it's not his fault: that's how he learned it. What's his fault is that he's spreading what he learned as if it were truth, which simply isn't.

There's no worldwide buddhist conspiracy to shun the "bad" parts of meditation, the post author learned from teachers with no qualification.


If one is thinking about these experiences as "right" or "wrong", they have certainly failed.

Uncomfortable, sure. Experiencing the dark night of the soul is not meant to be comfy. It can be rewarding though. Sometimes it is merely insight into our physical and psychological make up though. I don't care what kind of adventures one gets into but if you start getting extreme with them, you're eventually going to experience some really sketchy, uncomfortable, and even life-threatening situations.


I mean, you could say the same about guns, automobiles, table saws...

Yes, essentially.

That just seems wildly unlikely to me. We're talking about a practice whose goal is to manipulate the brain, an organ that has been called the most complex object in the universe, something that centuries of science have only begin to understand, and that comes with vast and poorly understood diversity across people. There are first hand and scientific accounts of this happening, albeit rarely, to experienced and knowledgeable people. To claim that a certain group of monks has figured out a foolproof and risk-free formula for exploring altered states of consciousness seems implausible.

Well, keep in mind this is a practice that as far as we know people have been practicing for at least 2600 years, I think doing things like a 5-10 day Vipassana retreat is not a risk free thing, but you really shouldn’t be doing those unless you are ready.

I follow the Soto school of Zen Buddhism, my teacher would not allow me to go to Sessin (which is a multi day meditation retreat) until I had been practicing for like two years, and I had a lot of stuff come to the surface at my first one that really disturbed me… however, I had my teacher there, and he knew exactly what to say and do to help me through it as he has been through the same. He would not have permitted me to leave in such a disturbed state.

This guy would not be able to do that for his students, and even for himself he didn’t even know about such things. This is bad, and more stories like this will happen as long as charlatans are taking one aspect of an established practice and ignoring the rest.

As a whole, shikantaza when practiced with a teacher is safe. Things like breath awareness, vipassana and such I think are harmful, but that is due to my training and perhaps I am wrong, but for sure, meditation without the “rest” is largely a money machine these days, and people will be harmed by that.

Edit: I would also add that shikantaza as opposed to other forms of meditation is not about manipulating the brain in any way, but simply observing it. This is why we do not do things with a goal, such as counting of breaths or trying to still the mind. Simply sit, observe, and the stillness comes with no effort. There is no goal, and no enlightenment. There is no separation of practice and experience, the practice is enlightenment.


Reading about your experience makes me realize that the mindfulness industry is probably another case of trying to remove the human element to improve scalability, with terrible results.

Or profit heh. How much do you recon headspace is worth? ;)

Interesting. I had never even imagined that meditation could be so distressing. I don't know anything about Zen really, do you feel the article gives a good impression of being in a disturbed state from meditation or would you say it's likely inaccurate in general?

All zazen enables you to do is observe yourself and your reality very closely; this includes the good and the bad. Seeing under the veil of the stories we spin for ourselves to function can be extremely freeing but at the same time also very difficult to cope with.

I can’t make a call either way in the authors mental state, but clearly there was stuff going on unrelated to meditation which he clearly needs some help dealing with.


> I had never even imagined that meditation could be so distressing.

It was not evident to you that taking some time to be alone with yourself could be uncomfortable? It's almost a polar opposite to how most people live their lives. I am genuinely curious what made you believe otherwise - I cannot imagine it.


Why would it? You're stuck with yourself every waking moment. Every evening when you go to sleep you're trying to do 'nothing' where any random idea can pop into your head. Every morning you wake up and start out with your own thoughts. Are those times uncomfortable and distressing?

Every time I take a walk I'm stuck in my head too.


Most people I've met (perhaps this is a cultural thing) spend most of their waking life trying to stave off "boredom" (using phones, books, trying to mentally distract themselves towards specific things), which as far as I can tell now means "I'm alone with my own thoughts and nothing to distract me".

He mentions sharing his experiences with teachers who seem to be clueless, not his fault, is it?

You can pick your teachers…

Obviously no true Scotsman chooses wrong teacher.

I was happy to read your comment. As soon as the guy started describing how he was trying to achieve goals, I knew it wasn't Buddhism.

>To claim that a certain group of monks has figured out a foolproof and risk-free formula for exploring altered states of consciousness seems implausible.

... Why would that be implausible, at least for non-pedantic values of risk-free?

More and more, modern neuroscience confirms aspects of Buddhist teaching; from the nature of self to the workings of emotion. Buddhist meditation practice has been shown to have real and permanent (and positive) effects. Monks have studied the workings of the mind in altered and unaltered states for lifetimes, over thousands of years. Can you name any practice more effective? Because if you can, I'm certain the monks will be interested.


> We're talking about a practice whose goal is to manipulate the brain, an organ that has been called the most complex object in the universe, something that centuries of science have only begin to understand, and that comes with vast and poorly understood diversity across people.

You seem to be comparing meditation to neurosurgery. I have no idea why you think this comparison is valid. Meditation is voluntary control of attention, which you've been doing all of your life, not neurosurgery. No doubt using this in novel ways will present challenges.

> To claim that a certain group of monks has figured out a foolproof and risk-free formula for exploring altered states of consciousness seems implausible.

Why? Democracy was invented thousands of years ago, and we've been through many other systems of govenment since, and yet now everyone believes that democracy is the best way to organize a highly complex global system of intelligent agents. Does it seem implausible to you that a system of governance that's thousands of years old is still the best we know?

Frankly, I have no doubt that a tradition that's thousands of years old and that has had hundreds of thousands of adherents in that time, could have worked out most or all of the challenges it raises. That's a huge sample set if you were analyzing this scientifically, and these spiritual practices were quite systematically explored.


I've practiced zen and Tibetan Buddhism for years. They both contain lots of "spiritual bullocks woo" at times, as does most forms of Buddhism I've encountered. You really need to filter out the good parts for yourself, I find. There are many paths to "meditation" or "mindfulness"; I disagree that those are necessarily separate traditions. This sounds like a "No true Scotsman" type fallacy.

This is really what led me to soto, I don’t buy into the ritual, the chanting (unless it’s at a sessin, and even then only for the bonding experience) and the codes and so on of a lot of the other sects. Soto to me is a very pure expression, I’m also not a big fan of the Sotoshu (my teacher calls them the “funeral directors association”) and the more established Soto schools like the SF Zen Center.

Soto, as I understand it, is all about just shikantaza. The rest is optional. I don’t shave my head and wear robes, I just sit.

It took me a while, but this shoe fits. I read Dogen and he seems to agree with this for the most part, but of course ymmv.


> chanting

When I was a kid / teen, I could get into an altered state by repeating a word (any word) in my mind. After a short while, I would "disconnect" (I don't know how to describe it) :)



Can we step back here and realize we're talking about what amounts to breathing exersices here? There is no need to be gatekeeper here - you don't get magic Jedi powers by practicing breathing a bunch.

The author certainly had a meditation practice, maybe even a meditation habit. But it sounded very naive and like amateur hour to me.

I would think any moderately well-traveled psychonaut would not be surprise by anything that the author experienced..


One take I heard about yoga that kinda applies here is "if yoga is injuring you, your understanding of it is wrong"

I think the underlying issue with all these asian-spiritualism-turned-western-nouveau-health is that western people sometimes come in wanting things to be intense, clinical and goal-oriented. But that's literally the opposite of what most of what these disciplines are all about. Asian health upkeep practices (yoga, tai chi, meditation, radio taiso, etc) are mostly about gentle but consistent practice to keep gears oiled for the long run. Most of those aren't even meant to be healing disciplines.


if yoga is injuring you, your understanding of it is wrong

That feels a lot like either victim blaming, or being fed a No True Scotsman truism and accepting it.

One could say the same thing about staying within their skill level for any high-risk adventure sport. "If that advanced ski course is injuring you ...."


It's interesting that you brought up high risk sports. The context of that quote was related to people injuring themselves by being too aggressive on stuff they should know better (one example was a relatively advanced practitioner pulling a calf muscle on a downward dog of all things). That's an example of a type of injury where the person sets goals (e.g. stretching to some specific previously achieved limit) without paying attention to the current state of the body (e.g. it's a fairly well known phenomenon that muscles are tighter in the morning than early evening, especially before warm ups).

Yoga isn't about quantified stretch goals, it's a daily fitness regime. So if you pull a leg muscle by going on a super deep downward dog first thing in the morning without warming up because you're aspiring to reach some guru-like level quickly, instead of seeing yoga as a fitness program to carry your body to old age, then yes, your understanding of the practice is wrong.


At that point it's just a truism. Most sports injuries, aside from the ones caused by physical contact with another player, are the result of some mistake in form that, in hindsight, could have been prevented.

"western people sometimes come in wanting things to be intense, clinical and goal-oriented."

That describes me exactly. I spent forever look for a "quantified meditation" course.

I even kept a mediation journal where I could track how many times I lost track of my breath in a 5 minute session. I started out around 50 and was desperately trying to get to 0.

