To balance the thread about the benefits of meditation I start this thread.
Can there be such a thing as too much contemplation?
A study of Buddhist meditators in the United States suggests there are limits to wholesome activities such as meditation practice. In the extreme, long periods of intense meditation can bring about unpleasant changes of mind ¬ especially in ‘emotionally fragile Western students,’ the study says.
The author of the report is clinical psychologist Dr. Lois Vanderkooi. She is a clinical psychologist and the author of a research study on the pathology of meditation practice. She’s on staff at the State Mental Hospital in Boulder County, Colorado.
Sobin Namto in his books relates one of his students going so crazy with fear that he climbed up a coconut tree at the center and wouldn’t come down.
THURSDAY, July 12 (HealthDay News) — There’s no evidence that meditation eases health problems, according to an exhaustive review of the accumulated data by Canadian researchers.
“There is an enormous amount of interest in using meditation as a form of therapy to cope with a variety of modern-day health problems, especially hypertension, stress and chronic pain, but the majority of evidence that seems to support this notion is anecdotal, or it comes from poor quality studies,” concluded researchers Maria Ospina and Kenneth Bond of the University of Alberta/Capital Health Evidence-based Practice Centre, in Edmonton.
They analyzed 813 studies focused on the impact of meditation on various conditions, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and substance abuse
Rod Bucknell describe his experience:
The vipassana centre in Bangkok where I began my meditative training claimed to teach the system of practice developed by Mahasi Sayadaw of Myanma, often called Burmese satipatthana.
At the end of three weeks I was able to maintain uninterrupted mental one-pointedness for prolonged periods. During such periods nothing was present in consciousness but the meditation object, the sensations in the abdomen. The rest of the body, and the world outside it, had ceased to exist. I identified completely with the sensations: I was the sensations. Increasingly I experienced synaesthetic effects. For example, I often “saw” the pattern of sensations in the abdomen in various forms — usually as an oscillating system of levers, or as a pulsating globe of light. On my teacher’s advice I took this mental image as my new object of concentration. (The sitting practice had, by this stage, become the principal component of the meditative regime; mindful walking was now of secondary importance.) Then one day, as I was concentrating on my pulsating image, it suddenly disappeared, plunging me into a pitch-back emptiness. My teacher regarded this strange experience as an important meditative attainment, and told me to cultivate and prolong it. I followed his instruction for a time — until I learned that the objective was to prolong the state of emptiness to twenty-four hours. The achievement of that feat would constitute successful completion of the meditation course.
At that point I decided it was time to leave the vipassana centre. I had begun to doubt the value of this state of mental emptiness, and of some of my other hard-won meditative skills as well. Thanking my teacher, I left Bangkok and moved to Chiangmai in the north of the country.
In Chiangmai I entered another vipassana centre, to find out if their methods were significantly different. There were differences in detail, but they amounted simply to different ways of inducing the same concentrated state.
It seems to be quite pointless state.
Is it really aim / way of practise of Mahasi Sayadaw technique or widespread distortion of his teaching?
Willoughby Britton, Ph.D..
Clinical psychologist, research scientist, Brown University
Meditation-based therapies for stress, anxiety and depression have been making a comeback since the 1990s. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, has so thoroughly infiltrated mainstream psychiatry that mindfulness-based approaches have been called the “Third Wave of Behavior Therapies.” At this point, there isn’t too much question about whether mindfulness meditation is helpful for distress. The main focus for researchers now is why and how it works, and through what mechanism.
Does meditation improve depression by improving sleep? Being a clinical psychologist with an interest in both depression and sleep, I have spent the last several years investigating whether meditation-related improvements might be mediated by improvements in sleep. The idea seemed obvious: Poor sleep is a symptom of depression and it is also a risk factor for developing depression or relapsing. Meditation techniques, including mindfulness, have been found to calm the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight response” and decrease worry and rumination — all the things that interfere with good sleep. But does meditation improve sleep? My first thought was “of course!”
Like any good American, I went online and Googled “Meditation + Sleep” and came up with nearly six million hits, the majority praising the sleep-promoting effects of meditation (“Meditation, a natural sleep aid”) and selling meditation-based sleep products (“Achieve a better night’s sleep with meditation techniques”) — many from medical professionals (“Sleeplessness? M.D. offers self-help tips and sleep meditation CD”).
Based on the internet, it looks like meditation is great for sleep. Time to take a closer look at the scientific research…
How to Evaluate the Claims: Not All Research Is Equal
There are two general types of meditation studies: cross-sectional studies and longitudinal studies. Cross-sectional studies compare experienced meditators with non-meditators and are good place to start, but they can have hidden confounds that can obscure firm conclusions.
For example, if you compared a group of regular exercisers to non-exercisers and found that they were healthier, it would be easy to conclude that exercise makes you healthy. But what is not known is whether the exercisers also eat healthier diets, smoke or drink less or if the non-exercisers had a pre-existing health problem that prevented them from exercising.
The same problem applies to cross-sectional studies of meditators; it is unknown if the meditators were happier, less stressed or better sleepers before they started meditating, or whether they engage more in other health-promoting behaviors. Because of this, researchers put more value in longitudinal studies that measure sleep before and after learning meditation in people who have never meditated before.
It’s also important that the longitudinal study is a “randomized controlled trial,” or RCT, where half of the subjects are randomly allocated to the meditation group and the other half don’t meditate. This helps control for effects that are based on expectancy (hope of trying something new) or increased familiarity with the measures over time.
A Review of the Science Comes up Lacking
When I followed up the enthusiastic Google claims on the scientific research database Medline, the evidence was less compelling. Only a handful of longitudinal studies had investigated the effects of mindfulness meditation on sleep. Nearly all the studies found an improvement in self-reported sleep following meditation, but when a control group was added, the meditation group didn’t improve more than the control condition, which was usually a wait-list.
What was even more discouraging about the existing research was that they relied on self reports — either a general rating of sleep quality, or an average of daily diaries. None of the studies used what is considered the “Gold Standard” of sleep research, the polysomnographic sleep study, which measures brainwaves (EEG), eye-movements and muscle tone overnight in a laboratory.
The next step was obvious: Do a longitudinal randomized control trial with laboratory-based polysomnographic sleep measures in a depressed population with sleep complaints. Twenty-six medication-free individuals with a history of depression were randomized into either an eight week mindfulness meditation program called “Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy” or a wait-list control condition. All participants underwent in-lab sleep recordings before and after the treatment condition and filled out daily sleep diaries.
Meditation and Sleep Diaries Equally Beneficial for Self-Reported Sleep
According to sleep diaries, self-reported sleep improved following mindfulness meditation, just like in the other studies. But again, when compared to the control group, the effect disappeared. Filling out daily sleep diaries (but not meditating) was just as beneficial for sleep as meditation. When the act of measurement changes what is measured, we call that the “Hawthorne Effect.” In this case, increased attention to daily sleep habits may have changed the participants’ perception of their sleep quality or subtly encouraged them to adapt healthier sleep schedules. Thus, confirming previous studies, it does not appear that mindfulness meditation is especially good for improving (self-reported) sleep.
Results from the Sleep Lab
Even though the meditators said they were sleeping better, results from laboratory-based sleep and brain recordings told a different story. Contrary to our hypotheses that meditation would improve and deepen sleep, we found that meditation was associated with several indices of increased wakefulness and decreased sleep propensity, including more awakenings and stage one sleep (a lighter stage of sleep) and less stage three and four or “slow-wave sleep” (a deeper stage of sleep) compared to controls.
Even more compelling was the dose-response relationship between meditation practice amount and increases in wakefulness: the more one meditated, the more awake one’s brain became.
Paradox and Promise
Before we jump to the conclusion that meditation makes sleep worse, it is important to mention that the increased wakefulness in the brain was associated with improvements in depression. The people who meditated the most (at least 30 minutes per day) had more wakeful brains and were less depressed, but also reported sleeping better. Interestingly, this paradoxical pattern of improvements in self-reported sleep and mood with a corresponding increase in brain wakefulness is also seen in depressed patients who respond positively to SSRI’s like Prozac.
Like most research, these findings provoke many more questions than they answer, but it’s important not to speculate and to stick to the original question: Does meditation improve sleep? Our results, along with other longitudinal studies — which have only examined mindfulness meditation and not other techniques — do not support the widespread claims that meditation promotes better, deeper sleep. Much more research is needed. The take home message is that sometimes popular enthusiasm outpaces scientific research, and consumers should be as educated as possible about how to evaluate the evidence.
Tip: Always go to the original source: A detailed scientific report of this study can be found here.
Bourgeois Buddhists: Do Americans Miss the Point of Buddhism?
Last month when my new book, “The Bodhisattva’s Brain: Buddhism Naturalized” (MIT, 2011) was published, I was deep in the jungle among the Achuar, an indigenous people living on two million acres of primary rain forest in southeastern Ecuador and northeastern Peru. The Achuar had not been contacted until the 1970s, and they are — despite the thirst for the oil on their lands — committed to living harmoniously and sustainably with nature. Nowadays the Achuar say — but only as an afterthought, a courtesy, and perhaps only to well-off Westerners like me — that they are “Catholic.” But there are no churches. There are numerous shaman. The Achuar interpret their dreams every morning in order to plan their days. They shape shift. They use hallucinogens to see their futures. And many men have multiple wives.
I was raised as a Catholic, so I was amused and perplexed by this odd and ill-fitting appendage to a noble form of life. In what sense of “Catholic” are the Achuar people Catholic? Are they Catholics (as many as 40%, are Evangelical Christians, but even they say they are Catholic) primarily because they have learned to say that the spirit of the rain forest, arutum, is the spirit of Jesus Christ? The question generalizes: What beliefs or practices are enough to make one a bona fide member of any spiritual tradition?
This question arises in a serious way for American Buddhists. What kind of Buddhists are American Buddhists? Buddhism is first and foremost a complex philosophy about the nature of reality, the self and morality. Philosophically what is interesting is the connection between understanding that I am no self and that I have reason to be maximally compassionate and loving to all sentient beings. Do most American Buddhists know about the philosophy or enact the moral message of Buddhism?
In my experience the answers are “no.” Most Americans who say that they are Buddhist mean they meditate, possibly regularly. The code for this is to say that one “practices.” If you ask why a person who “practices” practices, typical answers involve vague new-agey and self-satisfied slogans about “centering,” “mind clearing,” serenity — possibly, if they are really bullshiting that they are “getting in touch with their Buddha nature.” If you ask what kind of meditation they do, most only know about mindfulness meditation, which unlike lovingkindness meditation, is almost entirely self-centered.
Many Americans — who tend towards the “spiritual but not religious” answer on social networking sites — know enough about Buddhism to know that it countenances no creator God. What they make of the hocus pocus about karma and rebirth is another matter. Many who have read the Dalai Lama’s best-seller, “The Art of Happiness,” and heard about some of the neuroscientific research on meditators, will claim that it has been shown that meditators are especially happy. So the idea I take it is that meditation is good for the person who practices because it makes him or her happy.
My best surmise is that most American Buddhists think that most “real” Buddhists, for example, in Asia, meditate, and that they do so as a sort of mental-moral hygiene that makes them more relaxed, nicer and happier. But this is false. Buddhism has about as little to do with meditation as Jesus’s message of love has to do with prayer, which is some, not entirely nothing; but almost nothing. Thinking that meditation is the essence of Buddhism would be akin to a group of converts to Catholicism thinking that real Catholics say Mass everyday because priests do.
In Thailand (and Myanmar and Sri Lanka) possibly the most Buddhists countries in the world, most everyone gives monks gifts (most monks are “short-timers,” men preparing for marriage) for “merit” (better rebirth). But few ordinary Thai Buddhists meditate. They learn how to meditate. But it is not a central part of most lives. Among Tibetan Buddhists at large monastic universities the size of Ohio State (now mostly in India), there is lots of soccer, lots of memorizing texts aloud, and lots of debating, but very little meditating. According to George Dreyfus in his wonderful “The Sound of Two Hands Clapping,” virtuosity at meditation among Tibetan Buddhists is left to a few adepts who are able in meditation to reconfirm the truths of Buddhist philosophy: that there is abundant suffering, that much suffering is caused by avarice and clinging to what we want but don’t need; that everything is impermanent including my self; and that I ought to live like a bodhisattva, attuned to the exploitation and misery in the world, not only in me. If you think that, at least, most Zen Buddhists have regular meditation practices, go to Japan and ask around.
