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Thread: The Dark Knight of the Soul: For some, meditation has become more curse than cure.

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    Default The Dark Knight of the Soul: For some, meditation has become more curse than cure.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/health/a...-souls/372766/

    TOMAS ROCHA JUN 25, 2014

    Set back on quiet College Hill in Providence, Rhode Island, sits a dignified, four story, 19th-century house that belongs to Dr. Willoughby Britton. Inside, it is warm, spacious, and organized. The shelves are stocked with organic foods. A solid wood dining room table seats up to 12. Plants are ubiquitous. Comfortable pillows are never far from reach. The basement—with its own bed, living space, and private bathroom—often hosts a rotating cast of yogis and meditation teachers. Britton’s own living space and office are on the second floor. The real sanctuary, however, is on the third floor, where people come from all over to rent rooms, work with Britton, and rest. But they're not there to restore themselves with meditation—they're recovering from it.

    "I started having thoughts like, 'Let me take over you,' combined with confusion and tons of terror," says David, a polite, articulate 27-year-old who arrived at Britton’s Cheetah House in 2013. "I had a vision of death with a scythe and a hood, and the thought 'Kill yourself' over and over again."

    Michael, 25, was a certified yoga teacher when he made his way to Cheetah House. He explains that during the course of his meditation practice his "body stopped digesting food. I had no idea what was happening." For three years he believed he was "permanently ruined" by meditation.

    "Recovery," "permanently ruined"—these are not words one typically encounters when discussing a contemplative practice.

    On a cold November night last fall, I drove to Cheetah House. A former student of Britton's, I joined the group in time for a Shabbat dinner. We blessed the challah, then the wine; recited prayers in English and Hebrew; and began eating.

    Britton, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, works at the Brown University Medical School. She receives regular phone calls, emails, and letters from people around the world in various states of impairment. Most of them worry no one will believe—let alone understand—their stories of meditation-induced affliction. Her investigation of this phenomenon, called "The Dark Night Project," is an effort to document, analyze, and publicize accounts of the adverse effects of contemplative practices.

    The morning after our Shabbat dinner, in Britton’s kitchen, David outlines the history of his own contemplative path. His first retreat was "very non-normal," he says, "and very good … divine. There was stuff dropping away … [and] electric shocks through my body. [My] core sense of self, a persistent consciousness, the thoughts and stuff, were not me." He tells me it was the best thing that had ever happened to him, an "orgasm of the soul, felt throughout my internal world."

    David explains that he finally felt awake. But it didn't last.

    Still high off his retreat, he declined an offer to attend law school, aggravating his parents. His best friends didn't understand him, or his "insane" stories of life on retreat.

    "I had a fear of being thought of as crazy," he says, "I felt extremely sensitive, vulnerable, and naked."

    Not knowing what to do with himself, David moved to Korea to teach English, got bored, dropped out of the program, and moved back in with his parents. Eventually, life lost its meaning. Colors began to fade. Spiritually dry, David didn't care about anything anymore. Everything he had found pleasurable before the retreat—hanging out with friends, playing music, drinking—all of that "turned to dirt," he says, "a plate of beautiful food turned to dirt."

    He traveled back and forth from Asia to home seeking guidance, but found only a deep, persistent dissatisfaction in himself. After "bumming around Thailand for a bit," he moved to San Francisco, got a job, and sat through several more two- and 10-week meditation retreats. Then, in 2012, David sold his car to pay for a retreat at the Cloud Mountain Center that torments him still.

    "Psychological hell," is how he describes it. "It would come and go in waves. I’d be in the middle of practice and what would come to mind was everything I didn't want to think about, every feeling I didn't want to feel." David felt "pebble-sized" spasms emerge from inside a "dense knot" in his belly.

    He panicked. Increasingly vivid pornographic fantasies and repressed memories from his childhood began to surface.

    "I just started freaking out," he says, "and at some point, I just surrendered to the onslaught of unwanted sexual thoughts … a sexual Rolodex of every taboo." As soon as he did, however, "there was some goodness to it." After years of pushing away his emotional, instinctual drives, something inside David was "reattached," he says.

    Toward the end of his time at the Cloud Mountain Center, David shared his ongoing experiences with the retreat leaders, who assured him it was probably just his "ego's defenses" acting up. "They were really comforting," he says, "even though I thought I was going to become schizophrenic."

    According to a survey by the National Institutes of Health, 10 percent of respondents—representing more than 20 million adult Americans—tried meditating between 2006 and 2007, a 1.8 percent increase from a similar survey in 2002. At that rate, by 2017, there may be more than 27 million American adults with a recent meditation experience.