I even used an app that counts taps, that I would rest under my finger, so that I could mark each failure as quickly and easily as possible. Without trying to "remember" the count of failures because it would distract me from the breath.

I felt that if I could get to 0, that I wouldn't be ready for enlightenment, but I would at least achieve ACCESS CONCENTRATION and be able to enter the stream. At that point, it could become a spiritual practice, but I wanted to develop sufficient concentration abilities and conquer my ADHD before thinking too much about what mediation was actually for.

It's been really hard for me to let go of the idea that my meditation needs a score to track my progress.


Woah that seems really the polar opposite of what I practice..

I think you’re doing yourself a bit wrong with this approach.

Can I suggest a book to you? It’s “Sit down and shut up” by Brad Warner, it may help.


Just downloaded it from Audible. Thanks.

Goal-oriented meditation is not Buddhist meditation.

I once read a book by Aleister Crowley, that included a series of meditation practices intended to increase your personal power. The instruction was very similar to the instructions I had received for a type of mindfulness.

I never tried Crowley's practices; but still, for weeks after reading that book, I had a feeling of dread, as if something awful was following me around.


Thank you for sharing, that feels bad and opposite indeed. I wonder what percentage of westerners approach it with this type of gym mindset?

Tai Chi is intense and goal-oriented; it's a martial arts system. The katas look like some kind of calm "yoga in motion", but the katas are not the core of Tai Chi.

I mean, yes and no. It's a martial arts system in the sense that it incorporates combative mechanics, and I do know of people who attempt to incorporate it into combat against resisting opponents, but some people take issue w/ calling it a martial art because of quack "masters" claiming to be invincible (but then getting their ass kicked within seconds by some MMA dude), and also partly because the popular calisthenic variety is not combat-oriented.

IMHO the biggest dissonance between western idea of "intense" vs eastern is that westerners think of intensity as optimizing for burst amplitude (in martial arts' case, specifically honing combative prowess), whereas easterners think of it as a matter of consistent holistic development (core strength, balance, attention, etc).


It's definitely possible to do malpractice when you are it alone. I never had a teacher and I did get burned on misinterpretations. Though looking back, it doesn't seem to be a big deal, but it did cause me some suffering.

2 major mistakes for me was going too much in either direction (relaxation vs. force).

I had a phase where I wanted to relax too much, or just let it come or let it manifest, either by trying to chill so much as to become sleepy, or by just trying to see with the naked eye. In either case it was a thought loop trap.

And I had a phase were I was too obsessive and used a lot of force. Like I really wanted to concentrate too hard and that also screwed me up a bit.

In either of these cases I could make a statement that meditation screwed me up, but I persisted with it and I can say that after 4 years, the benefits were very well worth the effort.

Also a big mistake was skipping the instructions. I.e. instead of just counting the breath or following the breath, I jumped at the unassisted version. I think if I just sticked to the very simple instructions and tried less of inventing my own way or outsmarting what's in the book, I would not run into these issues.

Note that I'm talking about zazen too, while the article is about mindfulness, it's a bit different although I never tried mindfulness.


I think you are ignoring the fact that people have different brains. Sure, persist through mild discomfort.

But would you advise people who are hallucinating to do the same?


My teacher would, and has, yes. But I wouldn’t advise anyone to do that, or even get into that situation in a hippy dippy setting with a bunch of dreadlocked “teachers” who have studied just one aspect of the Buddhist tradition from deepak chopra, no.

The stuff that comes up, including the hallucinations, are brought to the surface through your practice, but they are not caused by it. The only way to deal with them is with an experienced teacher, therapist or with self discipline (the latter i only include as seemingly this is what shakyamuni apparently did).

Everyone is different, I agree, but sitting with inexperienced people and expecting some enlightenment experience is definitely going to go wrong for you.


> it’s mostly about the negative side effects of meditation that the author believes is under-documented or under-reported

Before this article, I didn't know meditation could have any adverse effect. Until today, I haven' read a single depiction, a single mention of meditation going wrong. Except in fictions.

So this claim that one does not simply learn about the negative side effects of meditation sounds very plausible to me.


This is true at least in part due to the monetization of mindfulness, as a previous poster stated. The import of mindfulness into western culture strictly as a tool to manage stress has turned it into a cure all for general audiences.

There are certainly risks. A long retreat may exacerbate existing psychopathologies like depression due to the extended isolation.

I'd liken meditation to something like exercise. Exercise is good in general, but you still have to manage and work around injuries. I wouldn't suggest you walk 5 miles with a sprained ankle. And so it is with meditation.

But yes, I also figure this isn't talked about enough - especially in the context of mindfulness as a product.


Every activity has an immediate potential adverse effect: wasting time.

I did a 10 day meditation (vipassana) few years ago. I remember some fellow meditators (majority of the sessions are in a hall full of meditators) having emotionally intense experiences (someone would cry inconsolably, someone will shout for few moments suddenly). I personally per say did not experience any such external emotional outburst but definitely got better clarity and calmness towards daily routine life.

The output of meditation is supposed to be a clearer mind from before and it may take a while to reach the desired state of mind. Stoicism should not be misinterpreted as having no zest for life. One psychologist I know told me something that made an impression on me "Just because life is going to end or that many good things come to an end eventually doesn't mean you should not enjoy the present". I am sure different people have different outcomes but I think the purpose of meditation is to learn the joy of life. One could see stoicism as being pessimistic towards life. I personally see meditation as a tool that hopefully helps you derive the joy of living in every moment of your daily existence while not being attached to it so that that if the circumstance changes, you don't lose the joyfulness and adapt to the new things in life knowing that the change won't last either.


I did a 10 day Vipassana course a few months ago. I went in with no expectations, except to disconnect from the online world for 10 days. The course had a subtle yet profound effect on me. But I couldn’t put my finger on it till I incorporated the practice in my daily life.

Since then, I have been practising Vipassana and/or Anapan every day (sometimes twice a day) and I realised that my entire life had been coloured by my anxiety. Now, when my anxiety shoots up, I am much more aware of it than before and can actively self-soothe. Every time I meditate, it feels like someone threw cold water on a hot metal plate. Another way I like to think about it is that I don’t necessarily feel like I’ve “cleared” my mind, so much as “defragmented” it, like a good old spinning hard disk. Usually tears form in my eyes in most sessions.

I continue to practice it every day. I am very grateful to have been through this experience. I experience a little bit more compassion towards myself, and hence, other people. I have a long way to go but this first step has given me much hope for the future.

I would love to hear about your experience too.


My experience was very high level of calmness in day to day life. I sort of felt like Neo of the Matrix where I knew what to do in any tough situation and my action was based on objective analysis of the situation vs mind getting colored with different emotions. All tough decisions seemed less difficult to make because you can now separate emotions from the situation. To give an example - As soon as I reached home after finished the course, I learnt that my grandmother is in coma after suffering from a brain stroke. Everyone around me was in a panic state as to what is happening and what to do. I could think more clearly and immediately went into action mode (is she getting right care, how do we get a second opinion, what are our options etc). I accepted reality as it is. Similarly, I had to make a major decision that I was confused about (which is why I went the course in the first place), I think I was able to make the right decision (it's been few years since the decision was made and I am happy about it).

You also become comfortable as to who you are vs seeking validation about yourself.

Overall, it was a positive experience for me.


I just got back from a 10 day Vipassana course a week and a half ago. So this whole thread is timely.

I went with no expectations except wanting to give the technique an honest try. On Day 5 I experienced anxiety and a panic attack. Never had one before - ever. I didn't know what I was feeling. On Day 6 it got worse. On Day 7 I almost quit but after talking to the teacher and course manager decided to persist. On day 7 I cried thru all the meditation sessions. I also felt some incredible highs which many people compare those achieved thru drugs - which I've never used myself. On that day I experienced feelings of extreme compassion and gratitude. On Day 8, my anxiety and panic attack got worse. It culminated in me passing out in the meditation hall. I passed out briefly but at that point I decided I had had enough and asked to leave immediately.

I've spent the last week+ trying to recover and hoping I didn't do any permanent damage to myself. In the past week I have experienced much minor feelings of anxiety but have been able to deal with them. I believe I will be ok but this has been an illuminating experience. Before this, I too never ever thought that meditation and/or mindfulness could have any negative or adverse reactions. So this is all new. I just wanted to pass on my experience objectively.

The one thing I really would say is that I wish these courses did a much better job of screening/counseling folks before they embark on the course and also have a better plan for how to address those people who experience something like I did. In that moment, I wanted to know that I was ok and felt like I wasn't getting the answers I needed. All I was told was to continue to work thru it. I am not sure that is the best thing for everyone. My body clearly was telling me otherwise.


Note: I am no teacher of Vipassana and merely a student (that too not advanced), so my thoughts should be taken with a grain of salt.

The folks running the course do have a screening by asking you certain questions in the enrollment form and they do ask you to talk to someone if you are confused or concerned about any question. It is not a strong screening but screening nonetheless. How effective it is, I don't know and it also comes down to how forthcoming the student is in clearly stating his/her condition.