What about the claim that meditation produces happiness? I was lucky enough to be a participant at the meetings with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India in 2000, where several excellent neuroscientists hatched ideas for studies on the effects of meditation. Dan Goleman’s “Destructive Emotions: Scientists Collaborate with the Dalai Lama” is a fine report on our meetings. There is by now evidence that meditation — now mostly completely “de-Buddhistized” in the style of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s program of “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” (MBSR) — does no harm and likely produces good health effects. Does MBSR or any genuinely Buddhist meditation also make one happier? You will hear that it does, but there is no scientific evidence that this is so. None. Zero. Nor is there any evidence that meditation makes people nicer, more compassionate, loving and kind. But, in any case, the question about happiness is itself a trick, at the end of which lies a sucker punch. Americans love happiness. We have a right to pursue it. If a spiritual tradition offers happiness, we are all over it. But really, how important is happiness? When I ask my students, ‘Was Jesus happy?’ — Was Buddha or Confucius happy? Was Mother Teresa happy? Socrates? Martin Luther King Jr.? Gandhi? Sojourner Truth? — they immediately see that meaning, purpose, significance, flourishing and fulfillment are different from happiness and that happiness is not the main or most important thing. One wonders whether American Buddhists, especially those who think that Buddhism is largely about meditation, and the personal psychological goods, the self-satisfaction on offer from sitting in, what has become, a laughably bourgeois pose, aren’t missing something essential about Buddhism, about what Buddhist philosophy is mainly and mostly about, namely, wisdom and goodness.
Miraculously, that worked. No more trauma; Mitchell felt free. This dramatic recovery, along with the experiences of fellow first responders, led Mitchell to do some research into recovery from trauma. He eventually concluded that he had stumbled upon a powerful treatment. In 1983, nearly a decade after the car accident, Mitchell wrote an influential paper in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services that transformed his experience into a seven-step practice, which he called critical incident stress debriefing, or CISD. The central idea: People who survive a painful event should express their feelings soon after so the memory isn’t “sealed over” and repressed, which could lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.
In recent years, CISD has become exceedingly popular, used by the US Department of Defense, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Israeli army, the United Nations, and the American Red Cross. Each year, more than 30,000 people are trained in the technique. (After the September 11 attacks, 2,000 facilitators descended on New York City.)
Even though PTSD is triggered by a stressful incident, it is really a disease of memory. The problem isn’t the trauma—it’s that the trauma can’t be forgotten. Most memories, and their associated emotions, fade with time. But PTSD memories remain horribly intense, bleeding into the present and ruining the future. So, in theory, the act of sharing those memories is an act of forgetting them.
A typical CISD session lasts about three hours and involves a trained facilitator who encourages people involved to describe the event from their perspective in as much detail as possible. Facilitators are trained to probe deeply and directly, asking questions such as, what was the worst part of the incident for you personally? The underlying assumption is that a way to ease a traumatic memory is to express it.
The problem is, CISD rarely helps—and recent studies show it often makes things worse. In one, burn victims were randomly assigned to receive either CISD or no treatment at all. A year later, those who went through a debriefing were more anxious and depressed and nearly three times as likely to suffer from PTSD. Another trial showed CISD was ineffective at preventing post-traumatic stress in victims of violent crime, and a US Army study of 952 Kosovo peacekeepers found that debriefing did not hasten recovery and led to more alcohol abuse. Psychologists have begun to recommend that the practice be discontinued for disaster survivors. (Mitchell now says that he doesn’t think CISD necessarily helps post-traumatic stress at all, but his early papers on the subject seem clear on the link.)
Can Meditation Be Bad for You?
by Mary Garden
Published in the Humanist, September/October 2007
Back in 1979, when I was living in Pune, India, as a starry-eyed devotee of the infamous guru Bhagwan Rajneesh, something happened that has disturbed me to this day. A man who had just come down from Kathmandu after completing a thirty-day Tibetan Buddhist meditation course killed himself. I had met him the night before, and we’d had coffee together. I don’t remember what we spoke about, but he was friendly and didn’t appear distressed. But the next day he climbed to the top of the multi-storied Blue Diamond Hotel and leapt off.
The Bhagwan, at his first lecture after the man’s suicide, tried to reassure us by saying the man had already reincarnated as a more enlightened soul. But I was quite upset and remember thinking how strange it was that someone should kill himself after a meditation course. Isn’t meditation something you do to get–at the very least–peace of mind? I wondered whether he might have had a mental illness and perhaps shouldn’t have taken the course in the first place. Even if he had, shouldn’t the meditation have helped? It didn’t occur to me that the meditation itself might have caused a mental imbalance that tipped him over the edge–that meditation could be dangerous for some people. Has such a notion ever appeared in the mainstream media, let alone the myriad New Age magazines?
Since the 1970s, meditation has become increasingly popular in the West and is promoted as a way to reduce stress, bring about relaxation, and even manage depression. It’s now being used in classrooms, prisons, and hospitals. Here in Australia, meditation groups and teachers have popped up like mushrooms: hundreds head off to the free (donation only) ten-day Vipassana courses, or sit and meditate with groups such as the Brahma Kumaris or Sahaja Yoga. There is a general assumption and belief that meditation is a secular technique and is good for everyone.
The most common types of meditation taught include sitting still and concentrating on the breath, silently repeating a sound (mantra) or visualizing an image. What is often overlooked is that these Eastern meditation techniques were never meant to be methods to reduce stress and bring about relaxation. They are essentially spiritual tools, designed to apparently “cleanse” the mind of impurities and disturbances so as to attain so-called enlightenment–a concept as nebulous as God.
In the Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna:
Sitting and concentrating the mind on a single object, controlling the thoughts and the activities of the senses, let the yogi practice meditation for self-purification . . . by always keeping the mind fixed on the Self, the yogi whose mind is subdued attains peace of the Supreme nirvana by uniting with Me.
And Sri Lankan-born K. Sri Dhammananda, who before his death in 2006 was the foremost Theravada Buddhist monk in Malaysia and Singapore, wrote: “No one can attain Nibbana [nirvana] or salvation without developing the mind through meditation. Meditation is a gentle way of conquering the defilements which pollute the mind.”
What is interesting is that Buddhist and Hindu teachers, even the Dalai Lama, have occasionally pointed out the potential hazards of meditation. Dhammananda warned:
The practice of meditation has been abused by people. They want immediate and quick results, just as they expect quick returns for everything they do in daily life . . . the mind must be brought under control in slow degrees and one should not try to reach for the higher states without proper training. We have heard of over-enthusiastic young men and women literally going out of their minds because they adopted the wrong attitudes towards meditation.
Dr. Lorin Roche, a meditation teacher, says a major problem arises from the way meditators interpret Buddhist and Hindu teachings. He points out that meditation techniques that encourage detachment from the world were intended only for monks and nuns. He has spent thirty years doing interviews with people who meditate regularly and says many were depressed. He says they have tried to detach themselves from their desires, their loves, and their passion. “Depression is a natural result of loss, and if you internalize teachings that poison you against the world, then of course you will become depressed.”
The Dalai Lama has said that Eastern forms of meditation have to be handled carefully: “Westerners who proceed too quickly to deep meditation should learn more about Eastern traditions and get better training than they usually do. Otherwise, certain physical or mental difficulties appear.”
I don’t remember any such warnings when I began meditating, and probably wouldn’t have taken much notice if there were. Along with fellow seekers, I regarded any negative experiences as healing or just clearing out bad karma.
I meditated a lot in the 1970s and thought I was superior to those who didn’t. Thankfully I didn’t have a breakdown (though sometimes I was surely “out of my mind”). I had all sorts of bizarre and strange experiences and in the early days often felt bliss and ecstasy. There were a few occasions where I felt as though I was “one with the universe”, and I once began hallucinating that the trees outside were vibrating with white light, convinced I could hear the sacred Om sound booming through the Himalayan night.
In addition to Hindu meditations–which involved mumbling mantras of various kinds (I even spent time with the Hare Krishnas in Vrindaban where I used a 108-beaded mala to chant “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare .” throughout the day)–I also attended five ten-day Buddhist Vipassana retreats. The teacher was S. N. Goenka. His organization now leads retreats worldwide and they are by far the most popular meditation courses offered. They involve sitting for up to fourteen hours a day, watching the breath and sensations in the body and trying to become detached. The aim (apart from enlightenment) is equanimity. Blissful feelings have to be disregarded, along with feelings of physical discomfort–even excruciating agony–that may arise from prolonged sitting. Meditators are not allowed to talk, write, or read. There is no evening meal, just a cup of herbal tea.
When I finally gave up on seeking enlightenment in the late 1970s and returned to worldly life, I also gave up meditating–except for the occasional sitting still for a few minutes here and there, watching my breath in the Vipassana way. However, over the years I would beat myself up about my laziness: “You should meditate,” my inner critic would harp. “Every day, for at least half an hour.” But why? I now ask. Did it really do me any good? I manage my life perfectly well without it. If I want peace and relaxation, I have a massage, or soak in a hot bath or swim twenty laps at the local pool. Or I go for a long leisurely walk. Or I just sit in a chair and do nothing. Is meditation really as beneficial as its proponents claim?
Arthur Chappell, a former devotee of Guru Maharaj (also known as Prem Rawat), points out that meditation starves the mind of stimulus (sensory deprivation) and he wonders whether desensitizing the mind to stimuli may actually “affect one’s ability to react properly with the level of fear, love, and other emotions required in any given social situation.” Chappell says minds can atrophy–just like limbs do–if they aren’t used for a wide range of purposes:
Many meditation practitioners have complained of difficulty doing simple arithmetic and remembering names of close friends after prolonged meditation. The effect is rather like that of Newspeak’s obliteration of the English language in George Orwell’s 1984.
In recent years neuroscientists have been examining the effects of meditation on the brain. Professor Richard Davidson of Wisconsin, a long-term Buddhist meditator himself, claims that meditation can “change neural states in circuits that may be important for compassionate behavior and attentional and emotional regulation.” However, other scientists argue that Davidson’s claims are unsubstantiated and that his studies have serious flaws ranging from experimental design to conclusions. Dr. Nancy Hayes, a neurobiologist at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, says that Davidson and his supporters promote research before it has been replicated. And what is really interesting, but never highlighted, is that Davidson himself points out that, for psychologists using meditation to treat their patients, “Meditation is not going to be good for all patients with emotional disorders and it may even be bad for certain types of patients.”
Dr. Solomon Snyder, head of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, warns that during meditation the brain releases serotonin. This may help those with mild depression but too much serotonin can cause, in some, a paradoxical relaxation-induced anxiety. Instead of relaxing during meditation, these people become distressed and may even have panic attacks. Snyder says that in some cases of schizophrenia, meditation can launch a person straight into psychosis.
And what about all those good feelings one can experience in meditation? Is there another explanation, for example, for that transcendental feeling of being one with the universe?
Dr. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania scanned the brains of long-term practitioners of Buddhism while they were meditating and compared them with images taken when they were not. Newberg saw that blood flow to the posterior superior parietal lobe decreased during meditation. This area of the brain determines the boundaries of one’s body in relation to the environment and allows us to navigate a complex three-dimensional world without bumping into things. “We know that the posterior superior parietal lobe plays that particular role because there are patients with damage in this same region who literally cannot move around without falling,” Newberg reports. “They’ll miss the chair they intended to sit on, and generally have a fuzzy understanding of where their body ends and the rest of the universe begins.” He says that when people have spiritual experiences and feel they become one with the universe and lose their sense of self, it may be because of what is happening in that area of the brain. “If you block that area, you lose that boundary between the self and the rest of the world.” Were the Buddhist meditators merely experiencing an odd side effect of submitting their brains to unusual conditions?
Dr. Michael Persinger, a professor of neuroscience at the Laurentian University in Canada, studied 1,018 meditators in 1993 and found that meditation can bring on symptoms of complex partial epilepsy such as visual abnormalities, hearing voices, feeling vibrations, or experiencing automatic behaviors such as narcolepsy. Note that epileptic patients who suffer from seizures in the temporal lobes have auditory or visual hallucinations, which they often interpret as mystical experiences. Some are convinced that they conversed with God.
In recent years Persinger set out to investigate so-called “mystical” experiences under controlled laboratory conditions. He got volunteers to wear a helmet fitted with a set of magnets through which he ran a weak electromagnetic signal. Persinger found that the magnetically induced seizures in the temporal lobes generate the same sort of hallucinations and mystical experiences reported by epileptic patients. Four in five people, he says, report a “mystical experience, the feeling that there is a sentient being or entity standing behind or near” them. Some weep, some feel God has touched them, others become frightened and talk of demons and evil spirits. “That’s in the laboratory,” Persinger notes, referring to subjects’ knowledge of a controlled environment. “How much more intense might these experiences be if they happened late at night, or in a pew in a mosque or synagogue?”
Does this indicate that so-called mystical experiences may be caused by seizures, by a temporary malfunction of the brain circuitry triggered by abnormal conditions such as sensory deprivation or decreased blood flow to the parietal lobe? Is that what happened to me?
In addition to the neuroscientists’ findings, there is anecdotal evidence that shouldn’t be overlooked. Clearly there are potential dangers with long meditation retreats, particularly for beginners.