    In late January this year, Time magazine featured a cover story on "the mindful revolution," an account of the extent to which mindfulness meditation has diffused into the largest sectors of modern society. Used by "Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 titans, Pentagon chiefs, and more," mindfulness meditation is promoted as a means to help Americans work mindfully, eat mindfully, parent mindfully, teach mindfully, take standardized tests mindfully, spend money mindfully, and go to war mindfully. What the cover story did not address are what might be called the revolution's "dirty laundry."

    "We're not being thorough or honest in our study of contemplative practice," says Britton, a critique she extends to the entire field of researchers studying meditation, including herself.

    I'm sitting on a pillow in Britton’s meditation room. She tells me that the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine's website includes an interesting choice of words in its entry on meditation. Under "side effects and risks," it reads:

    Meditation is considered to be safe for healthy people. There have been rare reports that meditation could cause or worsen symptoms in people who have certain psychiatric problems, but this question has not been fully researched.

    By modern scientific standards, the aforementioned research may not yet be comprehensive—a fact Britton wants to change—but according to Britton and her colleagues, descriptions of meditation's adverse effects have been collecting dust on bookshelves for centuries.

    The phrase "dark night of the soul," can be traced back to a 16th-century Spanish poem by the Roman Catholic mystic San Juan de la Cruz, or Saint John of the Cross. It is most commonly used within certain Christian traditions to refer to an individual's spiritual crisis in the course of their union with God.

    The divine experiences reported by Saint John describe a method, or protocol, "followed by the soul in its journey upon the spiritual road to the attainment of the perfect union of love with God, to the extent that it is possible in this life." The poem, however, is linked to a much longer text, also written by Saint John, which describes the hardships faced by those who seek to purify the senses—and the spirit—in their quest for mystical love.

    According to Britton, the texts of many major contemplative traditions offer similar maps of spiritual development. One of her team's preliminary tasks—a sort of archeological literature review—was to pore through the written canons of Theravadin, Tibetan, and Zen Buddhism, as well as texts within Christianity, Judaism, and Sufism. "Not every text makes clear reference to a period of difficulty on the contemplative path," Britton says, "but many did."

    "There is a sutta," a canonical discourse attributed to the Buddha or one of his close disciples, "where monks go crazy and commit suicide after doing contemplation on death," says Chris Kaplan, a visiting scholar at the Mind & Life Institute who also works with Britton on the Dark Night Project.

    Nathan Fisher, the study's manager, condenses a famous parable by the founder of the Jewish Hasidic movement. Says Fisher, "[the story] is about how the oscillations of spiritual life parallel the experience of learning to walk, very similar to the metaphor Saint John of the Cross uses in terms of a mother weaning a child … first you are held up by a parent and it is exhilarating and wonderful, and then they take their hands away and it is terrifying and the child feels abandoned."

    Kaplan and Fisher dislike the term "dark night" because, in their view, it can imply that difficult contemplative experiences are "one and the same thing" across different religions and contemplative traditions.

    Fisher also emphasizes two categories that may cause dark nights to surface. The first results from "incorrect or misguided practice that could be avoided," while the second includes "those [experiences] which were necessary and expected stages of practices." In other words, while meditators can better avoid difficult experiences under the guidance of seasoned teachers, there are cases where such experiences are useful signs of progress in contemplative development. Distinguishing between the two, however, remains a challenge.

    Britton shows me a 2010 paper written by University of Colorado-Boulder psychologist Sona Dimidjian that was published in American Psychologist, the official journal of the American Psychological Association. The study examines some dramatic instances where psychotherapy has caused serious harm to a patient. It also highlights the value of creating standards for defining and identifying when and how harm can occur at different points in the psychotherapeutic process.

    One of the central questions of Dimidjian's article is this: After 100 years of research into psychotherapy, it's obvious that scientists and clinicians have learned a lot about the benefits of therapy, but what do we know about the harms? According to Britton, a parallel process is happening in the field of meditation research.

    "We have a lot of positive data [on meditation]," she says, "but no one has been asking if there are any potential difficulties or adverse effects, and whether there are some practices that may be better or worse-suited [for] some people over others. Ironically," Britton adds, "the main delivery system for Buddhist meditation in America is actually medicine and science, not Buddhism."

    As a result, many people think of meditation only from the perspective of reducing stress and enhancing executive skills such as emotion regulation, attention, and so on.

    For Britton, this widespread assumption—that meditation exists only for stress reduction and labor productivity, "because that's what Americans value"—narrows the scope of the scientific lens. When the time comes to develop hypotheses around the effects of meditation, the only acceptable—and fundable—research questions are the ones that promise to deliver the answers we want to hear.