Having said the above, people do experience intense emotions like you mentioned as I observed first hand. My take based on what I learnt in the course and afterwards is that throughout life since we are born, we experience life and it builds up certain kind of emotions in ourselves. Depending on who had what experience in life, the build up can be very strong. Vipassana attempts to rid you of the emotional build up that one has accumulated. The act of crying or shouting, or anything else is an act of getting the emotion out of the system and be left with a cleaner state of mind. How long the emotional outburst will continue will depend on how much one has accumulated in life.

I would summarize this as - In order to fill a cup with afresh, you must empty it first. You can't fill an already full cup.

One may also want to read U G Krishnamurthi. One of his quotes that I really like is `When the movement in the direction of becoming something other than what you are isn't there any more, you are not in conflict with yourself.` another way to interpret this is that emotional build happens when you action is in conflict with your inner self and over a period of time, the build up keeps growing resulting in problems (I have had emotional build ups that I have worked very hard to get rid of).


Thanks for the summary.

Not the first time I hear about these negative side effects, but every time I’m reminded of the possibility I’m surprised.

It also reminds me however that my meditation practice is infinitely shallower than what people suffering negative consequences describe.

There was a time where I would practice very rigorously (for me at least) and all I can remember is that I felt more empathy and emotion but never in a bad sense. I remember getting tearful if I heard a story of human suffering, and I also remember getting quasi-orgasmic sensations with food. Never things like losing it at a traffic jam.

I wish I could recover the positives, but unfortunately I don't remember what my practice consisted of back in the day. Maybe I should go to a class or something.


> It also reminds me however that my meditation practice is infinitely shallower than what people suffering negative consequences describe.

Actually, the author describe people having similar negative experiences just from dabbling with meditation apps, so the catalyst is not necessarily a 14-day silent retreat, but rather something more intangible, in which case it could happen to anyone, really


I personally had intense experiences pretty quickly but didn’t overdo it after. I (now) have a healthy respect of psychedelic experiences.

As another commenter said, don’t overdo things.

Edit: whether you get more intense experiences likely is some function of how stable and sensitive you are, what other experiences you already had and how much you meditate.

I imagine that very grounded people don’t get problems as quickly. That’s a good thing, not shallowness.


> He talks about dissociative experiences (which is well documented in medical research)

Experienced this as well.

> it being a pseudo-religion

IMO, too simple. Many experiences feel quite pseudo-religion like.

> more susceptible to breakage from smaller stresses, like one of a traffic jam

Didn't experience this. In fact I believed I was more or less invincible and became pretty deluded. Thankfully a part always stays skeptical. Being skeptical saved me and it made me stop meditating for a while and now I have it at a level where it's beneficial.


looking for a good level for myself, I'm curious which practice and level you find beneficial for yourself?

Currently I meditate way less than I should. There have been a few months where it was as if I was only mind wandering the whole day (stressful period), so then I meditate a bit more to calm myself down.

I think it's also worth noting the extent of time and focus he dedicated to this practice before the negatives appeared.

Putting in 10% of what this guy put in would likely give you measurable benefits without the disassociation risks, unless you already have some mental peculiarities.


Trying to «gain» something from mindfullness/budism is a bad one. Is adviseable that people with drug use history refrain from using drugs for an extended period of time before taking on other mind altering experiences. I believe the grove of the brain need some repairing. Disrupting natural processes like breathing is not adviseable for beginners and probably unnecesary anyway. Beware of powerfull exercises and quick fixes, people get damaged by reckless/selfish/clueless gurus very often. Usually slow, gentle exercising over longer period of time is more benefical. For sone meditation in motion like Tai Chi works best. And finally you will not stop being an idi0t just by meditating, you are likely to turn into an idi0t with a lot of energy! Probably the biggest pitfall.

Isn't (esp dissociative experiences) what is called "dark nights" in the Buddhist traditions?

The "Dark Night" is typically attributed to St. John of the Cross, although I'd be willing to believe that the term has been used in other traditions.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Night_of_the_Soul

Ah, note the last paragraph in this article:

'In modern mindfulness practice, many authors have named a similar phenomenon in meditation as the dark night of the soul after the poem. It is often described as a lengthened and intense state of depression or ennui caused by errant or irresponsible meditation practices. Author John Yates compares it to a Theravadan term, dukkha ñanas, or "knowledges of suffering".'


>irresponsible meditation practices

I can't imagine what an irresponsible meditation practice would look like. Any pointers?


In Buddhism, one big one would be not keeping in mind the primary goal of non-attachment. Non-attachment to bliss, horror, expectations, and certainly not to any goal.

The Biography of Naropa would make an amazing horror movie. Really wild read as well.


Meditating alone for starter? Meditating too long. Meditating before your day start and you get into stressfull situation.

It should be done step by step, carefully.

I think philosophers talked about habitus, and nowadays we might be able to "fix" phobia with a mix of MRI and reinforcement learning, slowly. Or how to reduce your fear of falling when rockclimbing, by falling "on purpose" when you are in between pitons by an increasingly large length.


Meditating without an experienced and well trained teacher.

It's worth ruminating on the fact that all medicines are also poisons. This is why homeopathy is so safe.

Ah, this needs explaining - any tool which can cure can also cause injury. Too much of a medicine will kill.

Homeopathy is useless, which is why you can't harm anyone with it.

Meditation does work, which is why it can also be dangerous.


Check out Kundalini Yoga.

I would be very careful in comparing what St. John means and what is meant in the Buddhist sense. See [0] for those interested in a brief comparison.

Selected quotes:

"The ultimate end of man for Christians is union with God, while for Buddhists it is Nirvana (complete detachment, or a state of nothingness)."

"For Buddhists, salvation is a privation of individual consciousness; for Catholics salvation is an eternally fulfilling relationship with a loving Creator."

"For both Buddhists and Catholics “detachment” is important, but for Catholics detachment is not an end in itself. St. Francis de Sales preached that man must desire to “possess his soul” rather than allow it to be possessed by worldly things. Catholics pursue this for the purpose of elevating their soul by offering it back to Christ. So detachment is a means to a rich and meaningful “higher awareness” (if you will) that reaches its culmination in seeing God face to face."

So this (temporary) dark night of the soul ultimately leads to a deeper, perhaps more mystical relationship with God.

[0] https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/catholicism-and-b...


He may have a good grasp of what Catholicism is about, but his grasp of Buddhism seems pretty shallow. I would not take this article on faith.

I'm inclined to agree with you. The comparison being made between the two states seems almost like a way for this particular Buddhist to cast shade on the Christian mystical tradition. "Oh yes, we know about that; that's when you're not doing it properly".

I will assume in good faith that the person you are quoting simply doesn’t not have sufficient understanding of Buddhist philosophy.

Enlightenment is the same regardless of the path you take to get there. When “this” and “that” are gone what is there?


The article mentions that he experienced this, read about the dark night and the advice to "push through it" and that that advice backfired horribly.

Yes, this is mentioned explicitly in the article too.

in the way that it renders a person not less, but more susceptible to breakage from smaller stresses

That should be can render I think, the author seems well aware that what happened about him isn't bound to happen to anyone.


Good idea, I just corrected it. Thanks.

Appreciated!

The author does not mention stoicism at all.

> This terrain was fresh. I had never previously experienced a psychotic episode and have no history of mental illness besides occasional bouts of mild anxiety and depression. ... > Why did I start meditating? The short answer is that in 2009 I started a fist fight in a French Quarter bar over some jambalaya, a steamy kiss, and a stray comment I didn’t take fondly. The evening ended hours later after I broke a window with my fist, misplaced my shirt, and guzzled about 16 bottles of Miller High Life.

YYMMV, but I feel the author is having problems they dont want to really accept. That is what the contradiction in the two quotes above indicates.

Aside from that, I couldn't help but think about people having access to too many psychedelics. For a while, tripping can give you the most profound experiences ever. But after a while, it sort of becomes mondane, and this is when the bad trip probability suddenly skyrockets. Or, put another way, even Siddhartha didn't find awakening in the samana practices. They were only the first step (of three) to reach his goal. You can overdo everything, even the very very nice things.


My psychologist taught me that fear, anxiety, etc. destructive emotions are surface events, bubbling up from somewhere deeper. Mindfulness can be used as a resource for us to be with that fear; in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh "those painful emotions are like a child crying out. A child needs love and attention. Hold them with love, be with them."

Once we can be with it, then we can start to follow it down to its roots. Shining light into the darkness is how we heal.

Unfortunately the author seems to have gone astray down a false path that seems to be very common in western civilization called spiritual bypassing. Basically spiritual bypassing is when you use things like meditation and spirituality to get around your deep seated psychological wounds. Doing this is just a form of avoidance and repression which causes the wound to fester, which can eventually culminate in more severe symptoms like what the author describes.


"I couldn't help but think about people having access to too many psychedelics. For a while, tripping can give you the most profound experiences ever. But after a while, it sort of becomes mondane, and this is when the bad trip probability suddenly skyrockets."