Christopher Titmuss, a former Buddhist monk who now lives in England, holds yearly Vipassana meditation retreats in Bodh Gaya, India. He reports that occasionally people go through very traumatic experiences and require round the clock support, the use of strong drugs, or even hospitalization. “Others may experience a short-lived terror of the mind utterly out of control, a temporary fear of going mad,” he notes. “Or an alienation from conventional reality that makes it difficult for consciousness to recover without active intervention.” But Titmuss claims it isn’t the meditation that causes such behavior: “The function of meditation, as the Buddha points out, is to act as a mirror to what is.”
On a Goenka Vipassana discussion board called tribe.net, a participant named Tristan writes:
I wish I could say wonderful things about my experience but I can’t. I stayed the full ten days, many of them filled with incredible hallucinations, from being inside an egg, to being a bird-like animal with broken wings, to following tunnels through my brain, to feeling completely connected to the universe. No problem, I told myself, it’s just sensation. I’m perfectly safe. On the last day of the retreat, listening to the last lecture, I let out a huge scream and fell down.
Tristan says he became psychotic and ended up in a psychiatric hospital for several weeks.
With Goenka’s courses there have been a number of failed suicide attempts in India, including one that resulted in a broken spine and another in which the survivor suffered a ruptured lung and a fractured skull. Researchers at Goenka’s headquarters at Igatpuri looked at cases concerning nine persons who’d harmed themselves after a course, and they found all had either practiced other forms of meditation, used healing techniques, or used drugs prior to doing a course. They consequently attributed the serious mental disturbances following the retreat not as side effects of the meditation technique, but to the practice or use of these other things.
But a woman who recently contacted me said her son did a Vipassana course in January in New Zealand, found it to be a very positive experience that produced many good feelings of love and so forth, but that within a few days of his return he’d had a “psychotic episode.” He was committed to a mental hospital where he responded well to medication and is now on antidepressants. Her son had no history of mental instability, nor was there any such history in the family. He had never tried meditation before nor had he taken drugs.
Geoffrey Dawson, a Sydney-based Zen meditation teacher and psychotherapist, has come across twenty people who had mentally distressing experiences as a result of attending courses at the Goenka Vipassana Retreat Center in Blackheath (located in the Blue Mountains of Australia). Dawson says these meditators became fragmented rather than integrated and their experiences included panic attacks, depressive episodes, or both that in most cases persisted months after the retreat ended. There were also some manic episodes, one of which later became diagnosed and treated as a bipolar disorder. Dawson was also contacted by a woman whose daughter had been to a retreat. Her friends and family noticed she became withdrawn and obsessive afterwards. Her psychological condition deteriorated and some months later she became psychotic. Within eighteen months she was hospitalized and committed suicide.
Dawson maintains it is of utmost importance to give people a gradual introduction to meditation retreats, something that is lacking in Goenka’s [and others] approach. Dawson is highly selective about who can do his retreats. He starts people on regular daily meditation along with one group meditation per week, then introduces them to one or two day retreats and gradually introduces them to a longer retreat.
Dawson suggests that “if a gradual approach to meditation retreats is adopted, supportive processes are put in place during retreats, and follow-up care is provided,” while it’s not guaranteed participants won’t have adverse experiences, “it can certainly help prevent and minimize the development of mental disorders.”
Colorado-based clinical psychologist Dr. Lois Vanderkooi, who has written on meditation-related psychosis, points out that screening is important when intensive meditation is involved and suggests that it can be done easily with a questionnaire that asks about psychiatric history.
Questionnaires are now used for Goenka’s retreats. He says retreats aren’t recommended for people with serious psychiatric disorders as it is unrealistic to expect that Vipassana will cure or alleviate mental problems. Application forms have questions such as, “Do you have, or have you ever had, any mental health problems such as significant depression or anxiety, panic attacks, manic depression, schizophrenia?” There is also a question, “Have you had any previous experience with meditation techniques, therapies, or healing practices?” This particular question allows Goenka to screen out people who practice a spiritual therapy called Reiki. He says there were many cases around the world where mixing Reiki and Vipassana meditation harmed Reiki practitioners to the extent that some of them became mentally imbalanced. Goenka argues that such practices “attempt to alter reality by means of calling on some external force or autosuggestion (such as self-hypnosis). This prevents the practitioner from observing the truth as it is.”
But are questionnaires enough? They can hardly screen those people who have undiagnosed psychiatric disorders. They also rely on people telling the truth. People may feel reluctant to fill them out honestly in case they are barred from participating in a retreat. The Icarus Project, a web community supporting those with mental illnesses, regards questionnaires as “arbitrary, intrusive, and discriminatory” and claims that retreat applicants “simply hide their psychiatric history on the application to avoid stigmatization.” They also write that people with schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, or bipolar disorder have not only completed meditation retreats, but discovered that meditation is a valuable recovery tool.
Richard, a former meditator who gave only his first name, offers the following observations:
Those who play the “mental illness” defense card seem to have a vested interest in Eastern philosophy. Meditation appears to create mental imbalance by messing with the brain’s chemistry. For all we know, the mentally ill might be better equipped to deal with such alterations since they’re used to them. In other words, the mental illness defense doesn’t appear to be based on fact, but as a knee-jerk excuse for why we see negative occurrences related to meditation–“he or she was crazy to begin with, it wasn’t the meditation, it was their problem.”
If one isn’t after enlightenment or spiritual experiences, then I can’t help thinking that exercise may be better for physical and mental well being than meditation. I just love my morning swims in the local pool.
After my Indian odyssey and my return to worldly life in 1979, I’ve found being back in the world not such a bad thing after all. I no longer regard the world as a place from which to escape or detach myself. My mind is no longer something to conquer or to cleanse of impurities. In fact, my life is immeasurably richer without meditation, as wasthat of India’s great poet Rabindranath Tagore, exemplified in his poem “Against Meditative Knowledge”:
Those who wish to sit, shut their eyes,
and meditate to know if the world’s true or lies,
may do so. It’s their choice. But I meanwhile
with hungry eyes that can’t be satisfied
shall take a look at the world in broad daylight. (1896)
Mary Garden is a writer who lives in Queensland, Australia. She is the author of The Serpent Rising-a journey of spiritual seduction (2003, Sid Harta, Melbourne) and is currently working on a biography of her father, Oscar Garden, a pioneering aviator.
MEDITATION-RELATED PSYCHOSIS AND ALTERED
STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS: EXPERIENCES AND PERSPECTIVES OF BUDDHISTS
A DOCTORAL PAPER
PRESENTED TO THE FACULTY OF
THE SCHOOL OF PROFESSIONAL PSYCHOLOGY
OFFICE OF GRADUATE STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF DENVER
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FR THE DEGREE
DOCTOR OF PSYCHOLOGY
BY LOIS K.. VANDERKOOI
Cracking the Shell: Quest of Unravelling
Mara comes from an upper-class, ambitious family, which has no history of major mental illness. Her father was a successful businessman who wanted Mara to follow in his steps. She accordingly began work on a MBA, which was antithetical to her true desire to be an artist. In college, she generally felt depressed, saw a psychiatrist and therapist .a few times, and frequently turned to alcohol. She had an experience, however, while intensively writing a paper about Blake, that everything was in her mind. This experience was freeing, and she felt that she had glimpsed a higher state of consciousness. After a year of misery in graduate school, she dropped out and turned to Zen, hungering to break through again. Zen was attractive because of its simplicity and meditation, which offered freedom of mind despite life circumstances. Zen also seemed to offer a more like-minded, understanding family than her family of origin.
Mara began working odd jobs, such as house-cleaning, and participating in all activities offered by a Zen Center. She attended morning and evening sittings, all-night sittings, and seven-day retreats. The center she attended was large, and she was “just another person” and a beginner, which meant that she did not have any duties or positions. The center had hierarchical layers of students with senior students having major roles in training. Those who had “broken through” wore a rakusu (rectangle of cloth held by strips of cloth around the neck.) The center was Rinzai in approach, and the attitude was that the harder one worked, the longer and more one—pointedly one focused in meditation (for beginners, this usually involved the koan “Mu”), the more likely one would experience kensho (breakthrough). There was an “all or nothing” attitude and people were encouraged to go to the extreme. The teacher, who had been trained in Japan, was generally distant and formal. Mara admired him greatly from afar. They did not know each other well. She only met with him in “dokusan” (interviews held during retreats where the teacher guides and tests the student’s progress). During dokusan, he questioned her penetration of Mu.
Mara does not remember whether students were screened in terms of their ability to handle meditation (this was in the mid-1970’s). She said that not everybody was allowed to attend retreats: One had to be a good and devoted sitter. She never felt that there was a risk in sitting strenuously and sat at least two hours a day when not in retreat. She said that she never had any problems with meditating until the retreat that preceded her psychotic episode. That retreat occurred after she had seriously meditated for a year and a half. It was a seven-day retreat and followed another seven—day retreat that had ended a week before.
The retreat was intense. Mara meditated day and night with breaks for meals, chanting, work, and rest during the day and breaks for juice at night. She said that she was able to sit full—lotus, which was amazing and perhaps supported by the high energy level in the zendo (meditation hall). She did not experience pain and was fiercely intent on going deeper and breaking through. She said that she had intense makyo (ASC), but did not fear going crazy. The makyo involved mostly positive imagery except near the end, when there were demon-like faces. She also experienced going down a shaft in her mind and opening doors to different realities. And at the end, she experienced an overwhelming sense of holiness and felt she had tapped into universal mind. She was able to let the makyo go, and by the end of the retreat, was sure she had broken through as she could answer most of the teacher’s questions in dokusan and he hugged her and seemed to appreciate her experience.
Following the retreat, she told others that she had broken through, and word got back to the teacher. He told her that she had not broken through. She thought he just wanted her to go deeper. During the week following the retreat, she experienced being like a bird in an egg, tapping to get out, and suddenly she heard tapping from the other side. She felt that God was revealing Himself and tapping to free her, and she was ready to “throw herself into the fire of consciousness to break through to His love.” She realized that this seemed more theistic than Buddhist and was excited that there was something out there working on her too. That was when she consciously decided to let her mind go, allowing it to go “crazy.” After that point, everything seemed symbolic with cosmological dimensions, and she found her mind racing, trying to figure everything out. She thought and thought in her quest and wandered around looking for her teacher, who she believed was God. Finally, she was hospitalized and received huge doses of antipsychotic medication.
In the next few years, she went on and off medication and required further hospitalization. She returned to the Zen center, but did not heed advice to take her medication, and eventually was not allowed to practice there. She thought she was going through an enlightening experience and did not understand people’s concern. She felt hurt that they pushed her away.
Mara’s experience in the mental health system was taxing. It seemed that few understood her experience and most were condescending and perhaps needed to see her as sick and themselves as healthy. She felt that her mind was unravelling, all the major fears, desires and “skeletons from the past” emerging into consciousness. She was helped most by a Buddhist psychiatrist who acknowledged that her experience was valuable, valued the spiritual dimension, and grounded her with medication and questions about mundane things when she became carried away with ideas.
Mara received a diagnosis of schizophrenia. She is unsure about this diagnosis. She assumes that she has some genetic, biochemical proclivity for psychosis and says that her lack of control over the unravelling seemed like schizophrenia. But there was also the spiritual quest part and a release from past karma. She said that once the unravelling was complete, she felt more stable and at peace than ever before. She was able to discontinue antipsychotic medication.
Currently, Mara meditates for an hour a day. The meditation involves following the breath, thinking about things (not in the prior searching way), and listening to her inner life. She lives alone and tries to live simply and mindfully. She says that more intense meditation would probably be harmful. Her spirituality is closer to Christianity at this point, in part because of her experience of God tapping at her shell. She says that her spiritual vision is unique, personal, and somewhat mystical, and che does not share it with others.
Terror Alone: Snapping and Song Yet Unsung
Ada grew up in a “workaholic” home–too busy and striving to pay attention to the feelings of a little girl. Sweets were the soothers. Happy and good were the ways to be. A family story has it ,that as an infant, she was left to cry for hours. She remembers three times of terror as a young child when she did not know where she was while in a familiar place. Ecstatic experiences with intense, concentrated writing of poetry as a teenager offered her an avenue to a different type of consciousness.
Ada’s involvement in meditation began in 1967 with TM, which helped calm and balance her after a traumatic breakup with the “love of her life,” Paul. Nine months later she entered a year and a half practice of Vedanta, a form of Hindu mysticism, which involved meditating on a spiritual passage. Ada “upped the ante” after reading books (Watts, 1957 and Kapleau, 1965/1989) on Zen and became excited about depictions of enlightenment experience. She had brief exposure to two famous Japanese Zen masters in 1969 and began practicing in earnest after meeting another master in 1970. He became her “real teacher.” He was “dear and warm,” and she felt quite close to him. Also, Paul was back in her life and also excited about Zen. They sat and studied regularly with other meditators. Ada was quite involved in their group and helped organize retreats when their teacher visited from Japan. It was a “high” time in her life.
