Mental health risks of meditation?

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  • paige
    Member
    • Apr 2007
    • 234

    Mental health risks of meditation?

    Jundo's blog recently linked this PDF file debunking Ken Wilber. When I read it, I noticed there was a section (in Chapter IV) on the negative side effects of meditation.
    Long-term meditators reported the following percentages of adverse effects: antisocial behavior, 13.5%; anxiety, 9.0%; confusion, 7.2%; depression, 8.1%; emotional stability, 4.5%; frustration, 9.0%; physical and mental tension, 8.1%; pro-crastination, 7.2%; restlessness, 9.0%; suspiciousness, 6.3%; tolerance of others, 4.5%; and withdrawal, 7.2%....
    I'm not quite sure where this data came from? I think it was a few late 70s/ early 80s TM studies? Maybe? (I had a bit of trouble understanding this eBook.)

    Does anyone know of any recent information on adverse effects of zazen? Because I'm a little confused now. :?
  • will
    Member
    • Jun 2007
    • 2331

    #2
    Zazen is not really a typical meditation as such. It's mindfulness practice. Meditation a lot of the time usually refers to a type of introverted concentration or imaging technique. Zazen is actually the opposite of a lot of meditation. Focusing attention, like a lot of meditations do, can definitely cause one to be more introverted along with other side effects.

    If Zazen is done wrong it can also have such effects. It is important to be clear about what you are supposed to be doing when sitting Zazen.

    Gassho Will
    [size=85:z6oilzbt]
    To save all sentient beings, though beings are numberless.
    To penetrate reality, though reality is boundless.
    To transform all delusion, though delusions are immeasurable.
    To attain the enlightened way, a way non-attainable.
    [/size:z6oilzbt]

    Comment

    • Jundo
      Treeleaf Founder and Priest
      • Apr 2006
      • 39065

      #3
      Re: Mental health risks of meditation?

      Originally posted by paige
      Jundo's blog recently linked this PDF file debunking Ken Wilber. When I read it, I noticed there was a section (in Chapter IV) on the negative side effects of meditation.
      Long-term meditators reported the following percentages of adverse effects: antisocial behavior, 13.5%; anxiety, 9.0%; confusion, 7.2%; depression, 8.1%; emotional stability, 4.5%; frustration, 9.0%; physical and mental tension, 8.1%; pro-crastination, 7.2%; restlessness, 9.0%; suspiciousness, 6.3%; tolerance of others, 4.5%; and withdrawal, 7.2%....
      Hi Paige,

      I need to speak from personal experience and common sense on this (I am not a psychiatrist, I just play one on TV). I would say that particularly intense forms of meditation, seeking supposed 'special states' under extreme conditions (for example, locking someone in a sensory deprivation tank for hours, subjecting a person to intense pressure to 'realize' in a multi-day retreat, cult-like techniques of sleep and dietary deprivation, and the like) could easily bring about some or most of those symptoms in most or all of us. No doubt. Also, some very susceptible people, with egg-shell personalities, will have particular negative reactions just as a result of very gentle meditation. Anyone leading a Sangha that holds retreats needs to be able to recognize when someone is having a bad reaction, and to deal with it. I myself have felt various degrees of depression, anxiety, paranoia and the like during a long Sesshin, although it all quickly passed in my case. I have seen some people have seriously bad reactions in retreats where I have been sitting (fortunately, very rare).

      On the other hand, ANY activity if done to excess (for example, running or jogging) will trigger the identical reactions in people (I have known runners who were addicted, and exhibited many of the above symptoms when they needed to 'withdraw' from the running habit).

      Now, with regard to the benefits of meditation, study after study has shown that the psychological (and physical) benefits are much clearer and prevalent than any such risks (again, just like running and jogging done in moderation). That is particularly true, I believe, for types of meditation that have a basically relaxing effect as opposed to those seeking extreme emotional states or which involve a hard pushing for 'attainment' (Yes, Paige, I could make a comment about Koan meditation in some extreme 'your hair is on fire' forms ... not perhaps the gentle forms you describe at the Ch'an temple).