I'm not sure about that. Psychedelics can bring to the surface all sorts of unconscious traumas, repressed memories, and/or issues people have trouble dealing with on a conscious level -- fear of death being a classic source of difficulty during "bad trips", but also other things such as physical or emotional pain, or making you face the way you've been treating others or been treated by others, etc.

Many people just can't handle that... especially if they've been running away from facing those things their whole lives, which many, many people are.

Suddenly - bam - you're face to face with your own death, say, living through it in excruciating detail.. and, yeah, that can be very tough to deal with, and many people react to a "bad" experience by trying to run way even further, but once you're on the psychedelic rollercoaster there's rarely any easy way out until the psychedelic wears off, and most psychedelic therapists these days suggest that instead of running away one should run towards the uncomfortable material, facing it squarely and surrendering to the experience, and this often results in cathartic relief and a "good" trip afterwards.

Of course doing this with a trained therapist who can help you before, during, and after the psychedelic session is better than trying to deal with it alone, which many people just aren't prepared to do.


Trust the trajectory.

Fear is only illusion.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=TG2i_UoBEeg :-)

Sorry, not the most constructive reply ever, but I couldn't resist...


I’m sure the author would love to hear more about your diagnosis of his condition based solely on the content of an essay.

If someone puts a posting on the net, they likely have to accept that there will be reactions to it. That said, I am not looking forward to a fist-fight with a wanna-be-monk, so distance is probably the key. Dont you feel a fist-fighting drinker is a rather comical mindfulness practicioner? A bit like the gay nazi, or whatever stereotypical contradiction you wanna imagine.

He did clearly state that this was before he became a practicioner and this is (one of the things) that led him to it.

To be fair the diagnosis does align with the authors complaints.

Alan Watts used to say "When you've received the message, hang up the phone."

I think the biggest problem is that people who had an ego death experience are trying to experience it again by dosing up when it is largely a set and setting issue. Firstly, you can't have a life-changing, ecstatic experience of being connected to the universe every couple of weeks. Secondly, if you don't have some philosophical or religious framework to frame the experience, I imagine it can be really devastating.

Consumerism paired with sensationalism. Some people take psychedelics like others consume television... To amuse themselves. Remember what Tim Leary wrote in the psychedelic experience? If you have hallucinations, you're doing something wrong. But that is getting a bit off-topic regarding the original post.

A former student of Alan Watts, then a Taoist monk, found Orthodox Christianity after his searching, and has become a revered Priestmonk across the Orthodox world - he offers his own journey and offers the Eastern Orthodox Christian perspective of seeking God and His revelation. https://orthochristian.com/81732.html

https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/illuminedheart/father_... >The impersonal concept of deity was actually an experience of the non-being from which we have come [already], and that the true understanding of God - the highest, fullest understanding of God is God as person, as I AM - He has revealed Himself as I AM. Archimandrive Sophrony, from His Life is Mine

Small short booklet Fr Seraphim Rose wrote: https://www.amazon.com/Gods-Revelation-Human-Heart-Seraphim/...

In my own journey out of buddhism, taoism, stoicism, psychadelics, Fr Seraphims writings helped clarify why their was still a hole in my soul, and why western Christianity made no sense to me.

In the Orthodox Christian perspective, they are the Church that followed the Council of Jerusalem (the Book of Acts), the earliest writings of the Church (St Ignatius, the Didache, etc.) then all the councils which codified the canon of scripture, the Ecumenical Councils, etc. Every council must affirm previous dogma; believed everywhere, by all (Orthodox Christians), and at all times - so the below article on the Essence and Energy distinction of God, by St Gregory Palamas, affirms the early writings of St Basil and the Cappadocian Fathers of the Church who were fighting heretical notions of what God is - the Church defined what He is not. The Cappadocian Church fathers affirm the Apostles and scriptures, etc. http://orthodoxinfo.com/phronema/florov_palamas.aspx

This is a nice comparison video of Tabernacle and Jewish Temple worship, and its continuation in the Orthodox Christian temples. The western church in Rome was of the same One Mind of Christ in worship, Creed and sacrament until 1054, and then subsequently the Protestant revolted against their dogmatic innovations, and yet now are splintered into thousands on thousands of beliefs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkmh68urI6A

WHAT IS THE NOUS AND HOW IS IT DISTINCT FROM THE SOUL? https://orthochristian.com/79038.html


One of the major problems with American 'orthodox' are that they embrace only the easy parts of orthodoxy. Often I've heard that 'orthodox dont believe in original sin' and other such nonsense. These beliefs are widespread in westenized, modern orthodox but aren't true of much of orthodox practice in the east. St Gregory Palamas was a wonderful theologian, but we have tried , only in the last century to built a system of thought around him that his works simply dont and cant support. This is obviously due to an awareness of the more codified thought of the western church. Sometimes, I've even heard orthodox claim that the latin fathers are manifest heretics when they have been saints in the east for centuries! One of my American friends almost treats St AUGUSTINE as someone to be dismissed.

The consensus of the fathers includes all of the fathers, if you must cherry pick a subset or an individual to make a point its simply not in the apostolic tradition.


> The western church in Rome was of the same One Mind of Christ in worship, Creed and sacrament until 1054

The political/administrative disputes of 1053-1054 that directly produced the Great Schism didn't involve theological change on either side, so this (or the inverse, painting the Orthodox as the moving party, which I’ve also seen) position is simple factional-identity reinforcing revisionism.

> and then subsequently the Protestant revolted against their dogmatic innovations

Quite a few of the things Protestants objected to in the Roman Catholic Church were features it still shared with the Eastern Orthodox Churches (and many of them, both in the shared category and not, were not issues of dogma), so no, that’s not true in much the same way as the preceding claim about 1054 wasn't, even before any debates about which issues of dogma or other doctrine may or may nor have been innovations.


> why western Christianity made no sense to me.

What specifically? You haven't explained what made no sense to you and what finally made sense to you in Eastern Orthodoxy (I would also avoid lumping Protestantism in with Catholicism under the label "Western"). Could it be that you simply did not understand? Here, I would stick to traditional Catholic teaching as the point of reference as the veritable source for orthodox doctrine and tradition, not some Protestant innovation or corruption.

Mind you, the Catholic Church understands God as the Ipsum Esse Subsistens. Thomistic metaphysics uses this term. Thus God is understood as Existence itself, as Being, not a being (you might say that God does not exist, but rather is, or to abuse the terminology, is existence). God is the "to be". This is to be identified with the "I Am" of Exodus 3:14.

> This is a nice comparison video of Tabernacle and Jewish Temple worship, and its continuation in the Orthodox Christian temples.

The Catholic mass is liturgically, etc. the continuation, fulfillment, and perfection of the sacrifices made at the Temple of Jerusalem. The altar is where the perfect, unbloody sacrifice of Christ is offered at each and every mass. This sacrifice is the very purpose of the mass. (Following the destruction of the Temple, the Jews have no priesthood, no temple, and no sacrifices, only synanogues.) So that is no news from a Catholic POV (it may be for poorly catechized and Protestantized Catholics today, but that's a different story).

> The western church in Rome was of the same One Mind of Christ in worship, Creed and sacrament until 1054 and then subsequently the Protestant revolted against their dogmatic innovations, and yet now are splintered into thousands on thousands of beliefs.

I'm not sure you have an entirely accurate view [0].

[0] https://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/eastern-schism


> Thus God is understood as Existence itself, as Being, not a being (you might say that God does not exist, but rather is, or to abuse the terminology, is existence). God is the "to be". This is to be identified with the "I Am" of Exodus 3:14.

That's very interesting, and brings it much closer to a kind of pantheistic or even Vedanta-ish conception of god. But it's also simply not true for the how the vast majority of Catholic priests teach the religion.


Thanks for sharing, lots of good references and well written.

I especially like the one from Florovsky. I'd just like to leave a reference to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hesychasm for those who may be wondering what this is all about.


This just sent me down such a hole reading about Fr Seraphim Rose, thanks.

man, I love Alan Watts. We're so lucky to have so much of his actual speech recorded as the tone of his voice and the way he communicates ideas are really fascinating

Good point.

I agree with your conclusion.

I'd go a step further and state there is no such thing as a bad trip. There are just situations where loss go of control can result in the surfacing of things that are unresolved... and unpleasant. No one has a bad trip without the latter.

Another reason why psychedelics should come with clear warning labels that describe bad outcomes for specific situations.


A bad trip can tell people unthruths or falsehoods that they then believe. That is objectively bad.

In other words, a bad trip can manifest pathologies where none existed before.


How's that different from a "good" trip that make you believe you're in direct contact with god or even god himself though ?

It goes both ways, you can't say the "good" experience is the truth and the "bad" experience is false. They're both the same thing and are just a mirror of your internal state, your job is to analyse them and decide what value you want to put on them. There is no "objectively" good or bad

I think a looot of people are conditioned by what they read on internet about psychedelics, they spend hours watching videos and reading about experiences before trying it for themselves and are already fully trapped in some form of mental cage of what they experience will/should be.