Ada was attracted to Rinzai Zen–its “intensity, high drama, and do or die effort.” It felt good to “bust her butt” and survive the pain of extended sitting. She does not remember the kind of practice her teacher taught, but she pushed herself to become enlightened. When he visited for the last time, she took his words to “just sit’ to heart. She had asked him what to do and was at a turning point in her career, i.e., she had to decide whether to become a professional singer and train in opera. Paul had also broken up with her. It seemed that if she became enlightened, her problems would be solved.
Ada quit singing to meditate full-time. When not in retreat, she began sitting at least four hours a day and otherwise noticing thoughts, letting them go, and coming back to the moment. She attended at least one extended retreat a month with various Buddhist teachers. She felt peaceful and loving, more like herself than ever before. She experienced veils falling from her eyes and “everything just as it is.” Yet, she still was unsure about what to do with her life. Others’ talk seemed trivial, and she could not relate as before, so she cut off relationships. She also discontinued therapy with a Buddhist psychologist after four months because it was not helping. In retrospect, she thinks that her practice was an evasion of painful feelings, which were going to make themselves known at some point.
After six months of such practice, Ada attended a ten-day Theravada retreat led by a well-known oriental teacher. This retreat involved concentration and mindfulness practices, which were mostly done while alone in one’s room. The teacher checked on each person in the morning and gave group talks. Ada experienced intense makyo (ASC) during the retreat: crackling electricity going up and down her spine and profound relaxation with early memories of hearing music and a drawer opening and seeing the peephole of a door. Near the end of the retreat, she woke to an “absolute state.” She knew that it was kensho because she could not have imagines anything like it. First was cosmic pulsation with everything flowing towards a single point and erupting through it back into the cosmos. Then appeared a sheet-like image with elements of reality floating. As she looked at them, she realized they were all her and that there was nothing in the universe except her. Rather than joy, she felt profound fear and loneliness. No one was there to help her. The next morning, her teacher responded, “Now you know that you’re afraid of being alone.” She wished for affirmation of her experience and advice.
After the retreat and during the month prior to her “breakdown,” she had another unbearable experience of loneliness. She also took LSD (for the third time in her life) and had a “terrifying trip” of disintegrating into bones. She willed herself out of that by telling herself she could refuse to accept it. She also was deeply “grabbed” by Janov’s “Primal Scream,” which gave her the idea that if she reached and released her primal energy, she would be free. Then something “snapped,” and she felt tremendous grief and a few days later, rage and terror. Only months later did she tie this snapping with her grief about losing Paul.
The next few years were like “heavy labor with no rest” and “being in a tunnel without light.” Ada could not talk about her pain and lostness and felt that people would lock her up if they knew how crazy she was. She reentered therapy with her prior therapist and tried everything else available as well: encounter and therapy groups, energy and body work, and Arica training (which involves meditation, yoga, body work, and psychological processing). The therapies never quite enabled her to reach and release the core of her difficulties. She also tried meditation and attended some retreats, but found that her energies were too high (feeling of levitating, etc.) to feel safe with meditation. She also did not know how to transition back into the world. She met with one-Zen teacher who was also a psychoanalyst, but was not able to heed therapeutic advice because she was too “freaked out.” This teacher affirmed her kensho experience and “ripe” concentration practice, but advised that she needed more balance-work, singing, and a light meditation practice. She did not continue to see this teacher due to a lack of emotional connection with her. Throughout this difficult period, there was one sign of hope: a dream of holding a tennis racket, which looked like an Ankh, Egyptian sign of life.
Twenty years later and after more attempts at therapy, Ada still struggles with her experience and her life. She believes that she has a borderline personality disorder. She agrees with Jack Engler’s (1986) idea that you cannot go beyond yourself until you have a self. She does not meditate much for fear of what might come up, but has worked some with a Vipassana teacher who meditated with her, demystified “enlightenment,” and gave feedback about her meditation. The technique of noticing what is prominent in the body and being with it helped with pain a few times and offered hope. Ada says that when she first practiced, teachers were not psychologically sophisticated and did not ask about students’ lives or process emotional issues. She believes that she could have benefited from a moderate, gentle practice and advice to work, sing, and learn how to relate better. “I needed someone to investigate my big hurry, terrible race towards enlightenment and to say that I was trying to run from something.” She believes that teachers are probably more sophisticated these days and teach differently.
Is Meditation for Everyone?
This is a short piece from the alt.support.ex-cult newsgroup (22 Mar 97)
SUBJECT: Meditation: downside.
By the mid 1970s, clinical reports of negative (bad) outcomes resulting from various mantra meditation programs began to appear in the psychiatric literature (1). These included people becoming unemployable because they were unable to control their mental states (eg. everything around them seemed unreal), and more serious problems ranging from depression and agitation to psychosis.
Leon Otis, a psychologist at Stanford Research Institute, found that adverse outcomes were related to how long that person had meditated (2). Michael Persinger has found that for some people, meditation can bring on symptoms of complex partial epilepsy such as visual abnormalities, hearing voices, feeling vibrations, or experiencing automatic behaviors (3).
Another concern, explored by Michael Murphy and Steven Donovan, is that advanced practitioners rank high in suggestibility (4), not surprising given its similarity to self-hypnosis.
A number of persons in the US have successfully brought legal suits for damages suffered as a consequence of their participation in meditation programs (5).
In therapy with people treated after meditation programs – who wanted treatment in order to get their lives going again – problems with thinking and attention have been prevalent. Other impairments included emotional difficulties, blackouts, anxiety, “spacing out”, amnesia, and losing track of time (6).
This is not to say that everyone who meditates has these difficulties.
Many find brief meditation relaxing, but these people are usually not part of groups which influence them into continuing regardless of their own feelings or experiences. The problem arises when meditation is claimed to be universally “good for mankind” and can be applied to anyone.
Traditionally, there have been two approaches. The first, empty-mind mantra meditation based on the Hindu tradition, has been useful for many people. The second, from the Judeo-Christian tradition, is reflective meditation, where you reflect as a way of focusing. In the former, a close relationship between teacher and pupil included attention to individual differences and any problems which might arise. In contrast to earlier approaches, meditation today is often being sold by mass marketing, and often by individuals who do not come out of this tradition. MaharaJi would seem to be one of these.
It has recently emerged that the Divine Light Mission meditation ‘technique’ was decided on as recently as 1967 as a marketing strategy when that organization arrived in the US. Today, as numbers drop off due to disillusionment, Maharaji is seeking gullible new converts in third world countries such as Nigeria. In the process, he has destroyed many have been more productive, and has left many damaged people in his wake.
1. Re. clinical reports of negative outcomes. French, A.P., Schmid, A.C., and Ingalls, E., “Transcendental Meditation, Altered Reality Testing, and Behavioral Change: A Case Report.”_Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease_, 1975, _161_, pages 55-58. Kennedy, R.B., “Self-Induced Depersonalisation Syndrome”, _American Journal of Psychiatry_, 1976, _133_, pp: 1326 – 1328. Lazarus, A. A., “Psychiatric Problems Precipitated by Transcendental Meditation”, _Psychological Reports_, 1976, _39_, pp: 601-602.
2. Re. Leon Otis Mead, N., “Why Meditation May Not Reduce Stress”, _Natural Health_, Nov./Dec., 1993, pp.80-85, 122. Otis, L.S., “Adverse Effects of Transcendental Meditation”, in Shapiro, D., and Walsh, R. (_Eds._), _Meditation: Classic and Contemporaneous Perspectives_, (New York: Alden, 1984) Holmes, D.S., “Meditation and Somatic Arousal Reduction”, _American Psychologist_, 1984, _39_, 1-10.
3. Re. Michael Persinger Persinger, M.A., “Transcendental Meditation and General Meditation Are Associated with Enhanced Complex Partial Epileptic-like Signs: Evidence of ‘Cognitive Kindling’ ?” _Perceptual and Motor Skills_, 1993, _76_, pp: 80-82. Persinger, M.A., “Enhanced Incidence of ‘The Sensed Presence’ in People Who Have Learned to Meditate: Support for the Right Hemispheric Intrusion Hypothesis.” _Perceptual and Motor Skills_, 1992, _75_, 1308-1310. Persinger, M.A., & Makarec, K., “Temporal Lobe Epileptic Signs and Correlative Behaviors Displayed by Normal Populations”, _Journal of General Psychology_, 1987, _114_(2), 179-195.
4. Re. Michael Murphy & Steve Donovan Murphy, M., & Donovan, S., _The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation_. Big Sur, California: Esalen Institute, 1989.
5. Legal Suits for Damages. _John Doe I-VI and Jane Doe v. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; World Plan Executive Council – United States; Maharishi International University_, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, 85 – 2854; _Jane Green v. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi et. al._, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, 87-0015-OG. _Patrick Ryan v. World Plan Executive Council – United States et. al._, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, 87-0016-OG.
6. Re. Problems found in therapy … Singer, M.T., & Ofshe, R., “Thought Reform and the Production of Psychiatric Casualties”, _Psychiatric Annals_, 1990, _20_(4), pp. 189 – 190.
STUDY: Perez-De-Abeniz, Alberto and Holmes, Jeremy. Meditation: Concepts, Effects and Uses in Therapy. International Journal of Psychotherapy, March 2000, Vol. 5 Issue 1, p49, 10p.
Abstract: This article reviews 75 scientific selected articles in the field of meditation, including Transcendental Meditation among others. It summarizes definitions of meditation, psychological and physiological changes, and negative side-effects encountered by 62.9% of meditators studied. While the authors did not restrict their study to TM, the side-effects reported were similar to those found in the “German Study” of Transcendental Meditators: relaxation-induced anxiety and panic; paradoxical increases in tension; less motivation in life; boredom; pain; impaired reality testing; confusion and disorientation; feeling ‘spaced out’; depression; increased negativity; being more judgmental; feeling addicted to meditation; uncomfortable kinaesthetic sensations; mild dissociation; feelings of guilt; psychosis-like symptoms; grandiosity; elation; destructive behavior; suicidal feelings; defenselessness; fear; anger; apprehension; and despair.
Excerpt, Physiological Effects section: “In summary, it seems that meditation has a bimodal biological impact along time. Initially there is a physiological relaxation response in the short term. This effect also corresponds with findings in the study of imagery on brain activity as described by Laine et al. (1997). More enduring hormonal and metabolic changes can later be detected in experienced meditations, some 12 to 18 months after starting meditation practice.”
Excerpt, Side-Effects section: “Not all effects of the practice of meditation are beneficial. Shapiro (1992) found that 62.9% of the subjects reported adverse effects during and after meditation and 7.4% experienced profoundly adverse effects. The length of practice (from 16 to 105 months) did not make any difference to the quality and frequency of adverse effects. These adverse effects were relaxation-induced anxiety and panic; paradoxical increases in tension; less motivation in life; boredom; pain; impaired reality testing; confusion and disorientation; feeling ‘spaced out’; depression; increased negativity; being more judgmental; and, ironically, feeling addicted to meditation.
“Other adverse effects described (Craven, 1989) are uncomfortable kinesthetic sensations, mild dissociation, feelings of guilt and, via anxiety-provoking phenomena, psychosis-like symptoms, grandiosity, elation, destructive behaviour and suicidal feelings. Kutz et al. (1985a, described feelings of defenselessness, which in turn produce unpleasant affective experiences, such as fear, anger, apprehension and despair.”
STUDY: Otis, Leon S. Adverse effects of transcendental meditation. Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives (722 pages). Edited by Deane Shapiro and Roger Walsh. New York: Aldin Publications, 1984, p204.
This study by Otis at the Stanford Research Institute involving 574 subjects revealed that the longer a person practiced TM the more adverse mental effects were recorded; that 70 percent of subjects recorded mental disorders of one degree or another.
STUDY: Castillo, Richard J. Depersonalization and meditation. Psychiatry; Interpersonal and Biological Processes. May 1990, pp158-168.
A study of six long term TM practitioners that reveals their acceptance of depersonalized states of existence because they were led to believe this shows spiritual growth from the TM program.
From a review of the literature on meditation and depersonalization, and interviews conducted with six meditators, this study concludes that: 1) meditation can cause depersonalization and derealization; 2) the meanings in the mind of the meditator regarding the experience of depersonalization will determine to a great extent whether anxiety is present as part of that experience; 3) there need not be any significant anxiety or impairment in social or occupational functioning as a result of depersonalization; 4) a depersonalized state can become an apparently permanent mode of functioning; 5) patients with depersonalization disorder may be treated through a process of symbolic healing — that is, changing the meanings associated with depersonalization in the mind of the patient, thereby reducing anxiety and functional impairment; 6) panic/anxiety may be caused by depersonalization if catastrophic interpretations of depersonalization are present.