      The book you are looking at is most interesting for its description of the cultish behavior that can form in groups teaching Eastern religion and philosophy. It is a good description of the cult of personality that can build up around a 'Guru.' (It is one of the reasons that I am working very hard to keep Treeleaf down to earth, the claims of what we 'seek' through our Zen practice 'magical' for being so ordinary, and the personality of the teacher as that of a clown and 'bozo on the bus' ... ). I recommend that EVERYONE interested in Eastern philosophy and religion, and involved in groups, read for example Chapters 9 and 10 of the 'Norman Einstein' book. Also, PLEASE have a look at this blog with writings from folks who escaped from the mind games of the Andrew Cohen cult:

      http://whatenlightenment.blogspot.com/

      These are written by insiders, and show the mentality that creeps up in so many of these groups. Buddhist groups, and even Zen groups, can go exactly the same way (It happened at San Francisco Zen Center in the 'Shoes by the Door' days of Richard Baker). (You posted a check-list of cult behavior a few months ago, and I will look for it).

      I keep things around here down to earth and make few silly claims about what we are doing here. At least I try. I believe that the ordinary IS 'magic', that not seeking for special states IS a special state, that being at home right where you are IS finding nirvana here and now. If you ever find me pulling any of the psycho-babble crap or guru stuff or other cultish activity described in this book or that blog, please call me on it right away and make your escape from here. I will give you your money back (by the way, I will never ask for any).

      By the way, Kelly M, you should also read criticisms such as the following of the TM cult in its more 'advanced' stages. That does not mean that it applies to the local group in your town.

      http://www.suggestibility.org/

      Again, if you find any of that around here, call me on it.

      Gassho, Jundo
      ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

      Comment

      • Ryumon
        Member
        • Apr 2007
        • 1689

        #4
        Since I have a chronic health problem, discovered about two years ago, I've been paying more attention to medical news and information. I follow a couple of serious sites that report medical study summaries, info on new meds, etc. What strikes me about what Paige posted is how similar that list of "side-effects" is to the list of side-effects of just about any medication, or even those that people taking placebos in studies develop. In other words, isn't that just a description of human nature and society in general? :-)

        Kirk
        ---
        Ryūmon (Kirk)
        流文

        SAT/LAH

        I know nothing.

        Comment

        • Jundo
          Treeleaf Founder and Priest
          • Apr 2006
          • 39065

          #5
          Please don't get me wrong ... I think the form of 'just sitting' meditation that we are practicing around here is pretty powerful stuff, true dynamite and life changing medicine ... It is so, even for all its seeming simplicity. It is not merely some form of relaxation technique, or a lightweight practice or watered-down Zen. It is precisely because it is such a powerful medicine, with the potential to redically realign our ways of thinking and experiencing life, that it must not be abused and not taken in the wrong dosage, must be kept out of the reach of children. Nor should misleading claims about its power and efficacy by made by some quack, guru snake-oil salesman merely to sucker in some patients. There are plenty of 'Eastern Wisdom' snake oil salesman out there.

          Anything can be abused or misused. I think.

          Gassho Again, J
          ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

          Comment

          • FeMonky
            Member
            • May 2007
            • 50

            #6
            my 2 cents

            As a person under a doctor's care and prescribed medications for Depression & Generralized Anxiety Disorder I can give my thoughts! yay for me!
            Basically, when I first started zazen it was very difficult because those depressive/anxiousness thoughts kept bubbling up. Through patience, and a little pharmaceutical adjustment to my brain chemistry, I realized that during zazen I needed to dismiss those thoughts and just sit. I think, in fact, those thoughts WANTED to be dismissed. Started making it easier for me to dismiss the irrational fears when not in zazen sitting too
            So, this is a case where meditation is counteracting those supposed side-effects...
            Just like all those miracle-cure commercials on tv. Personal results my vary,

            Comment

            • Jundo
              Treeleaf Founder and Priest
              • Apr 2006
              • 39065

              #7
              Hi Guys,

              Here is a typical list of warning signs.

              I did find a 'danger' sign for Treeleaf Zendo, and that's that the 'leader' (Jundo) is ALWAYS RIGHT. Please do not forget that. :-)

              Also, we could do a bit better on financial disclosure ... except for the fact that donations are not accepted (By the way, anyone wishing to make a donation to Treeleaf, I encourage you to make a donation instead to a charity of your choice, one that helps folks, e.g., feeding the hungry, finding a medical cure, world peace, etc.)

              Gassho, Jundo the Infallible

              __________________________________________________ _____

              Ten warning signs of a potentially unsafe group/leader.