Yes, much better to just casually drop 100 mcg on a Wednesday night in your friend’s basement at age 16 like I did, no preconceptions…

(To be fair, some of my friends still cite that night as a distinctly positive life-altering experience)


I'm not saying people should casually use psychedelics without any knowledge of them, especially not at 16 and especially not in a basement. I researched the safety of it and the general effects (during/after the trip) to make sure I'd be physically able to go through it. Once I learned there was virtually no risks for the dose I "knew" I was in a good mental state to have the experience.

It has to be something you want to try (not something your friends semi forced you to join), you have to be aware it can be unpleasant, and you have to do it in a safe place (both mentally and physically), given that not much can go seriously wrong.

My first time was 200ug of lsd in the middle of a desert at night by myself, I had the idea after reading 1/4th of a book from Alan Watts, the way he talked about psychedelics made me curious and I didn't want to be too influenced by his experiences/descriptions which made me decide to stop reading and try it out.

It was my best trip, I gave up and replicating the experience after 4 or 5 times (over 3 or 4 years) and I stopped thinking about psychedelics since then.

Since then I learned two things:

- I'm much prefer tripping alone than with people, especially if the people I trip with aren't very long term/close friends I 200% trust on everything.

- Tripping inside isn't particularly enjoyable, I can't imagine tripping in a basement. I vividly remember feeling claustrophobic during my first trip, and that was in the middle of a desert probably 50km away from any man made structure


The problem there is belief, not the psychedelics. It can happen with happy or blissful experiences as well.

> there is no such thing as a bad trip.

Terrors; visions of blood; intense paranoia; and the certainty that the experience is never going to end. That's not the surfacing of unresolved 'stuff'. That's being poisoned.

In my youth, I took a lot of acid, and I loved it. but I never thought it should be legalised; it's dangerous stuff.


I see your point, but I prefer to live in a free universe. We don't ban electricity or knives ... and both can do harm.

I prefer so too.

Let's not jump to conclusions. I wouldn't propose a ban on anything when a warning label or full disclosure would do just fine. I've edited my comment accordingly


Ha! I thought it might have been vipassana. My own experience of this (a 10 day silent retreat, not having done meditation before) was a full blown manic-psychotic experience (never having had any such thing before, nor in family history). If you're interested, I made some audio files [0] talking about what happened.

I honestly think it's _insane_ that they (vipassana) will take regular people who haven't done meditation and allow them to do a 10 day silent retreat. I honestly think it's like taking a regular person and allowing them to go down a grade 4 or 5 river. They might make it, but they might get seriously hurt too.

I actually raised this point with the local (New Zealand) health and disability ombudsman. I said that vipassana ought to have a psychologist to assess people as they left, or at least _something_ like that. Nothing changed as far as I am aware.

I hope the author continues to get better. It was a long journey for me.

[0]. http://livingvipassana.blogspot.com/2010/02/bipolar-chronicl...


Bi-polar is specifically screened for as a contra-indication for retreats, at least Goenka ones (along with Reiki practice, interestingly). They may still allow a diagnosed individual on, but are supposed to give extra attention.

What retreat did you go on, and did they ask about bi-polar experience pre-retreat?


They screen for a variety of things, but people aren't always honest. Psychosis and bipolar are two criteria. There may be more. They will also reject people if they are just clearly off their rocker -- Vipassana at these centers is specifically NOT for people with serious mental illness.

Reiki is a problem, I speculate, because it puts you in the habit of imagining sensation beyond your body, and this may lead to some problems. There may also be a spiritual aspect to it. One counter-point is that there is one meditation practice that goes beyond the body: metta. So maybe its a specific issue with Reiki (like how you'll never see a teacher wearing black and/or red at a retreat).


> They screen for a variety of things, but people aren't always honest.

And there is a form of milder bipolar disorder called cyclothymia that is rarely diagnosed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclothymia


Sorry for the late reply. I'd never had a bipolar experience before the retreat. It is my firm opinion that 10 days of a complete silent retreat was too much stress and triggered it.

I believe teachers and assistants are supposed to keep an eye out for things like that, specifically. Sorry it didn't work out like that for you; and best of luck

I've read quite a few blog and social media post of bipolar people not responding well to meditation. Neither have I. I actually thought I might have seen your post before.

People don't seem to accept either that 1. You're tired and have been willing to try a lot, 2. Even the mystical panacea doesn't help.


> I honestly think it's _insane_ that they (vipassana) will take regular people who haven't done meditation and allow them to do a 10 day silent retreat.

I did a Vipassana 12 day retreat (years ago) but I didn't find it to be that wild.

The hardest part for me was actually sitting down 15? hours a day. Had I known what I was going to do I would have prepared by doing exercises to strengthen my back.


How would you describe your psychological state before going to your first 10 day meditation retreat?

It was a long time ago now, 11 years or something. I think I was probably fairly happy, but, maybe at a little bit of a loose end.

The main reason I went on it was because doing a meditation retreat was suggested at a leadership seminar I went to! I was keeping a blog and I thought it would be "interesting" to go on the course. I was right about that ;)


This sounds exciting and novel to experience. The risk thrills me. What’s the fastest way to self administer?

Sit and do nothing for a few months until you go insane.

Ah, that's a pity. I was hoping something like a sensory deprivation tank or whatever would accelerate the process. I, sadly, do not wish to assign that much time to this.

Maybe when I retire! Thanks for the advice!


If you have an interest in rapid (positive) psychological change, at no cost, you may be interested in the Wim Hof method.

Yep. It makes big money, but it is literally gambling with people's sanity.

It's free.

I suppose we have two different “it”s happening here

A lot of people come into meditation/mindfulness with this preconceived notion that you sit down, close your eyes, focus on your breathing, and find your inner bliss. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. You sit down, close your eyes, focus on your breathing, and come face to face with the tornado of thoughts and emotions that is raging inside you. It's like running htop on your brain to find the runaway background processes that are consuming all your processing power.

It's what you do once you get to that place that matters. In the eastern tradition, you're supposed to observe the thoughts and feelings with non-judgment, accept them for what they are without "running along with them", then let them be as you return your focus to your breathing. IMO that's good advice - up to a point. I think actually solving some of the problems weighing on your mind should absolutely be part of your toolbox. (Stressed about work? Maybe talk to your boss about setting more humane goals). And finally, for the really big things you find, that can neither be solved nor accepted easily (the skeletons and/or demons), you're going to want to supplement meditation with something else. Maybe just reflection, where you take time to actually dig into it instead of trying to let it go. Maybe therapy where you get help to unpack it. Maybe even medication to help you be less anxious when you try to unpack it.

Whatever you do, don't scale up the duration of meditation if you find yourself dissociating. It's supposed to be intense, but not psychedelic. Start with short sessions (5-10 mins) and only increase the duration if you find that you're able to consistently return your focus to your breathing. If the thoughts and feelings take you for a ride that you can't get off, and you scale up the duration, then you're basically giving yourself a bad trip.

Done right, it can be a kind of conscious garbage collection to help ground you and train your awareness to return to the world at hand. Done wrong, it can be gambling with your sanity, removing avoidance as a coping mechanism without anything to replace it.


This.

I blame a modern world that puts a tv-box of constant stimulus over our heads. Folks rarely have a moment to their own thoughts, and have zero experience dealing with them.

I grew up on a farm. I had many hours a day with my own thoughts. I grew up quite comfortable with long silences and stillness. No storm rages in my head when I'm alone - more like a little wind, and I can easily deal with it.

I remember getting to college and encountering people who turned the TV or radio on the instant they got home. It took me years to understand why anybody would do that.


> Done wrong, it can be gambling with your sanity

I think the point of the article is that it's not clear what 'wrong' is, and it's certainly not made clear that there are potential serious negative mental health consequences.


Absolutely, I think it's important to not victim-blame or fall into that "just do it correctly and you'll be fine" trope that the author of the post describes. If you want to try meditation, always ease into it with shorts sessions, listen to your body and take note how you react to it along the way, and do not continue (or at least downscale it) if you find that your mind has a tendency to dissociate or otherwise freak out from it. And frankly, those 10 day silent retreats scare me - as someone who does short sessions once or twice a week, I probably feel the same way about them as someone who microdoses would feel about munching several fistfuls of shrooms.

I think part of the problem here is also the mysticism that this is steeped in. Hallucination, out-of-body-experiences, dissociation - none of these are ok, or signs that you're "transcending" or any bullshit like that. The "end goal" here isn't to dissolve your brain and merge it with the universe - in fact there is no end goal, just like there is no end goal for going to the gym (and it's absolutely possible to over-train there too, cf. rhabdomyolysis).


"I think actually solving some of the problems weighing on your mind should absolutely be part of your toolbox."

Yes, after meditation. I love your analogy of "garbage collection". For me, it's like flipping over playing cards, becoming interested in each card, and then remembering that I don't need to get fixated, and then discarding that card and returning to focus on my breathing, only to forget and flip over another card. Eventually, I spend less time flipping over cards and more time just sitting without judgement.