AFFIDAVIT: DeNaro, Anthony D. Counselor at Law. Twelve-page affidavit. Sea Cliff, New York, July 16, 1986.
Former MIU legal counsel and professor of law and economics, and former MIU director of grants administration. Excerpts from the affidavit:
“A disturbing denial or avoidance syndrome, and even outright lies and deception, are used to cover-up or sanitize the dangerous reality on campus of very serious nervous breakdowns, episodes of dangerous and bizarre behavior, suicidal and homicidal ideation, threats and attempts, psychotic episodes, crime, depression and manic behavior that often accompanied roundings (intensive group meditations with brainwashing techniques).”
“The consequences of intensive, or even regular, meditation was so damaging and disruptive to the nervous system, that students could not enroll in, or continue with, regular academic programs.”
“He [Maharishi] was aware, apparently for some time, of the problem, suicide attempts, assaults, homicidal ideation, serious psychotic episodes, depressions, inter alia, but his general attitude was to leave it alone or conceal it because the community would lose faith in the TM movement.”
STUDY: French, Alfred P. et al. Transcendental meditation, altered reality testing and behavioral change. A case report. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 1975, p55.
This paper presents the case of a thirty-nine year old woman who experienced altered reality testing and behavior several weeks after initiation into the TM program. It presents important evidence for a causal relationship between the practice of TM and her abnormal behavior.
STUDY: The Various Implications Arising from the Practice of Transcendental Meditation: An empirical analysis of pathogenic structures as an aid in counseling. Bensheim, Germany: (Institut fur Jugend Und Gesellschaft, Ernst-Ludwig-Strasse 45, 6140.) Institute for Youth and Society, 1980 (188 pgs).
Excerpts from the full study :
4.3.3 TM has a detrimental effect on the decision making process. There is loss of self-determination and a turning toward the TM authorities for guidance, i.e. in the case of important decisions. Also, the variables, facial expression, bodily posture, voice and handwriting point to the fact that the total personality is gravely altered under the influence of TM.
4.5.4 Whereas before the TM phase performance at school was well above average, and those investigated were most happy with their school or job situation, a considerable worsening in these areas occurred as a result of the practice of transcendental meditation. 56% had decreased concentration abilities during the TM phase, only 16% reported an improvement. 61% found it more difficult to manage the workload, as against 13% who reported an increased capacity. TM had a negative influence on the professional careers of 58% of meditators. Altogether 28 meditators (42%) gave up their studies or professional career in order to work full time for the TM movement or to be able to go on long courses. They did this on the basis of promises made them by the movement. An analysis of the taped interviews and the stenographer’s scripts only serve to strengthen the suspicion that the TM organization aims at cheap labor, which in the case of those people who became unfit to work in the course of time, can be sent away again without any real difficulty.
4.6.6 In 76% of cases psychological disorders and illnesses occurred, 9% of meditators had had therapeutic treatment before the TM phase, 43% had psychiatric treatment or had to have medical treatment during the TM phase. The psychological disorders most prevalent were tiredness (63%), “states of anxiety” (52%), depression (45%), nervousness (39%), and regression (39%). 26% had a nervous breakdown and 20% expressed serious suicidal tendencies. Psychological illness already present before the TM phase worsened considerably. TM can cause mental illness or at the very least prepare the way for the onset of mental illness. A lack of opportunity for the treatment of meditation experiences and/or altered perception of reality create suitable conditions for a pathogenic appearance. Added to this is the heightened delicacy and increasing helplessness in the personality of the meditator, which can develop into a complete depersonalization.
5.6.4 The suspicion grows that the meditation offered by TM, caused, in the meditators’ cases which we have investigated, a far reaching alteration in the view of reality, which damages or causes further damage to social relationships, the drive to achieve (motivation) is considerably lessened, to the degree that practical work (i.e. in a job) becomes intolerable to the meditator, in addition to all conditions brought about by the intense practice of the meditation, it gives rise to physical and mental damage.
JUDGMENT OF GERMAN COURT
The ruling of the highest federal administrative tribunal, the Bundesverwaltungsgericht on May 24, 1989 in Case number 7 C 2.87 is:
1) The Federal Government is competent and allowed to care about cults.
2) The Federal Government is allowed to warn of TM.
3) The Federal Government is allowed to designate TM a “Youth Religion” as well as a “Psychogroup”.
4) The Federal Government is allowed to say that TM is taught by teachers who are not qualified [to deal with the TM problems].
5) The Federal Government is allowed to say, TM can cause psychic defects or destruction of personality.
STUDY: Glueck, Bernard and Charles F. Stroebel. Meditation in the treatment of psychiatric illness. Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives (722 pages), edited by Deane Shapiro and Roger Walsh. New York: Alden Publications, 1984, p150.
This study of 110 subjects discloses that the release of repressed subconscious impressions [stress] from the TM practice can be handled by some but has also been seriously destabilizing for others.
BOOK: Hassan, Steven. Combatting Cult Mind Control. Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press, 1988.
General and specific treatment of the modus operandi of cults which includes the TM movement, the appeal tactics used by cults, common terminology, general cult psychology, case histories of former cult members including TM movement examples, intervention and exit strategies.
ARTICLE: Hecht, Esther, Peace of Mind. Jerusalem Post, 01-23-1998, pp 12.
Excerpt: “That very proliferation of new religious and secular groups, however, gave rise to a government-appointed commission that concluded TM can be dangerous in some cases. In 1982 – at the urging of concerned parents and a haredi anti-missionary group – the then education and culture minister, Zevulun Hammer, appointed the Interministerial Commission on New Religious Movements in Israel, headed by his deputy minister, Miriam Glazer- Ta’asa.
“According to the commission’s report, which appeared five years later, TM works through a combination of placebo effect and hypnotic suggestion, though the organization is never explicit about this. Most people who learn TM stop meditating after a while and discontinue their contact with the organization. But those who continue are likely to take part in an advanced course for sidhis, or yogic flying, which involves long periods of meditation.
“The report cites Dr. Ruchama Marton, an Israeli psychiatrist, who says she treated a severely psychotic TM practitioner and that she knows of other such cases. Marton warns that though there is no proof of a causal connection, it appears that in some cases prolonged meditation may precipitate such a breakdown.
“The report adds that there is no screening by mental health professionals of candidates for yogic flying, and that the use of self-hypnosis without supervision by such professionals on hand to deal with crises is extremely risky.”
STUDY: Heide, Frederick J. and T.D. Borkovec. Relaxation-induced anxiety enhancement due to relaxation training. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1983, p171.
STUDY: Heide, Frederick J. and T.D. Borkovec. Relaxation-induced anxiety: mechanism and theoretical implications. Behavioral Research Therapy, 1984, pp1-12.
These two papers by Heide and Borkovec disclose that 54 percent of anxiety-prone subjects tested experienced increased anxiety during TM-like mantra meditation.
CIVIL SUIT: Kropinski, Robert. United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Civil Suit #85-2848. 1986
In his civil suit against the TM Organization, Kropinski reported incidents of alleged psychosis, suicides, and the drugging of course participants. The court document “Answers to Defendants’ Interrogatories –John Doe I” contained this list of TM victims. A Washington, D.C. jury awarded Robert Kropinski, 39, $137,890 to pay for his psychiatric treatment. Kropinski was an 11-year member who was part of Maharishi’s personal entourage.
According to the January 14 (1987) Philadelphia Inquirer, the jury in the precedent-setting case found that the TM movement “defrauded him with false promises of mental bliss and neglected to warn him about the possibility of adverse side effects.” Leon Otis, a staff scientist at the Stanford Research Institute, testified that after surveying hundreds of meditators he concluded that “TM may be hazardous to the mental health of a sizable proportion of the people who take up TM.” And Gary Glass, senior attending psychiatrist at the Philadelphia Psychiatric Center, testified that Kropinski’s 11 years in TM triggered a “pathological state” that left him disoriented and depressed.
STUDY: Lazarus, Arnold A. Meditation: The Problems of Unimodal Technique. Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives New York: Alden Publications, 1984, p. 691.
STUDY: Lazarus, Arnold A. Psychiatric problems precipitated by transcendental meditation. Psychological Reports, 1976, pp601-602.
Based on clinical experience from these two studies, Lazarus shows that serious psychiatric problems can ensue from the practice of TM. He points out that TM is no panacea. He concludes that the TM practice can be used in some cases, but that it is clearly contraindicated in other cases.
BOOK: Lifton, Robert J. Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. Chapel Hill, South Carolina: The University of South Carolina Press, 1989 (510 pages).
Last published in 1964, this is a newly reissued edition of the classic textbook and case study of the victims of thought reform and elements of the thought reform process. Chapter 22 outlines eight themes present in the sociological environment of thought reform which in time become internalized by victims, who in turn reinforce the themes socially. Many cults exhibit fewer than all eight themes. In the TM movement and at MIU, however, all eight themes are found to be richly developed.
STUDY: Persinger, Michael A. Enhanced incidence of ‘the sensed presence’ in people who have learned to meditate; support for the right hemispheric intrusion hypothesis. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1992, 75, pp1308-1310.
If the “sensed presence” is a transient intrusion of the right hemispheric equivalent of the left hemispheric (and highly linguistic) sense of self, then any process that facilitates interhemispheric electrical coherence should enhance these experiences. As predicted, the “ego-alien intrusion” (sensed presence) factor was specifically and significantly elevated in 221 people who had learned to meditate (65 to 70% were involved in transcendental meditation) compared to 860 nonmeditators.
Experiences of sensed presence were more frequent in female than in male meditators and were particularly evident in left-handers who had learned to meditate. The effect size suggests that learning a meditation technique is contraindicated for subpopulations, such as borderline, schizotypal, or dissociative personalities who display very fragile self-concepts.
STUDY: Persinger, Michael A., Laurentian University. Transcendental meditation and general meditation were associated with enhanced complex partial epileptic-like signs: evidence for ‘cognitive’ kindling? Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1993.
Personal Philosophy Inventories of 221 university students who had learned to meditate (about 65% to 70% practiced transcendental meditation) were compared to 860 nonmeditators. Meditators displayed a significantly wider range of complex partial epileptic-like signs. Experience of vibrations, hearing one’s name called, paranormal phenomena, profound meaning from reading poetry/prose and religious phenomenology were particularly frequent among meditators. Numbers of years of TM practice were significantly correlated with the incidence of complex partial signs and sensed presences but not with control, olfactory, or perseverative experiences. The results support the hypothesis that procedures which promote cognitive kindling enhance complex partial epileptic-like signs.
BOOK: Persinger, Michael A, Norman J. Carrey and Lynn A. Suess. TM and Cult Mania (198 pages). North Quincy, Massachusetts: Christopher Publishing House, 1980.
“Claims of the TM effects are neither unique nor special but are the consequences of procedures associated with suggestion, placebo reactions, simple relaxation, neurotic belief, and the mislabeling of vauge emotional experiences. In this book we investigate the precise psychological and social procedures by which this movement manipulates human behavior.” p.7
Chapter 4: “All TM Effects Can Be Produced By Suggestibility/Placebo Conditions”
Misconceptions About Hypnosis as a Special State
Personality Characteristics of Very Responsive People
Factors Influencing “Hypnotic” Responses
Comparison of TM and Hypnotic/Placebo Effects
Are TM Adherents Just Highly Suggestible?
TM Conditioning as Stages in Suggestibility
Chapter 9: “TM: Trigger to the Psychotic Prone?”
The Problem of Psychosis
TM: Philosophy and Psychosis
Meditation and Psychotic Triggering
Psychopathology. 2007;40(6):461-4. Epub 2007 Sep 11.
Kuijpers HJ, van der Heijden FM, Tuinier S, Verhoeven WM.
Vincent van Gogh Institute for Psychiatry, Venray, The Netherlands.
Meditation is a self-regulatory psychological strategy that is frequently applied in Western as well as non-Western countries for different purposes; little is known about adverse events.
SAMPLING AND METHODS:
A male patient is described who developed an acute and transient psychosis with polymorphic symptomatology after meditating. A literature search for psychotic states related to meditation was carried out on PubMed, Embase and PsycInfo.
In the case presented a diagnosis of acute polymorphic psychotic disorder was made. Other case reports dealt with either a relapse of a pre-existent psychotic disorder or with a brief psychotic reaction in patients without a psychiatric history.
Meditation can act as a stressor in vulnerable patients who may develop a transient psychosis with polymorphic symptomatology. The syndrome is not culture bound but sometimes classified in culture-bound taxonomies like Qi-gong Psychotic Reaction.