              1. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.

              2. No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.

              3. No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.

              4. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.

              5. There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.

              6. Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.

              7. There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.

              8. Followers feel they can never be "good enough".

              9. The group/leader is always right.

              10. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing "truth" or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.

              Ten warning signs regarding people involved in/with a potentially unsafe group/leader.

              1. Extreme obsessiveness regarding the group/leader resulting in the exclusion of almost every practical consideration.

              2. Individual identity, the group, the leader and/or God as distinct and separate categories of existence become increasingly blurred. Instead, in the follower's mind these identities become substantially and increasingly fused--as that person's involvement with the group/leader continues and deepens.

              3. Whenever the group/leader is criticized or questioned it is characterized as "persecution".

              4. Uncharacteristically stilted and seemingly programmed conversation and mannerisms, cloning of the group/leader in personal behavior.

              5. Dependency upon the group/leader for problem solving, solutions, and definitions without meaningful reflective thought. A seeming inability to think independently or analyze situations without group/leader involvement.

              6. Hyperactivity centered on the group/leader agenda, which seems to supercede any personal goals or individual interests.

              7. A dramatic loss of spontaneity and sense of humor.

              8. Increasing isolation from family and old friends unless they demonstrate an interest in the group/leader.

              9. Anything the group/leader does can be justified no matter how harsh or harmful.

              10. Former followers are at best-considered negative or worse evil and under bad influences. They can not be trusted and personal contact is avoided.

              Ten signs of a safe group/leader.

              1. A safe group/leader will answer your questions without becoming judgmental and punitive.

              2. A safe group/leader will disclose information such as finances and often offer an independently audited financial statement regarding budget and expenses. Safe groups and leaders will tell you more than you want to know.

              3. A safe group/leader is often democratic, sharing decision making and encouraging accountability and oversight.

              4. A safe group/leader may have disgruntled former followers, but will not vilify, excommunicate and forbid others from associating with them.

              5. A safe group/leader will not have a paper trail of overwhelmingly negative records, books, articles and statements about them.

              6. A safe group/leader will encourage family communication, community interaction and existing friendships and not feel threatened.

              7. A safe group/leader will recognize reasonable boundaries and limitations when dealing with others.

              8. A safe group/leader will encourage critical thinking, individual autonomy and feelings of self-esteem.

              9. A safe group/leader will admit failings and mistakes and accept constructive criticism and advice.

              10. A safe group/leader will not be the only source of knowledge and learning excluding everyone else, but value dialogue and the free exchange of ideas.

              Don't be naïve, develop a good BS Detector.

              http://www.rickross.com/warningsigns.html
              _____________________________________________

              Here is another, more detailed list ...

              http://www.factnet.org/headlines/destru ... signs.html

              http://www.i4m.com/think/recovery/mormo ... nation.htm
              ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

              Comment

              • will
                Member
                • Jun 2007
                • 2331

                #8
                Good Advice.

                especially
                Don't be naïve, develop a good BS Detector.
                By the way Jundo. Did you recieve the pm I sent you? I'm just looking for more teacher student interaction, but am not sure how that is done.

                Gassho Will
                [size=85:z6oilzbt]
                To save all sentient beings, though beings are numberless.
                To penetrate reality, though reality is boundless.
                To transform all delusion, though delusions are immeasurable.
                To attain the enlightened way, a way non-attainable.
                [/size:z6oilzbt]

                Comment

                • paige
                  Member
                  • Apr 2007
                  • 234

                  #9
                  Thank you guys, especially FeMonky for sharing your story!

                  I don't think that koan meditation, or the visualisation techniques of Vipassana are 'risky' in and of themselves. But I do think that people can easily run into difficulties when they use meditation to try to achieve a special state. So there's a danger to sitting down expecting to solve koans or enter jhanas. But shikan taza practitioners aren't immune from seeking higher states either. So everyone has to be careful.

                  It reads as though Norman Einstein author's exposure to these Eastern cults has soured him on meditation generally. Especially in his Stripping the Gurus work, he seems to be of the opinion that the purpose of zazen is to produce enlightenment experiences. And that the scarcity of 'fully enlightened human beings' (like Jundo! ) in the world shows that zazen doesn't work as advertised.

                  These cults and fake gurus certainly do a lot of damage.