I am a lapsed meditator, and I will resolve to get back into it. Meditation helps me to remember who I am and what I really want.


Thank you for this. I stopped meditating for a while after I stopped judging things like my own happiness or lack of happiness. I find greater meaning in life by striving for happiness and solving problems rather than accepting things as they are without judgement.

I do appreciate meditating though to observe the background thoughts that are consuming energy as you mentioned. But I like my conviction and plan to keep it :)


What do you mean by dissociating? What is that?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissociation_(psychology)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissociative_disorder

TLDR, it's when some of the core associations in your brain start collapsing. E.g. you lose your sense of self, the world starts feeling unreal, your emotional responses to the world get out of whack. I think of it as semi-random rewiring of the connection between regions of your brain. Changing the layout of the connectivity of your brain is indeed a purpose of meditation, but always slowly over months and years. Doing so in a sudden, violent or random fashion most certainly isn't.


Dissociation also is any sort of abstracting from reality. This happens in daydreaming for example.

In fact, lucid dreaming is one of the techniques used in 'buddhism'.

In the midst of all of the "You're just doing Buddhism wrong!" comments, I would like to point out the PLOS One paper mentioned in the article, "The varieties of contemplative experience: A mixed-methods study of meditation-related challenges in Western Buddhists" (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal...).

"In one of the only prospective studies to use qualitative methods to deliberately ask about adverse effects, Shapiro (1992) [67] found that 63% of meditators on an intensive Vipassana retreat reported at least one adverse effect, with 7.4% reporting effects negative enough to stop meditating, and one individual hospitalized for psychosis."

It appears that mindfulness-based meditation is being prescribed or promoted with no regard to the side-effects.


An intensive Vipassana retreat is just that, an INTENSIVE retreat. I've meditated for ~10 years. I don't think anyone's FIRST meditation experience should be a 10-day Vipassana retreat. I don't think anyone's first silence experience should be a 10-day Vipassana retreat. That's like going to a Navy Seal bootcamp when you've never exercised in your life.

A lot of Buddhist or meditative practices also have close student-teacher relationships. You should have an active human coach guiding you through the process, because shit comes up, people have different mental health setups (just like a physical therapist has different workout plans for people with injuries and physical conditions) and if it's just DIY experimenting, you can encounter something and get screwed.

A good example of this is the Tim Ferris podcast where he did a 10-day Vipassana retreat and decided to fast for a certain number of days to amplify the effect and almost had a complete mental breakdown. It worked out and led to a very vulnerable podcast down the line (https://tim.blog/2020/09/14/how-to-heal-trauma/), but these are things to keep in mind when going into deep waters.


> "A lot of Buddhist or meditative practices also have close student-teacher relationships. You should have an active human coach guiding you through the process"

This seems to also open the door to a lot of fraudster con-man types and cults, so worth being wary of that relationship imo.

The author seemed to have experienced a bit of this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depersonalization which I've felt before and can be quite scary.


I knew picking that example would derail the discussion.

I don't think it derailed it, I think it actually highlighted a very important point.

You're right that disregard for the side-effects are common, but this disregard is also often in discussions where the dosage is low and so probably fairly safe.

Dose always matters, and this should be more widely communicated for meditation practice.

So while I don't think it's valid to extrapolate results from an intensive retreat (high dose) to casual meditators that meditate maybe 20 mins a day (low dose), pointing out the relevance of dosage is insightful.


I mean... That's exactly what the "you're just doing Buddhism wrong" crowd is saying.

There's a vast variety of methodologies and approaches to meditation, that come with their own effects, some bad some good. This is all quite well documented among the practitioners over the centuries. And beyond documentation, that's also why it's heavily suggested that one have guru or someone to actively guide and judge "progress", at least among the Hindus.


The study was looking at guided meditation which consisted of 60% of it’s sample. So, suggesting a guide on it’s own doesn’t solve the issue.

Having better guides is exactly what will solve the issue though. Unless you're making some kind of inherent argument, where all meditation is inherently nebulous and impervious to methodological approaches.

The guides may or may not be qualified. So the real problem is the lack systematization of it in meditation, more specifically a more reliable metric to judge "guides". As the extensive literature on meditation quite clearly outlines the limitations and dangers of various practices.

Tantra for example is quite clear about the dangers of practicing it.


Suggesting the guides themselves are the problem is a different testable idea. I am not saying it’s wrong, but without knowing what guidance is better there isn’t anyway for someone to implement it.

> promoted with no regard to the side-effects.

Many people are blind to the inherent risks of anything which can be labelled as "natural". We've been socially conditioned through health campaigns and advertising to believe that if something is "all natural" or part of a certain "organic" lifestyle it literally cannot precipitate any kind of harm. Those kinds of "appeal to nature" arguments are all around us, constantly. And many people see meditation as falling within the scope of "natural remedies". So it's not surprising that people would, by their conditioning, believe meditation to be innocuous.


The general theme I'm seeing in this thread is that vipassana is not for beginners, not a panacea, and not representative of buddhism/meditation/mindfulness as a whole. There are multiple people downthread comparing intensive vipassana retreats to diving head first into high impact sports.

The problems that the OP experienced appear to be directly related to this dynamic (doing a 10 day retreat a mere two years into meditative experience, and characterizing his practice as gateway drugs), whereas several comments are pointing out the importance of the eightfold path (a system aptly named after eight pillars of conduct) as a prerequisite, or suggesting less "hardcore" east asian traditions.

On a more fundamental level, I'm actually surprised nobody brought up yet the basic fact that sitting on your ass for 12+ hours per day for days on end gets physically painful. Just google "vipassana back pain".

My takeaway would be: don't assume all meditation techniques are the same. Vipassana retreats in particular strike me as quite extreme commitments.


Vipassana is not like a week at a spa.

No ten-day meditation retreat is for beginners. I had been meditating daily for ten years before I ever did a seven-day retreat.

You certainly don't need a ten-day retreat. Even a one-day retreat is rather extreme, for a beginner. A two-hour session, starting with instruction, and ending with 30 minutes of practice, is a reasonable way to approach Vipassana as a beginner.


> Vipassana is not like a week at a spa.

Right, I was conflating two separate points there: one is definitely about lengthy extreme programs, but another is that some people mentioned that it's better to spend more time with other forms of meditation (e.g. samatha) to develop other aspects of the eightfold path first, before getting into vipassana.


That's kinda funny because there are thousands of different ways to do Buddhism, and there are just as many, if not more, ways to do mindfulness and meditation.

For this reason I think it'd be really good on the one end to start pairing up terms and systems with psychologies and gifts/preferred methods of perception, in order to make these systems more effective...

And on the other end to build comprehensive guidelines for the ethics of promotion of mindfulness and meditation. Be Like Me is not a suitable ethical standpoint from which to prescribe such a tool or system.


10-day vipassana retreat was worst decision i did in my life lol

Why do you feel like this? I'm wondering because I'm considering going on one next year.

So after coming back, I had the opportunity to speak with some old yoga teachers who had been around for a while and studied how modern organizations like the "Vipassana" one by Goenka was created. Vipassana used to be only administered to people who were already very 'fit' to meditate 6-8 hours and who were ready to 'go deep'. Think years of training at an ashram, doing all the marshal arts/yoga things. (think shaolin/ashtanga yoga, not that easy lululemon fluff). I also spoke to a chinese massage person who dealt with lots of martial arts students (these guys were tough) and some had come back from the center _fuucked up_ in their nervous system.

I think its a symptom of our western culture where we can try things out without the necessary 'pre-conditions' or prerequisites taken care of.

If your comfortable sitting cross-legged for around 2-3 hours upright, no back support, and dont have knee pain after a session like that, also have no stress and no psychological issues... then perhaps its for you. Some people seem to benefit from it... others, it makes them 500% _more_ crazy than before.

I also hear its great for criminals whose minds are so 'set' in their ways its hard to mentally break through to them. some videos have been made about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phHib5VaCeE

I think for lots of the HN crowd, we are type 'A' learning personalities who can endure a lot of pain pushing through to achieve knowledge etc... however, pushing through against your own inner psyche is usually a bad idea, you want to gradually go up against it, and use bodily medidations like yoga to work with the Trauma. Sitting in a static position for 6-8 hours and doing intense absorption technics like the OP Article, can be a recipe to set off a bomb in your nervous system. I think a better solution for a lot of people is to see a therapist to talk about mental health (finding a good one is hard in itself), and then add in sustainable exercise routines to stay healthy.


well please elaborate, now I'm curious!

see sibling comment reply

I'm also shocked by "you're doing it wrong" comments, "get a teacher" advices (this is addressed in the OP article as well), and a barrage of anecdotal evidence.

This thread is blowing my mind, although not for the obvious reason.

I’m just astounded by all the anecdotes people are mentioning here that suggest meditation, mindfulness, etc. actually work, even the secularized, distorted, popularized versions we get here in the West.

Previously I just assumed this was all a bunch of wackadoo woo-woo bullshit designed to separate dissatisfied California yuppies from their money.