To The Editor: Yoga is a widely practiced activity thought to benefit various conditions, including psychiatric disorders (1). However, intensive yoga and meditation have been reported in association with altered perceptions and full-blown psychotic episodes (2—4). Bikram yoga, also known as “hot yoga,” is a form of yoga copyrighted in 1979 that is based on 26 postures performed in a room heated to 105° F. We report a case of psychosis precipitated by Bikram yoga.
“Mr. B” was a 33-year-old man with a history of brief hallucinogen-induced psychosis, with full interval remission, 10 years before he became psychotic while participating in a Bikram yoga instructors’ training seminar lasting several days. In the days leading up to the episode, he felt dehydrated, ate poorly, and slept only 2—3 hours per night. He then developed auditory and visual hallucinations (he reported seeing owls speaking to him, “cat-like slits” in people’s eyes, and a cross on his own forehead), paranoia, and a disturbing sense that there was “a battle for control of [his] mind” and that he had “betrayed God.” He endorsed racing thoughts, and after feeling increasingly agitated one day, he recited the Lord’s Prayer loudly in class and became physically aggressive when confronted, which necessitated involuntary hospital admission. On examination, the patient displayed a flat affect, endorsed ideas of reference and delusional thinking, and was uncharacteristically preoccupied with religious ideation, but he was not manic. Laboratory testing revealed no electrolyte abnormalities, urine toxicology screening was negative, and an electroencephalogram and brain magnetic resonance imaging were normal. The patient was treated with aripiprazole 15 mg/day, with robust improvement in psychosis after 1 week and full resolution by 1 month. Aripiprazole was discontinued, and the patient continued to report feeling “normal” at the 4-month follow-up.
This case demonstrates that while yoga may have physical and psychological health benefits, it is not devoid of side effects. Intensive forms of yoga such as Bikram may in particular have a liability for psychotic decompensation among those individuals who are more psychosis-prone because of stress, sleep and sensory deprivation, and dissociative experiences that can arise from meditation. Castillo (5) reported that the meditative trance experiences among Indian yogis are often characterized by dissociation, hallucinations, and beliefs in possessing supernatural powers. While such experiences are typically labeled pathological by Western clinicians, they can be identified as part of spiritual awakening in Eastern meditative traditions (2, 5). Distinguishing between pathological and culturally sanctioned experiences can therefore be a clinical challenge requiring open-mindedness and sensitivity. In our patient, his experiences were recognized as pathological within the cultural framework in which he practiced yoga, and psychiatric hospitalization and antipsychotic treatment resulted in symptomatic improvement. Clinicians should screen patients for alternative therapies, including yoga, caution patients who are prone to either mania or psychosis against stress and sleep deprivation, and consider the cultural contexts of yoga-induced psychosis in order to fully help their patients in healing.
1.Lavey R, Sherman T, Mueser KT, Osborne DD, Currier M, Wolfe R: The effects of yoga on mood in psychiatric inpatients. Psychiatr Rehabil J 2005; 28:399—4022.Walsh R, Roche L: Precipitation of acute psychotic episodes by intensive meditation in individuals with a history of schizophrenia. Am J Psychiatry 1979; 136:1085—10863.Sethi S, Bhargava S: Relationship of meditation and psychosis: case studies. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 2003; 37:3824.Cahn-Ob T, Boonyanaruthee V: Meditation in association with psychosis. J Med Assoc Thai 1999; 82:925—9305.Castillo R: Trance, functional psychosis and culture. Psychiatry 2003; 66:9—21
Dr. Pierre is on the speaker’s bureaus of Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer. Dr. Lu reports no competing interests.
Problems in the Use of Meditation
The Misuse of Meditation
Patricia Carrington, Ph.D.
Author of “The Book of Meditation”
Blocks in meditating represent one type of problem with which all of us working with meditation must deal. An entirely different difficulty arises, however, when meditation is embraced, but for the wrong reasons, or when it is used in an undesirable fashion.
While some people shy away from meditation, others take it up with too much intensity. If twenty minutes twice a day is beneficial, then two or three or four hours of meditating per day should be correspondingly better – or so the reasoning goes. As with any therapeutic dosage, of course, this is not the case. If one pill is prescribed, taking the whole bottle is not a good idea.
While the proper meditation time may be highly beneficial, anything over that amount may have adverse effects. As we have seen, for some people, even fifteen or twenty minutes of meditating at one time is too much. When I speak of over meditation, however, I mean a much longer amount of meditation. For the average person practicing practical meditation, this might be defined as meditating more than one hour a day for the first year, and after that for more than one hour at a single sitting, or more than two hours on the same day – keeping in mind the fact that the ‘safe’ limit may be considerably lower than this for certain individuals.
As discussed in Chapter 7, tension-release during ordinary meditation can produce side-effects which, at times, can make for difficulty if they aren’t regulated. If meditation is prolonged for a matter of hours this process of tension-release can be magnified many times. When a person spends this much time meditating, powerful emotions and ‘primary process’ (bizarre) thoughts may be released too rapidly to assimilate and the meditator may be forced into sudden confrontation with long buried aspects of himself for which he is not prepared. If he has enough inner strength, or is doing the extra meditation under the supervision of an experienced teacher, he may, weather such an upsurge of unconscious material and emerge triumphant. If he has fewer inner resources or has a past history of emotional disturbance, he may be overwhelmed by it, fragile defenses may break down, and an episode of mental illness occurs.
This eventuality is guarded against by most responsible teachers of meditation who strictly limit the amount of time the meditator is advised to spend at his practice. TM, for example, is limited to no more than two twenty-minute sessions daily; Benson gives the same directions for his method; and we similarly limit CSM. Those who choose to meditate against these explicit instructions are usually people with deep-seated personality problems who make use of meditation in a very special way. We will discuss this way in a moment as we look at some examples of people who have over-meditated.
Over-meditating seems to be similar to other forms of addiction. Studies of drug usage have shown that those who tend to abuse drugs, as opposed to those who simply use them, show many more signs of severe personality disturbance, social withdrawal, and the like. In the same way, those who consistently over-meditate, when studied psychiatrically, most often turn out either to have a previous history of addiction to drugs or to have other psychiatric problems of a serious nature. Taken in heavy doses in a person with an unstable background, meditation can be dangerous.
Problems from Over-Meditation
The following anecdotes illustrate some of the difficulties which may arise from over-meditation. While these examples may seem severe in terms of the psychiatric symptoms involved, they are typical of the over-meditator. To my knowledge there is no such thing as a mild case of true over-meditation. When a person comes to the point where she is meditating many hours a day, on her own and without supervision, that person usually has a disturbed emotional adjustment to begin with. The people I will describe here already had deeply troubling personality problems. Over-meditation increased their difficulties, however, and appeared to push these people over the brink, as it were, precipitating a serious psychiatric condition.
Kaye was a withdrawn young woman who consulted me when she was already in a state of incipient mental breakdown, because she had heard that I was ‘sympathetic to meditation’. She reported that she was losing her sense of identity and was haunted by sexual terrors. Her life was chaotic. She could barely handle the simplest practical tasks and shied away almost totally from contact with people.
Kaye’s experience with meditation was based on a lifelong problem. She had been an extremely shy girl with a painful sense of inferiority about her own body, which she felt to be ‘deformed’, although this was not in reality the case. Upon graduating from high school she had found refuge from the challenges of social life by entering a Zen retreat, where she lived for two years, undergoing strict training in Zazen meditation. While living there, Kaye meditated at least four hours daily. At this same time she was forbidden to speak with anyone about the strong emotions that surfaced during her meditation. She was observing a partial vow of silence which prevented her from discussing topics other than superficial household tasks.
Despite the rigor of this routine, Kaye initially benefited from being at the retreat. An ulcerative colitis which she had previously suffered from disappeared entirely. She seemed relieved at being in a quiet, protective place where she did not have to face humiliating rejections from the outside world, and her tension level reduced accordingly.
Eventually, however, an emotional ‘bottleneck’ began to develop. Intense feelings and stressful memories were rapidly surfacing during Kaye’s long hours of meditation, which she could not discuss with anyone. Because of her enforced silence she was unable to receive social support for these painful emotions and became increasingly threatened by them as time went on. Finally she found herself with a cauldron of explosive conflicts which she could no longer handle. Meditation was continually bringing up new emotionally charged material which she could not deal with fast enough.
At this point, Kaye fled from the Zen center and began to travel from city to city, temporarily living with room-mates who were also Zen meditators. Each time when she inevitably failed to get along with her new room-mates, she became more troubled. She continued to meditate many hours a day, but without the support of the Zen center, where she had felt cared for and protected, her defenses gradually broke down and serious psychiatric symptoms emerged. At this point her meditation was no longer calming her; it was causing anxiety. When in desperation she finally abandoned meditation, it was too late. The rapidly developing emotional breakdown continued.
Eventually Kaye admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital. She was experiencing racing thoughts which she could not control and was suffering from intense anxiety attacks. Following a brief hospitalization, she made an appointment to see me. I saw Kaye for a few sessions before referring her for more extensive treatment than I was able to offer. During these sessions she obtained relief from outbursts of emotion which were so intense that she would tremble violently, almost convulsively, while experiencing them.
Without talking it over with me (I would have advised against it), Kaye later decided to try meditation again. She had only been meditating forty-five minutes, however, when she found herself once more becoming disoriented in her thinking and experienced rising panic. On the basis of this brief attempt, we were both able to agree that she was not yet ready to return to the practice. I recommended that if she should ever resume meditating, it would be wise to do so only in a very gradual fashion, probably meditating for no more than five or ten minutes a day, until she found herself fully able to tolerate a slightly longer time than this. This advice seemed to relieve her of conflict over whether or not to recommence meditation. From that point on she was able to plan for herself and was ready to enter into a constructive treatment program.
Although traditional Zazen practices such as those Kaye followed are more rigorous than the simpler centering techniques, it is unlikely that it was the Zazen teaching, per se, which caused Kaye’s difficulty. Many people can use this method of meditation very beneficially. Her problem seemed to have arisen from an unfortunate combination of circumstances. This emotionally disturbed, intensely withdrawn young woman had been over-meditating in a setting which did not permit her any relief from the accumulated tensions which almost inevitably travel from city to city, temporarily living with room-mates who surface from such long hours of meditation. She was forbidden to talk about her feelings and could achieve no understanding of them.
A person with a healthier personality than Kaye’s might have meditated constructively even under such a strict regime, arriving at a socially withdrawn but adaptive mode of life. No doubt this often occurs in monasteries, retreats and other similar settings. Even Kaye might have withstood this excessive meditation if she had had a chance to talk over her feelings regularly so that she could assimilate them. Or, on the other hand, if she had been exposed to meditation only in small daily doses she might have been able to adjust to it without becoming imbalanced.
Another instance of over-meditation occurred in a TM meditator who had been carefully instructed not to meditate more than twenty minutes twice a day. When Dudley contacted me for advice he reported a list of symptoms sufficiently distressing to cause almost anyone to panic. While physical and neurological examinations had shown that he had no identifiable diseases, he complained of dizziness, pressure in his head, physical ‘rushes’ that would ‘go to his eyes, ears, nose, and throat’, and an inability to tolerate bright lights. More distressing to him, however, was his feeling that people seemed ‘unreal’ and only a reflection of his own consciousness. He had an intense feeling of alienation and experienced a ‘tremendous gulf’ between himself and others. He also could experience only what was in his immediate visual field; the back of a house did not ‘exist’ for him unless he walked around to the other side and actually saw it. If a person left the room where he was, that person ceased to ‘exist’ until he or she reappeared. The present felt eternal. When he went to sleep he felt he was ‘leaving’ his body; and one night when he saw a horror movie on TV he vividly imagined, in fact was convinced, that, like the figure on the screen, he was carrying ice picks in his hand. He was terrified of what he might do with them.
The more Dudley meditated, the worse these symptoms became. When he contacted me he reported that he was regularly meditating three hours a day, plus repeating his mantra to himself throughout the day. What was particularly significant was that Dudley claimed he had not realized that he should not meditate this much. Since TM teachers and checkers repeatedly stress the proper amount of time for meditation, this young man clearly had chosen to ‘selectively inattend’ to what they were saying. For reasons of his own, he had apparently needed to escape into an oblivion created through over-meditating.
Some of Dudley’s symptoms superficially resemble some of the experiences reported by mystics: the disappearance of time, the eternal moment, the sense of leaving the body, the reflection of one’s own consciousness in the universe, for example. When these experiences are under the control of the person having them and are intentional, they can be an important part of a person’s spiritual development. In Dudley’s case, however, no amount of guidance from meditation teachers had been able to change his chaotic experience into a constructive, positive one. He was reporting compulsive symptoms, perhaps unconsciously borrowed from the reports of spiritually inclined people, but used for his own maladaptive purposes. They were out of his control and consistently negative.