                  Comment

                  • Ryumon
                    Member
                    • Apr 2007
                    • 1689

                    #10
                    But some of the Rinzai groups _do_ prone meditation to reach satori. That's what threw me when I read Three Pillars of Zen. Perhaps thas' where the author got most of his info.

                    Kirk
                    ---
                    Ryūmon (Kirk)
                    流文

                    SAT/LAH

                    I know nothing.

                    Comment

                    • paige
                      Member
                      • Apr 2007
                      • 234

                      #11
                      Hi Kirk,

                      I've never read The Three Pillars of Zen so I didn't know that. But it doesn't surprise me too much either. I've never practised within the Japanese Rinzai tradition, but I've heard 2nd and 3rd hand accounts of zendos that sound almost Fight Club!

                      I'm sure that the 'push for satori' attitude crops up in Soto groups too though. It's probably not wise to conclude that 'just sitting' retreats/ classes/ teachers/ etc. are always safe.

                      Comment

                      • Ryumon
                        Member
                        • Apr 2007
                        • 1689

                        #12
                        Well, part of Three Pillars is three stories of people obtaining satori. I recall one that describe a woman who meditated day and night, until she was drenched in sweat, sayiing Mu! over and over again. Quite the opposite of just sitting.

                        Much of the book describes this type of dynamic quest for satori.

                        Kirk
                        ---
                        Ryūmon (Kirk)
                        流文

                        SAT/LAH

                        I know nothing.

                        Comment

                        • Jundo
                          Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                          • Apr 2006
                          • 39065

                          #13
                          Hi Paige,

                          Originally posted by paige

                          I'm sure that the 'push for satori' attitude crops up in Soto groups too though. .
                          That's the point. If a "push for satori" crops up, it cannot be Soto. It would be much like a local "Christian" church that does not believe in Christ(*), or better, a baseball team that practices football. There simply cannot be a "push for satori' with "just sitting".

                          That is why the "White Plum" Lineage of Maezumi Roshi is Rinzai in Soto trappings ... It is just a fact. I think that EVERY serious Zen student, sometime, should locate and read a copy of this book (sadly out of print) ...



                          ... reviewed here (although I can only get the first page)

                          http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0095-6848(199122)17%3A2%3C372%3AOTZTSA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Q

                          I think that it is no coincidence that Genpo Roshi, of "Big Mind" fame, is a leading member of said "White Plum" ... thus the emphasis there again on life changing states ("wham bam thank you maam" Zen) in Big Mind.

                          You know, Paige, I don't want you to get the impression that I am critical of every Zen/Buddhist teacher and school of Buddhism but "me myself and I plus my teacher". Far from it. It is just that several deserving comment have come up recently.

                          Gassho, Jundo

                          PS (*) Such Christ denying Christians have existed, by the way, at least as far as denying his divinity e.g., the Arians.

                          http://jbotscharow.wordpress.com/2007/0 ... -part-one/
                          ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                          Comment

                          • Ryumon
                            Member
                            • Apr 2007
                            • 1689

                            #14
                            Jundo,

                            I think it's a Good Thing that you offer such criticism, because it helps you better understand where you're coming from, and, frankly, reassures me a great deal. :-)

                            Kirk
                            ---
                            Ryūmon (Kirk)
                            流文

                            SAT/LAH

                            I know nothing.

                            Comment

                            • paige
                              Member
                              • Apr 2007
                              • 234

                              #15
                              I beg your pardon everyone! I hadn't meant my post as either a defense or condemnation of any teacher or school.

                              I seem to be doing a terrible job of expressing myself lately. Sorry.

                              The only reason I've ever heard of Genpo Roshi is that Jundo and Brad Warner have written about how they don't like him! I do know that seeking special states in order to attain satori isn't universal amongst Lin Chi traditions (for example, Seung Sahn wrote a great book Wanting Enlightenment Is a Big Mistake).

                              But it's hard to find a balance between "Wanting enlightenment is a big mistake" and "Strive with earnestness" (the Buddha's last words). Maybe some people can manage to practice zazen without having push themselves quite hard, but I certainly can't! I'm too lazy of a person to be at risk of seriously over-doing it though.

                              I really hope that any reputable meditation instructor would teach their students to not become attached to states. I know all of mine have - despite being from a couple of different traditions.

                              Comment

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