The fact that it could be dangerous and mentally destabilizing, and lead to such dramatic changes in personality and outlook as described in the linked articles and reinforced by replies here, is obviously reason for caution - but it also signifies strong evidence that this a very powerful and effective practice. I’m much more interested in learning about meditation than before reading the article.


I'm 40+ spent a lot of time stressed out about work, family, etc. Rather than go the medication route, I decided to try to just find ways to calm and de-stress myself. Certainly exercise works to some extent. But I also learned meditation.

I'm not interested in any religious aspects of it, I don't pay any money towards it. I believe I started by reading a book on how to do it, then listened to some guided audio on what I was supposed to do. With that knowledge I was able to continue on my own.

Specifically, my mind would tend to get stuck in loops of problems or worries, especially right before bed. What I really learned from doing this is that I would consciously reset my mind back to the present once it started going down these loops about the past or future. I do this for about 10-20 minutes before bed so that I can sleep without my mind racing and keeping me up. Even now I've noticed I don't have to do it as much or for as long when I do because I've learned to control my thoughts a lot better when I need to.

I know meditation goes much further beyond this (as outlined in the article), but just having this level of skill is very valuable if you have this type or racing mind. I very much differentiate between meditation as a skill and meditation as a way of life. The skill part is valuable for anyone.


Yes, it's surprising to people outside the retreat meditation community. If I read this blog entry prior to folding meditation practice into my daily life, I'd be equally surprised. There is a lot of commercialization and Westernized metaphysical woo-woo stuff to sift through to discover the type of meditation discussed in Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, or Dhammapada, so the initial and superficial impression of meditation generally perceived from a Yoga class at the local strip mall or YouTube guided meditations are of different varietals. The perception being that meditation is terrific for destressing and wouldn't lead to a psychotic break.

When you start to peel back the conditioning layers that define you, the sensations that reveal themselves can become destabilizing if you choose to focus on those distractions instead of allowing them to pass and refocus on the meditation object. If you're not prepared for what lies ahead and/or do not have a devoted mentor, the strands that define you and serve as identity reference points can snap leaving you with an existential crisis.

Also, while many meditation retreats and programs are designed to separate yuppies from their money, the retreats I'm familiar with operate on a donation basis to remain open for everyone independent of financial status.


It's important to set expectations. Meditation won't make you happy - and that's not the point of it. What it can do is let you be more present of mind, less prone to flights of fancy or worries. It teaches you a practice where you look into yourself and actually face what's going on in there, and gives you some gentle coping mechanisms to help lay to rest intrusive thoughts and feelings that have started "looping" in you. So the goal of becoming "enlightened" should probably be read more as "unburdened" or even "undistracted" - it's freedom to experience the moment you are in more clearly with fewer distractions and "ticks". What you do with that freedom is up to you. And it's not a state you achieve once and for all, it's something you do again and again, both to wipe the slate clean, and to train your ability to do so. It's more like taking out the trash, or daily stretches to stay limber, and less like a religious awakening (those who claim otherwise are hallucinating or having a mental breakdown like the author of the post).

This article might as well have said “The Shenrikki school of telekinesis is popular, but if you’re not careful while practicing you might accidentally crack the foundation of your house or give your spouse a concussion, and no one will warn you about this. ” and then a bunch of people jumped into the thread to say “Yes yes, this happened to me, and my home insurance didn’t cover it!”

My reaction is: wait, what, really, this is an actual risk here?!


if you want to continue in that vein of complete scepticism, you could just claim that all those people are experiencing a placebo effect.

I forget where I heard it, but someone once said "The mind is like a boomerang. If you throw it, there is a very good chance it won't come back."

There's decent empirical evidence of an effect.

It's not a huge surprise when you think about it - therapy works because of helping people change how they think.

The reason it's often dismissed by skeptics is because it's often surrounded by a lot of religious woo and other nonsense so people often dismiss the entire thing.

I have a pet hypothesis that it can make anxiety worse if you're not careful due to Hypervigilance (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypervigilance) - anxious people tend to have issues with ruminating and paying too much introspective attention to their bodies already. Most meditation rhetoric appears to be targeted to people who never introspect. Getting control over ruminating thoughts is helpful, but I've found mindfulness to be a mixed bag personally.


I think you're on to something!

Personally, after a short amount of mindfulness meditation (perhaps about 10 hours cumulatively; never more than 30 minutes per day), I began to struggle with uncontrollable awareness of bodily sensations. My consciousness would gravitate uncontrollably toward a certain bodily sensation, and I became unable to decouple my consciousness from the sensation. The harder I'd try to focus on something and ignore the sensation, the more intense the sensation would become. This would culminate in a panic attack.

The issue mostly subsided after a month or two, but it never fully went away. I've become convinced that mindfulness meditation is precisely the opposite of what an anxious, inwardly-focused person needs. If there were a way to train the mind to selectively attenuate information/signals, on the other hand, that would be very helpful.


Yeah - that’s largely been my experience as well, and I agree.

This will sound esoteric, but I feel should say it: sometimes when you are involved in a practice for which you have no context, you will open a door to things for which you have no name. You won't be able to name what you see or what you feel, and this can cause everything to come crashing down. An experienced guide can help you avoid this outcome.

It is a practice that does something, by which I mean something observable via MRI. Here's a meta analysis of the papers on MRI scans of meditators' brains: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4471247/

The cautious conclusion is that meditation is on par with being a cab driver in a large city (which also shows up on brain scans).


> designed to separate dissatisfied California yuppies from their money

Can I ask how the generic advice of "sit for 20 minutes a day paying attention to your own attention processes" costs anything?


The author is a professional meditation instructor, describing attending professional meditation training and conferences. Someone is paying money.

Are you disputing the fact that there are a very large number of people who charge money for instruction, training, retreats, etc. around the concepts of meditation and mindfulness?

Are you suggesting that "sitting for 20 minutes a day paying attention to your own attention processes" will lead to the profound revelations, mental changes, existential crises, etc. described in the article and in comments posted here?


20 minutes a day — unlikely. 2 hours a day for 10 years — you bet.

> dissatisfied California yuppies

What do you think the primary demographic of HN is?


I once had an intense, drug-like experience from meditation and even have a straightforward (if speculative) explanation for what went on.

Basically, one day I was curious and I decided to try the concentrate-on-your-breath exercise to see if I could go for ~30 minutes of focus (using a timer) without my mind wandering or any conscious thoughts. It was unexpectedly really, really, hard. I had to try again and again probably for 5 hours but eventually got pretty close I think.

Afterwards that day, the physical world was amazing. You know how kids get excited about mundane stuff or firetrucks or dinosaurs or whatever? Everything was just intrinsically super stimulating and interesting, even just the interaction of light and shadows, etc. It was like life had some sort of "interesting" volume knob, and after eliminating the loud sounds the volume got turned up on things that were previously too quiet to hear. I'm pretty sure as a young kid I had experienced the world in this more intense way but forgot it was possible.

My hypothesis is that it was kind of the opposite of burnout or shell shock - that there's some sort of internal adaptation to the level of external or internal stimuli, and just like overly stimulating/stressful environments or thoughts are known to cause people to feel numb (burnout), maybe reaching an exceptionally calm mental state can cause someone to feel whatever the opposite of numb is.

The effect wore off the next day, and I didn't attempt it again because it was incredibly difficult and also time consuming. But it's left me curious about it. If enough practice would make it possible reach or maintain such a mental state with a less-than-herculean amount of effort, it seems like that would be a nice mental skill to have...


Also, if it's possible to get into some profoundly different mental state after 1 day of meditation, it makes me a bit curious (and a bit concerned) about what could happen in 10 days...

If anyone else has had a similar experience and could weigh in if they've found an extended course helpful that would be really appreciated.

I found it very, very difficult to get to no conscious thoughts for 30 minutes, so much so that I haven't tried it again, and I'm someone who's mind is I think usually pretty quiet (I don't have a running dialog or anything like that). But the results as far as I'm concerned were not negative at all, so if there's some practical benefit to pursuing that sort of technique further I'd strongly consider it.


> no conscious thoughts

That's not mindfulness. I don't know what it's called; it sounds like some kind of auto-fascism.

Noticing thoughts, and noticing that you've been distracted, IS the practice. Everyone has the running dialogue, all the time. One remarkable thing about mindfulness is the way it shows just how fast that dialogue runs. I had no idea that it was possible for me to have 30 thoughts in a couple of seconds.

The practice is really Noticing.


> Everyone has the running dialogue, all the time.

Actually this varies! It seems like most people have it, but some people don't (including me). People are often surprised the other exists. [1] I obviously still think, but most of it is non-verbal.

> noticing that you've been distracted, IS the practice

I'm talking about the exercise with the goal to focus awareness on the breath. Of course I found myself thinking all sorts of stuff at first, but I approached it with the goal to be undistracted with pure awareness on the breath. It was very difficult and took a long time, and I can't explain how exactly I did it, but I think I largely got there, and it put me in an intensely altered mental state afterward.