Dudley’s background emerged during the diagnostic interview. He was an only child still living at home with his parents at age twenty-seven and closely tied to his mother. Because of this, he was presently unable to leave home to go to a professional school of his choice. For many years numerous personality problems had prevented him from growing up emotionally. Treatment with such therapies as behavior modification and hypnosis had been to no avail. While the specific symptoms that Dudley was now experiencing were apparently released by over-meditation, their basic cause seems to have been the disturbed adjustment which he had had all his life. Dudley and his mother had carried on continuous psychological warfare against his father, who appeared to be the scapegoat in a family triangle. The more symptoms Dudley developed, the greater his emotional stranglehold on his mother, and the greater his guilt toward his father, who was supposed to be ‘unsympathetic’ to Dudley’s many ills and to his ‘lack of initiative’ at age twenty-seven. At night Dudley would often experience such rage against his sleeping father that he feared he might harm him.
To cope with his growing rage, frustration and shame, Dudley had begun to bury himself in meditation as one might lose oneself in a drug. An intelligent man, he must have known that he should not over-meditate in that fashion, but had chosen to do this until he was literally flooded by unpleasant symptoms. When he consulted me he had recently stopped meditating entirely (a decision which I advised him to stick to) but his symptoms continued to worsen as the time to leave home and enroll in a professional school in a distant city rapidly approached. Dudley’s main problem at this point appeared to be the separation anxiety which he was experiencing – he knew he would soon have to leave his mother. Coupled with this was his deep guilt at his childlike dependency on his mother and his intense hostility toward his father.
Dudley is typical of those who consistently over-meditate. His symptoms seemed to stem not so much from meditation in and of itself as from the neurotic misuse of meditation. When he was challenged in a single diagnostic interview to face some of the basic issues which were underlying his problem, his symptoms temporarily became much less intense. His sense of time returned and his orientation in space and sense of reality were almost entirely reinstated by the end of two hours of conversation with the therapist.
While over-meditation seems to have paved the way for Dudley’s emotional disturbance, it cannot be said to have actually caused it, considering the ease with which, temporarily at least, his symptoms cleared up with insight. What his case teaches us is the necessity for probing deeply into the causes of excessive over-meditation. The chances are that over-meditation will be found to reflect deep emotional problems. These problems must be treated in order to effect a permanent cure for whatever symptoms arise.
This is an important point to bear in mind, because some of the so-called super-cults require that their followers meditate for many hours each day. At one time the members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness spent two to three hours chanting the ‘Hare Krishna’ when awakening in the morning and followed this by additional sessions of chanting at various points throughout the day. Other groups such as the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon, which flourished in the 1970s, encouraged similar intensive meditation in their followers. The control of such super-cults over their followers raises a number of questions about possible exploitation of followers who have been confused and rendered highly suggestible by over-meditation.
Obviously over-meditation on a wide scale could have serious consequences. In this book, however, we are discussing the practical forms of meditation which, when properly followed, are always used in moderation. While moderation is insisted upon for ordinary practitioners, teachers of some forms of practical meditation, on the other hand, may be required to meditate continually for long periods of time every day as part of their training. TM teachers, for example, are periodically required to attend residence courses where intensive regimes of meditation (up to several hours a day) are required for periods of six or more weeks at a time. Not surprisingly, an occasional TM teacher has been known to develop serious emotional problems either during or shortly after such training, and several such cases have been called to my professional attention. In light of the heavy meditational requirement for TM teacher trainees, therefore, it would seem that a decision to become a TM teacher should be weighed just as carefully as a decision to undertake any other regime requiring extensive meditation would be.
In light of the temptation to over-meditate that is seen in certain susceptible individuals and the potential risk involved for their mental health if such a person were to do so, it is essential for anyone thinking of joining a movement which includes meditation as part of its program to inquire about the amount of time they will be asked to spend daily in this practice. Prospective meditators may also want to look carefully at other aspects of any movement they are thinking of joining to make certain their own personal liberty and freedom of thought will be preserved. Responsible training programs offering intensive meditation should supply low pressure, non-coercive and supportive retreats where every participant is free to remain fully in command of her own life, to make her own decisions, and to come and go as she wishes. To make certain of the non coercive atmosphere of any large-scale ‘spiritual’ training program may take careful investigation since a number of the more notorious organizations now recruit through ‘front’ organizations with names that are unknown and seemingly innocuous.
A wise procedure for anyone who is considering attending a preliminary meeting of such an organization is first to read about the organization and its strategies from a viewpoint different from that advanced by the organization itself. Almost any library contains non-fiction books about super-cults which are a reliable source of information. Even if the specific names and details in these books are not always up to date (the scene changes rapidly, with previously highly active cults fading away as the public becomes suspicious of them, and new ones appearing seemingly overnight) such books often accurately describe the highly questionable tactics of many of the super cults with respect to the civil liberties and mental and physical health of their practitioners. The newspapers and magazines found in libraries are another good source of information which any research librarian can guide you to. A preliminary investigation of any cult’s background is crucial if one’s personal safety and mental health are to be safeguarded.
Even in the most unpressured and genuinely supportive retreat, however, as with Kaye described above, catastrophes sometimes arise, and the addition of an adequate clinical staff of trained mental health professionals appears essential for such programs. If professionally trained assistance does not exist in an intensive meditation-based program, the decision to enter a group requiring large amounts of meditation every day requires careful thought. Small, decentralized meditation settings, where considerable personal guidance is afforded each trainee by a highly qualified teacher, or else responsible home instruction, are usually preferable to the mass organizations.
These special precautions do not ordinarily apply to the practical forms of meditation undertaken by the average person, however. Practical meditation may add an important dimension to our lives, but it does not become a way of life. For this reason it seems to be the only type of meditation appropriate for use along with formal psychotherapy as this is practiced in the West. Whether it can be considered a form of therapy in its own right is the question we will look at next.
How I Triumphed Over Schizophrenia
by Jimmy Cheah
How It Started
I’m now aged 51 and I’m “weller than well” to speak of my authentic personal tragedy of having to go through “schizophrenic episodes” at the mercy of others who are biased and misconceive the beneficial effects of so-called “paranoid schizophrenia.”
About 26 years ago, I was ordained as a Buddhist monk in a meditation temple. Before ordination, I had to undergo observation for about 3 months for good and normal behavior. I was taught the Vipassana Meditation which is also known as Insight Meditation. Eventually, I was ordained as a monk. I was very strict and disciplined in my meditation practice. I observed strict silence.
After several months of intensive meditation, I suddenly broke my silence involuntarily and began “speaking in tongues.” I thought I could speak Brahmin, Sanskrit or chant Ancient Scriptures.
I began to exhibit strange gestures and bizarre mannerism that’s not becoming of a monk. I was disrobed without any compassion and cast out of the temple to pursue the Path of Suffering. Lost souls like “schizophrenics” do not have enough merits to lead the holy life.
Taking “The Road Less Traveled”, I ended up meditating in a graveyard. I was like a hungry ghost and a wandering spirit experiencing the true meaning of homelessness. I could have taken the short cut to Heaven by taking my own life but that’s against the rules. The Sixth Commandment of Moses came to mind, ” Thou shalt not kill.”
“Procrastination is the thief of time,” my inner voice said.
“Do it now!” This is what they usually teach in motivation psychology. However, I decided not to make a rash decision at that time. But I knew, sooner or later the time will surely come. “Why not next time, buddy?”
“King Solomon with all his wisdom wouldn’t do a thing like that,” said another voice.
I was having a brainstorm. I was brainstorming, freewheeling, having group discussion in my mind and experiencing freedom of association. It was the freedom of free thinking in a free world. This is the Path of Freedom.
I was caught in a cosmic dance, which is quite different from the steps of waltz, fox-trot, tango, rumba or cha-cha. Aha! I could dance like Michael Jackson or even better.
My head was beginning to spin like a whirlpool. It was like entering a time tunnel. By and by, I wasn’t functioning from a logical and reasoning mind. There’s no need for reason. There’s no need to explain. Anything goes! “Life goes on ……ooh! La! La! La! Life goes on……” “Yahoo!”
Yet, I was quite aware of what was going in my mind because I was trained in the Art of Contemplation, you see. There’s no doubt about it. It was curiosity that lured me on and on. I was tempted to explore this ” mystical experience” but I soon lost control of the normal functioning of my thinking skill. I was trying to explore the unconscious, subconscious, supraconscious or supreme ultimate reality. I was like a newborn baby riding an unsaddled horse for the first time. I lost my vital mental balance like “Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.”
There’s no history of psychosis in my family. My father (deceased) is a medical doctor. My brothers and sisters are gainfully employed and successful.
Before becoming a monk, I was a freelance writer on Success Motivation. I was trying to emulate Napoleon Hill, the famous author of Think And Grow Rich. I also organized seminars on Leadership Development, Salesmanship and Effective Public Speaking – a copycat of Dale Carnegie.
I soon discovered the “Paradox of Success” after I had gathered fair knowledge of Buddhism, Taoist Meditation, Kundalini Yoga, Psychic Science, Tarot, Christianity and Zen. I joined the monkhood thinking I could seek deliverance from Suffering caused by Ignorance, Passion and Delusion.
Surprise! Unpleasant, even dangerous, things can result from TM practice
They left a few things out of the introductory lectures!
They didn’t tell you at the introductory lectures that unpleasant things may result from the practice of TM? This was yet another mental reservation “for your own good.” They didn’t want to scare you off which would keep you from gaining the “benefits” of TM. They meant well.
But this is the point at which some people do indeed began to experience significant negative effects from the practice of TM. This is because all of this dissociation turns out not to be a normal or “natural” thing at all.
These negative effects can take the form of lingering dissociation after meditation, or after coming home from a residence course. You may have trouble getting out of that “spacey” condition. In fact, as you increase your TM dosage and frequency you may reach a stage where you never get out of the “spacey” state at all, i.e. you may experience chronic dissociation. Chronic dissociation is the most dangerous effect of TM, and can become very very serious.
TM can also actually significantly increase anxiety in some people. This is a well-known phenomenon called “relaxation induced anxiety.”
Another very common negative effect is to have “headaches in meditation”. This can happen even doing just “twenty minutes twice a day”, but it is especially common during and after periods of toxically increased “dissociation dosage” such as at a residence course.
The negative effects can also take the form of unpleasant physical sensations or involuntary twitching of large muscle groups.
The TM dogma on “unstressing”
In the introductory lectures they never mentioned that there could be any unpleasantness whatever arising from TM practice. They were only thinking of your own good when they withheld the fact that TM can have very negative effects. If they had told you that then you might not have started TM and that would have been tragic! You just “weren’t ready” to properly evaluate such information!
And they only gradually reveal a tiny glimpse of this hidden reality to you during the “Three Nights of Checking”. This is because if they revealed the entire reality then you might stop TM practice at that point, and that would also be tragic.
I recommend reviewing the TM spiritual dogma on “unstressing” (called “stress release” in that document) as taught in the second group meeting after initiation. Understanding the basic TM dogma on “unstressing” is vital to understanding TM.
In summary, TM dogma asserts the following:
“Stress in the nervous system” is the only thing keeping us from perfect happiness, and from being able to fulfill literally all our desires.
This “stress” can only be “released” by “rest.”
The amount of rest needed depends on the strength of the stress. Superficial stress can be released by superficial rest such as normal sleep. But “deep stress” can only be released by “deep rest.” And the really powerful and “deep” stresses, the ones that are really impacting our lives and keeping us from happiness and from success (and from CC), can only be released by the “deep rest of TM”!
The stress was unpleasant when we acquired it, so we shouldn’t be surprised if it is unpleasant while being “released.”
The really deep stresses may be particularly unpleasant while being released.
Therefore unpleasantness arising from TM is just a symptom that “something good is happening.” This “something good” is the release of some of the stress that has been causing us all of our suffering, and which is the only thing keeping us from CC!
What they don’t tell you about during the “Three Nights of Checking” is something that TMers call “heavy unstressing”. It is the suffering, often extreme, which according to TM dogma is caused by the release of the deepest and most powerful stresses. In fact, it is just the TM dogmatic rationalization for the toxic effects of “too much TM.” We’ll introduce examples of this phenomenon below.
Periodic re-indoctrination: “You should have your meditation checked regularly”
One thing they emphasize during the “Three Days of Checking After Initiation” is that you should “have your meditation checked regularly.” The purpose of “checking” is to reinforce the suggestion that you will become deeply relaxed, and to reinforce the proper technique of auto-trance-induction, including training in how not to fight the dissociation. This is all accomplished via yet another trance induction script called the individual checking procedure (see “Section 1”, “Section 2”, “Section 3”, and the “General Points” on that page, all of which together comprise the “individual checking procedure”).
As with the trance induction scripts used during “personal instruction” and the “three days of checking after initiation”, the “individual checking procedure” must be perfectly memorized and recited precisely. (Demonstrating rote mastery of all of these many trance induction scripts is the hardest requirement of becoming a TM teacher!). It is somewhat similar to the “group checking procedure” used each night during the “three days.”
