Saturday, September 8, 2012

Can Meditation Be Bad For You?

Considering my experiences with the Vipassana meditation retreat in Cambodia, I found a lot to relate to in this article from The Humanist:

Can Meditation Be Bad for You?

It refers to Goenke's meditation retreats specifically. As somebody with occasional anxiety problems, I knew I was taking a risk when I clicked the box saying that I was of fit mind when I signed up for the course. The risk was there because I was a complete novice with meditation. Still, I was surprised at how intense the experience of silence for a week and 15 hours of meditation a day can be. I talked to other people after the course was complete. At least two of the five foreigners had had terrifying hallucinations and panic attacks (and at least one Cambodian lady had a panic attack during the retreat).  One was on anxiety medication.

The great advantage of a weeklong retreat in silence with no reading materials or music or eye contact is that it forces you to work really hard at meditation. With that amount of time, any random person can see what meditation is about, what actually doing it feels like. Before the retreat I had read the occasional book on meditation and been bored at my friend's yoga classes once or twice and gone to one or two hour-long sessions and tried to meditate on my own for a total of maybe 15 hours in my life, and I never really felt anything at all. In Cambodia, it took me two full days of complete silence to start to get it.

But I would hazard to say that a week is too long. With such an extent of sensory deprivation, the potential harm for a novice on these retreats is not worth the benefit.

Another thing: The New Scientist's list of uncracked codes! 

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