Maybe not having a normal running dialogue made it easier? It still felt extremely difficult though.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/9oyhie/is_i... (I'm sure I've seen this come up more than once, there may be better links on Google)


I guess quite a lot of my instruction may have been 'idiosyncratic'.

The way I was instructed, focus on the breath isn't a 'goal', it's a sort of home-base - where you come back to when you notice thoughts (or physical pain, or whatever - it's all 'thoughts'). I was told not to approach it with a goal, and not to look for signs of 'success'.

I think the results differ, even for what appears to be exactly the same practice, depending on your attitude.


People have been meditating/praying/whatever for thousands of years, so it is probably helping people some how.

Most of the day I working, and after that running around getting dinner, doing chores and running errands. Even if I am playing a video game I am making an effort to something. Even reading or watching a movie I am working to concentrate , watch and understand.

If I go to a quiet, comfortable place and just relax for a few minutes, my brain goes from a harried state of going from one task to another to one where it can just relax.

I suppose woo-woo can surround it. Maybe once a month I think to meditate, although in the past I have done it more.

For myself, meditating tends to relax me if I have had a harrying, stressful day. It decreases my anxiety. It has never caused an anxiety attack or the like.

If I sat down to meditate for some time, and became aware that I was very anxious, I would not think I was anxious due to meditating, as what is anxiety creating about sitting down and doing nothing (unless you have something urgent to do - then you just don't sit down and meditate)? My perception would probably be that I was already existing in a state of anxiety much of the time, and did not think about it much of the time due to the quotidian tasks that were to be performed, but now that those were not around, I could finally be made aware of the mental state I am in and do not have to push aside for something else. Perhaps a sensory deprivation tank can cause reactions in emotionally stable people, but I don't see how meditating for a few minutes/hours can. In a non meditative way I suppose logical self-reflection can be initially unpleasant for some people, meditating in a way is self-reflection on one's current natural emotional state when quotidian distractions are pushed aside, and I suppose some people who have had "bouts of mild anxiety and depression" might "meltdown" when they decide to start to come to terms with their anxiety and depression.


>it also signifies strong evidence that this a very powerful and effective practice

I still see no reason to think it's a beneficial practice though. PCP is also powerful and effective with effects on your psyche all over the place.


> I just assumed this was all a bunch of wackadoo woo-woo bullshit designed to separate dissatisfied California yuppies from their money.

Same! This changed when I went to Vipassana, a 10 day silent course, and saw how it was run and funded without a hint of commercialism.

If you're interested, I wrote about it here: suketk.com/vipassana


I've got ADHD and 7 minutes of guided mediation in the mornings changed my life. I didnt believe it would when a doctor suggested it. But it did. I cant really explain it but I sure wish I knew about it earlier in my life.

Any kind of guided meditation? Specifically focused on aspects of ADHD? And how did it change your life?

This shitty one time cost app is what I use: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.meditation...

Basically I went from having little to no control over racing thoughts to being able to focus much better. That is hugely helpful in work situations but also in life. I can actually give attention to people when speaking with them.


Thanks for sharing - I'll give it a spin!

Every therapist I've gone to has suggested this meditation, along with cognitive behavior therapy and medication.

Health services recommend CBT because it's cheap and quick. If it works. There's no other psychological treatment as cheap as CBT.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is the most extensively studied form of therapy, with a pool of evidence supporting it's usage as a first line psychological therapy.

It's not just cheap.


I think it's supposed to change your personality right?

For example, making one less reactive?


Ha! I salute your openess.

I applaud your current open-mindedness, although your past open-mindedness could have used a tweak.

If you are serious about looking into meditation further, read Sam Harris’ book Waking Up. Sam Harris is about as far from a “woo-woo bullshit” practitioner as you can get. He was one of the leaders of the New Atheist movement, and has a PhD in neuroscience.


I love how when the west gets something and does its own interpretation that it's "watered" down as if the west can do nothing right and we're all spiritually and morally bankrupt idiots.

the West has its own spiritual traditions, that the type of people who meditation is pitched towards have completely abandoned. Mindfulness and such are spiritual practices stripped of their philosophical roots and repackaged in a consumable form.

If SE Asian companies were selling the Lord's Prayer as a quick de-stressing technique for busy atheist office workers, I'd say they were missing the point too.


> Mindfulness and such are spiritual practices stripped of their philosophical roots

Mindfulness is only stripped of it's "philosophical" (read: spiritual) roots, if you strip them. Perhaps you are confusing commercialised "mindfulness" with mindfulness.


Yeah I'm specifically talking about the commercialised form.

Would that make the Lord's Prayer twice repackaged (or re-gifted if you will) since it's a middle eastern practice already packaged as a consumable for the West?

No it wouldn't. There's a difference between a religion spreading, and taking the bits you like and secularising them like it's some kind of feel good buffet.

Japan does sell churches as nothing more than a backdrop to get married in.

At least for the author, it worked because he wanted it to work. "Seek and you shall find" is another spiritual principle. i.e. His faith in the process is what produced the results:

I began meditating in search for a decrease in stress and anxiety. I got that...

I've always found the "empty your mind" meditation quite hokey. Number one because I find that exercise is naturally meditative, and also healthy to boot. And second, in Christian prayer you are focused on something - whether God or Jesus or your cares or thankfulness, etc, and the point is the reverse - to fill your mind with what is good and holy. God has no interest in creating empty-minded self-focused people, he wants them full of thoughts of love, compassion, mercy, and others-focused on the good deeds that flow from that.


Most meditation I'm familiar with (of the Buddhist variety) is more about focusing the attention on the meditation object than about emptying your mind. I'm certainly not familiar with all the different meditation schools though.

the Soto style of zazen meditation is about emptying the mind though.

I think the parent misunderstands meditation though - it's not an empty practice for the self-absorbed; it's only been repackaged that way as mindfulness.


The parent definitely does not misunderstand meditation, and is quite aware that there are two primary types - focused-attention and open-awareness - the latter of which is generally what gets packaged as mindfulness meditation these days. In fact, the parent has zero interest in becoming a fully detached and non-judgmental blob of cells regarding his thoughts, feelings, and sensations that are part of his unique human narrative and personality.

Or was that too judgmental? Maybe I should just let all these HN comments float by like the Buddhists say I ought. No need to respond or draw conclusions about anything in life, ever, just let it all pass by like a bird in the wind.


It's a very common misunderstanding to believe that the Buddhist ideal is nihilism. The point is actually to become fully present in the world; the "attachment" you're supposed to let go of is your desire for things to be different from how they are, in the same way stoics say to let go of things you cannot control.

It's not the meditation that is destabilising. It's the weed:

> I spent my last day in Los Angeles riding on a Segway, buying legal marijuana and staring at some turtles in an on-campus pond at UCLA.

What's left unsaid is that the majority of this "practice" goes hand-in-hand with "recreational" use of weed. Scare quotes because once you start reading revelatory texts under the influence, and probably meditating under the influence, the road to psychosis is just a few turns away.

I've had friends who went mad reading the bible or The Eagle's Gift, or The Tenth Insight, while smoking weed. I can't explain the mechanism, but smoking weed and opening yourself up to all the enlightened bullshit of the New Age, or the Old Religions, can tear a hole in your mental health, big enough for a truck to drive through.

People who believe in the supernatural are already half-mad. The weed comes along and closes the deal.

Without weed, meditation is as woo-woo bullshit for California yuppies as you thought originally.


I've found that many people (myself included) start down the path of Vipassana(analysis) type of meditation too early or from a position where we weren't prepared for the consequences. I wish I had spent more time with metta(compassion) and samatha (calmness) meditation and build up stability/forbearance and kindness/compassion first before starting to de-construct experience. It is said that one type of meditation leads to the others and even with Vipassana you might have the realization that "I'm suffering because I was doing a thing, I laid the trap and stepped in it" and achieve peace of mind, but that won't happen on a schedule. I would recommend any busy person to avoid Vipassana until they have more experience and focus more on sense-calming (avoiding sensuality), and compassion/generosity practice. It will bring a quicker (though possibly less deep) taste of the peace of mind that is possible.

Strongly agree. It seems quite common in the west to go into the deep end without the necessary foundations. Certain ethical behaviours, strong compassion for others, a desire to do this for the good of the world not just for yourself etc. These are all essential parts of any spiritual path and just trying to reach straight for insight is potentially dangerous imho. I'm not a Buddhist as such but for me every aspect of the eightfold path is utterly essential and mutually supporting.

Exactly what I wanted to say too.

I was born Buddhist, studied at two Buddhist schools, and we were practicing meditation every day for nearly 90% of the year.

Reading that this person practiced Dhyana sounded very odd and irresponsible. What a vast majority of people here practice is Sathi (calmness) and Meththa (compassion), because it helps in regular activities and always have a positive impact.

Meditation practices like Anussathi, Vipassana, and Dhyana takes a lot more preparedness, and almost always is mentored by a monk.


Trungpa's presentation of Vipassana is quite different from most other versions; he has it emerging spontaneously from Samatha ('calm abiding').

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