Unlike the other TM trance induction scripts, the “individual checking procedure” can be performed by someone who is not a TM teacher. In such a case, the individual is called a “checker.” Becoming a “checker” is often the first step toward becoming a TM teacher.
While you are always encouraged to “have your meditation checked regularly”, in all cases of unpleasant results from TM you will be especially encouraged to do so.
The objective, in TM-speak, of “checking” is to “guide you in the effortless use of the mantra.” However, what they are really doing is to guiding you in how not to fight the increasing dissociation as you descend into trance.
Headaches in meditation: unpleasant, but they are the least of your worries
It is actually true that “checking” can sometimes help with “headaches in meditation. I believe that this is because such headaches can be caused by a tendency to fight the descent into trance, and a tendency to fight the reduction in thought activity. By teaching you once again to yield to such things, and not fight them, “checking” can indeed help prevent headache in meditation.
But headache is the very least dangerous of the problems you can have with TM. Headaches just hurt, but other problems indicate that you are incurring psychological damage.
“Heavy unstressing”: TM can be extremely psychologically destructive
On a long course, such as a Teacher Training Course (TTC), “heavy unstressing” is a major fact of life for many people. My TTC was the “Mallorca/Fiuggi Fonte Course” in the early 70’s. It is infamous for the “heavy unstressing” that went on.
At one point we were “rounding” for 14 hours a day! A “round” is a period of meditation followed by a period of yoga postures or “asanas.” Meditation, asanas, meditation, asanas, etc. etc. etc. for 14 hours a day, day after day. At other points in the course we rounded fewer hours a day which gave us time for hours and hours of indoctrination sessions. This went on for a minimum of three months for everyone, but there were people like me there for six months and even longer doing this.
It was very common for people to acquire major tics of large muscle groups, most commonly in the form of very noticeable head jerks. I’m talking about sudden jerks of the head to right or left of about 45 degrees. In addition there were people with major emotional problems. Mahesh had to establish “heavy unstressing clinics.” At attempt was made to help people at these clinics by application of physical therapies including body massage and foot massage.
Several people were not able to become TM teachers at this course because they were not able to free themselves of the major body tics before it was time to “receive their mantras.” Mahesh could not send people back to their communities as official “Exponents of Reality” when they had been so conspicuously damaged by the TTC experience.
There was a great deal of psychological suffering. One course participant went home and was hospitalized for mental difficulties by his father, a psychiatrist. Mahesh was quite disturbed by this event (he particularly wanted the endorsement of psychiatrists) and he discussed this negative turn of events in an open meeting. He was angry that such a “weak person” had been allowed to come to the TTC. He showed no concern about the person involved. At all.
I stayed on for a month after the official TTC ended to witness the taping of the original “Science of Creative Intelligence” course by Mahesh. Mahesh was openly unhappy by the amount of “heavy unstressing” that had gone on (again, that’s how we heard about the psychiatrist’s son). His position was that the course selection process had let too many people into the course who “weren’t ready” for the dramatic evolutionary power unleashed by such prolonged meditation.
And to give you a further of what “heavy unstressing” can lead to I refer you once again to “Kropinski’s List of TM Casualties.” Below is an example from his TM victim list. This woman was well known to the TM world, since she was the wife of the president of the Maharishi University of Management (MUM), (the TM organization’s private university (formerly called “Maharishi International University” (MIU)).
[Victim #4], Los Angeles, California: The former wife of Dr. Keith Wallace lived in the TM center in Los Angeles. She was under the personal guidance of Mahesh and was permitted to live in the center with Mahesh’s personal permission. In a hallucination while practicing the TM-Sidhi program she felt an older woman was drawing energy from her body preventing her from levitating. She purchased a gun and shot the woman during their practice of TM Sidhis.
And here is another example from Kropinsky’s testimony:
There is no question the movement knew of these incidents and numerous others. My own review of files in La Antilla, the results of rounding courses in Majjorca[sic], Spain and Fiuggi, Italy confirmed these same disastrous consequences for many individuals. Additionally administrators of MIU are aware of incidents like the student who jumped through a plate glass window, the staff member who couldnt[sic] be found and was later discovered in a dumpster, the student president who proclaimed he was Arjuna and was sent home, and they are aware of the individuals involuntary [sic] committed to local mental institutions. They have witnessed and experienced for themselves the courses in which everyone was screaming, shaking and convulsing. They have had their own employees administer thorzine[sic] by injection to ‘freak outs.” They know and have known of students, former students and course participants who after leaving MIU or other movement facilities later committed suicide.
I suggest you read the rest of Kropinsky’s testimony. Similar stories can be found in the “TranceNet Personal Histories Archive.”
“Heavy unstressing” at TM’s own private university
To continue on the same theme: on the opening page of this web site I suggested that you take a look at the sworn affidavit of Attorney Anthony D. DeNaro. DeNaro is a former professor of economics and business law at MIU (this was before it was called MUM), as well as former legal counsel to the same institution. This affidavit is a gold mine, and worth a careful read. Right now, though, I’ll concentrate on statements he made that cast a light on the toxic psychological effects of TM. In the affidavit, DeNaro says things such as (emphasis added):
The extent and scope of the deception before, during and after becoming “initiated” (their term) into TM-Sidhi programs is so vast and far-reaching with enormous potential for severe injury, and, even death, that it is impossible, within this necessarily abbreviated brief, to document it all.
At para. 17, President Morris claims “heightened intellectual clarity.” As a professor who taught at MIU that claim is false. The effect is the opposite: a spaced-out, unfocused, zombie-like automaton, incapable of critical thinking is the more usual “benefit” of prolonged meditation.
In fact, meditation was used as an excuse (probably valid) by my students for not completing a project much in the way a “virus” or “the flu” debilitates the average college student. The consequences of intensive, or even regular, meditation was so damaging and disruptive to the nervous system, that students could not enroll in, or continue with, regular academic programs.
Many of my students offered as an excuse for not being able to sit for an examination or write a paper, the fact that they had a “bad meditation” or just “got off rounding” (group TM) and haven’t gotten “back to earth yet.”
A simple review of internal correspondence reflects the inconsistency between the outward, sanitized, “safe” public image they try to present, and the frequently dangerous reality of TM-Sidhi techniques.
A disturbing denial or avoidance syndrome, and even outright lies and deception, are used to cover-up or sanitize the dangerous reality on campus of very serious nervous breakdowns, episodes of dangerous and bizarre behavior, suicidal and homicidal ideation, threats and attempts, psychotic episodes, crime, depression and manic behavior that often accompanied roundings (intensive group meditations with brainwashing techniques). Euphemisms are employed to describe essentially dangerous, unstable and injurious behavior. “Unstressing,” for example, “Baking” is another.
For example, a memo dated 5/21/75 from Dean Sluyter, a copy of which is annexed (with original markings and notations) to Jon Shapiro, the head of psychological services, acknowledges that rounding results in bizarre behavior. The memo notes that it includes a recommendation from the President’s Council [of MIU].
The effectiveness of a course leader depends largely on his ability to maintain and manifest a feet-on-the-ground, non-rounding perspective. Constant immersion in the usually “baked” atmosphere of a long rounding course presents a challenge to that perspective.
Course leaders in Europe have a notorious tendency to get baked.
Jonathan Shapiro, and other experienced Forest Academy and TTC leaders, in a moment of candor, have personally acknowledged that rounding can result in a nervous breakdown. However, this is not the term they prefer to use.
There were meditators who experienced serious breakdowns during and following meditation. MIU and the counseling staff usually opted for banishment in these cases, although their practices often triggered mental breakdowns. Many students who experienced severe and uncontrollable trauma from meditation came to me for assistance and counseling since Jonathan Shapiro and his staff were punitive and hostile in their “therapeutic” approach.
Banishing people who have problems not only from the campus, but attempting to keep them out of the state [Iowa] through extortion, threats or intimidation is not unusual. In many cases, the problems are precipitated or worsened by TM-Sidhi practices and/or by activities of the TM hierarchy. Essentially they cause the problem, blame the victim for his or her breakdown, and then threaten them with injury or other means if they don’t leave the state permanently.
…about three or four in the morning I was awakened by noise and excitement outside of my dorm. A twister (and possibly more than one) was west of the campus in the direction of Ottumwa and clearly visible. The students were outside their frats (dorms) in their nightclothes to test their “supernatural” powers. No one was injured simply because the twister did not hit the campus. Nevertheless scores of students believed (I questioned them the next day) that somehow the meditation safeguarded them.
These experiences and myths perpetrated by the TM cult might appear humorous or silly, but in fact I saw many casualties from their irresponsible lies and deceptions. Teaching methodology, for example, is actually indoctrination or brain washing and one of the very few (perhaps only) classes where genuine learning was attempted was in my classroom.
I have more than five (5) years family court law guardian experience and work with young drug abuses and addicts. In addition, I was involved in implementing a drug addiction program in Nassau County, New York. My observation and experience of some of the erratic and volatile “unstressing” (actually nervous breakdowns) on campus was similar to the reactions I’ve observed from people who had a “bad trip” or “freaked-out” from dangerous hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD.
In early December 1975, while the Maharishi was on campus, I spent a great deal of time trying to persuade him to adopt a more honest, less commercial, approach to meditation, the Sidhi courses, the curricula, the disguised religious element masquerading as a science, inter alia.
He was aware, apparently for some time, of the problem, suicide attempts, assaults, homicidal ideation, serious psychotic episodes, depressions, inter alia, but his general attitude was to leave it alone or conceal it because the community would lose faith in the TM movement.
Maharishi had a very cavalier, almost elitist, view about very serious injuries and trauma to meditators. His basic attitude towards the concealment of the religious nature of TM was: “When America is ready for Hinduism I will tell them.”
The claims of flying and levitation in the Sidhi courses are more than just false and dishonest, and an ambitious, cynical money making scheme by a group of cosmic merchants. They are exceedingly dangerous to a small, but significant, percentage of people who believe this and uncritically accept these outlandish claims.
Based on specific and personal observations and knowledge, inter alia, there is no question, but that the Maharishi had prior and actual notice and knowledge of the detrimental consequences of some meditative and Sidhi practices. However, he made a conscious decision and choice a long time ago to make money, develop a world-wide network of TM-SCI-Sidhi programs, irrespective of the trauma he caused to many vulnerable and uninformed people who were willing to trust him.
Why “heavy unstressing”, why can TM practice be so psychologically toxic?
“Heavy unstressing” and the psychological casualties are a result of deliberately inducing chronic dissociation via excessive TM practice, which can also result in an extreme degree of suggestibility. This extreme suggestibility, combined with heavy exposure to advanced TM esoteric indoctrination, can in turn lead to induced psychosis as in the example of Mrs. Wallace above.
TM induces dissociation (trance), but trance of itself is neither “good” nor “bad.” The ability to enter trance is actually a natural feature of human psychology. Experts on the subject say that becoming heavily absorbed in TV show, or absorbed in a book, or absorbed in a daydream can be a benign form of trance.
TMers deliberately induce dissociation (trance) every day. Those who have fallen deeply into the rabbit hole may induce dissociation many times a day for months or years. Too much trance becomes psychologically toxic. What is “too much”? I believe that depends on the individual, but the many hours a day of trance experienced by advanced TM practitioners too much. A steadily more serious case of “chronic dissociation” is the result.
What happens is that they end up developing dissociative disorders, including depersonalization, and derealization:
Individuals who experience depersonalization feel divorced from their own personal physicality by sensing their body sensations, feelings, emotions and behaviors as not belonging to the same person or identity. Often a person who has experienced depersonalization claims that life “feels like a movie” or things seem unreal or hazy. Also, a recognition of self breaks down (hence the name). Depersonalization can result in very high anxiety levels, which further increase these perceptions.
Derealization (DR) is an alteration in the perception or experience of the external world so that it seems strange or unreal. Other symptoms include feeling as though one’s environment is lacking in spontaneity, emotional colouring and depth. It is a dissociative symptom of many conditions…
Here’s the story of my own adventures in TM. When I described it to a psychiatrist years later he called it “induced psychosis.” What happened to me is that in my permanently dissociated state I internalized all TM dogma. In particular I internalized the dogma regarding what experiences at “higher levels of consciousness” would be like, and also about demons. I then “had” these “higher” experiences, and also began to experience evil supernatural forces who were opposing the spread of TM. Unfortunately I was able to discuss these and other psychotic ideations with Mahesh, who confirmed them, making things incredibly worse.
Mrs. Wallace’s story above is just one of many other examples of how TMers experience “induced psychosis.” If you read all of the stories of psychological damage that I’ve mentioned you’ll see many many examples of it.
Heavy participation in TM is a formula for psychological destruction.