In the current craze for meditation, the emphasis is always on the benefits we can receive from it. They are many and deserve to be highlighted.
It is rare to hear anything about its possible negative effects. They do exist, however, and are documented in the religious traditions in which meditative practices were developed, especially in Buddhism and Hinduism.
These traditions emphasize that meditation is by no means harmless. This is why they put a lot of attention on the establishment of a secure framework to practice it, under the competent gaze of a more experienced master, with a progressive learning and a full awareness that certain techniques can have effects that are difficult to manage for the meditating student.
They know these effects very well, describe them precisely, consider them an integral part of anyone's meditation journey, and explain how to deal with them. These traditions do not see these effects as only negative, but as opportunities to make discoveries about oneself and to advance on the spiritual path. On the other hand, they insist very much on the need to help the student to face them accurately, because alone and left to himself he could find himself in danger.
Here are the negative effects of meditation that I have observed in my own practice or that of people I have known or accompanied:
- A feeling of not doing well enough, of not meditating properly, which reinforces low self-esteem and induces guilt and discouragement.
- Difficult emotions of which we were not fully aware and which take advantage of the space of calm and silence offered by meditation to rise to the surface and submerge us.
- Difficulty getting back into the body and into everyday life after meditation, with an unpleasant feeling of disconnection and floating that prolongs and struggles to dissipate.
- A feeling of superiority over others induced by the impression that by meditating we accomplish something that sets us apart and puts us above the common people.
- A repression of the emotions present in us, using improperly the techniques of meditation to appease and repress emotions instead of becoming aware of them and becoming intimate with them.
- A withdrawal from relationships and responsibilities by creating an artificial space of peace through meditation and thus making it a kind of drug.
Not all those who meditate experience these negative effects, far from it. But each of us, depending on what we have experienced, the wounds of our past or the difficulties of our present, can be confronted with it, whether when discovering meditation or after years of practice.
I will be very clear on this point: I believe that meditation is a great practice. I think the best gift you and I can give to ourselves in this life is to learn to meditate. I believe that meditation brings wonderful benefits to the life of the one who practices it.
And that's why we must talk about the negative effects of meditation: it's a shame, it's a mess, that many meditators find themselves discouraged and give up their practice, or find themselves blocked in their progression by such dead ends or illusions.
And even more: each of these traps or negative effects that I have described has two sides.
Of course there is the dark side of the negative effect: discouragement, the desire to give up, guilt, anxiety, mental or physical discomfort, or even artificial and false peace and the pretentious and enclosing spiritual superiority.
But the bright side of these experiences, if they are accompanied with lucidity, benevolence and competence, is that they can become an opportunity for tremendous awareness, which then allows us to go beyond the and which make them become gateways to new depths and to a better and richer life, thanks to the inner work of meditation.