    "Does it promote good relationships? Does it reduce cortisol? Does it help me work harder?" asks Britton, referencing these more lucrative questions. Because studies have shown that meditation does satisfy such interests, the results, she says, are vigorously reported to the public. "But," she cautions, "what about when meditation plays a role in creating an experience that then leads to a breakup, a psychotic break, or an inability to focus at work?"

    Given the juggernaut—economic and otherwise—behind the mindfulness movement, there is a lot at stake in exploring a shadow side of meditation. Upton Sinclair once observed how difficult it is to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. Britton has experienced that difficulty herself. In part because university administrators and research funders prefer simple and less controversial titles, she has chosen to rename the Dark Night Project the "Varieties of Contemplative Experience."

    Britton also questions what might be considered the mindfulness movement's limited scope. She explains that the Theravadin Buddhist tradition influences how a large portion of Americans practice meditation, but in it, mindfulness is "about vipassana, a specific type of insight … into the three characteristics of experience." These are also known as the three marks of existence: anicca, or impermanence; dukkha, or dissatisfaction; and anatta, or no-self.

    In this context, mindfulness is not about being able to stare comfortably at your computer for hours on end, or get "in the zone" to climb the corporate ladder. Rather, says Britton, it's about the often painstaking process of "realizing and processing those three specific insights."

    Shinzen Young, a Buddhist meditation teacher popular with young scientists, has summarized his familiarity with dark night experiences. In a 2011 email exchange between himself and a student, which he then posted on his blog, Young presents an explanation of what he means by a "dark night" within the context of Buddhist experience:

    Almost everyone who gets anywhere with meditation will pass through periods of negative emotion, confusion, [and] disorientation. …The same can happen in psychotherapy and other growth modalities. I would not refer to these types of experiences as 'dark night.' I would reserve the term for a somewhat rarer phenomenon. Within the Buddhist tradition, [this] is sometimes referred to as 'falling into the Pit of the Void.' It entails an authentic and irreversible insight into Emptiness and No Self. Instead of being empowering and fulfilling … it turns into the opposite. In a sense, it's Enlightenment's Evil Twin. This is serious but still manageable through intensive … guidance under a competent teacher. In some cases, it takes months or even years to fully metabolize, but in my experience the results are almost always highly positive.

    Britton's findings corroborate many of Young's claims. Among the nearly 40 dark night subjects her team has formally interviewed over the past few years, she says most were "fairly out of commission, fairly impaired for between six months [and] more than 20 years."

    The identities of Britton's subjects are kept secret and coded anonymously. To find interviewees, however, her team contacted well-known and highly esteemed teachers, such as Jack Kornfield at California's Spirit Rock and Joseph Goldstein at the Insight Meditation Center in Massachusetts. Like many other experienced teachers they spoke to, Goldstein and Kornfield recalled instances during past meditation retreats where students became psychologically incapacitated. Some were hospitalized. Says Britton, "there was one person Jack told me about [who] never recovered."

    The Dark Night Project is young, and still very much in progress. Researchers in the field are just beginning to carefully collect and sort through the narratives of difficult meditation-related experiences. Britton has presented her findings at major Buddhist and scientific conferences, prominent retreat centers, and even to the Dalai Lama at the 24th Mind and Life Dialogue in 2012.

    "Many people in our study were lost and confused and could not find help," Britton says. "They had been through so many doctors, therapists, and dharma teachers. Given that we had so much information about these effects, we realized that we were it."

    In response, Britton conceived of Cheetah House as a public resource. "We're still in the process of developing our services," she says. "Lots of people just come live here, and work on the study. Because they're part of the research team, they get to stay here and listen to other people's experiences, and that's been incredibly healing."

    As a trained clinician, it can be hard for Britton to reconcile the visible benefits of contemplative practices with data unearthed through the Dark Night Project. More than half of her patients reported positive "life-altering experiences" after a recent eight-week meditation program, for example. But, she says, "while I have appreciation and love for the practices, and for my patients … I have all of these other people that have struggled, who are struggling."

    "I understand the resistance," says Britton, in response to critics who have attempted to silence or dismiss her work. "There are parts of me that just want meditation to be all good. I find myself in denial sometimes, where I just want to forget all that I've learned and go back to being happy about mindfulness and promoting it, but then I get another phone call and meet someone who's in distress, and I see the devastation in their eyes, and I can't deny that this is happening. As much as I want to investigate and promote contemplative practices and contribute to the well-being of humanity through that, I feel a deeper commitment to what's actually true."
    The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.



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  3. #2

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    I tried meditation but I can't do it. I finally accepted what's relaxing to me isn't meditation.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ron Paul View Post
    The intellectual battle for liberty can appear to be a lonely one at times. However, the numbers are not as important as the principles that we hold. Leonard Read always taught that "it's not a numbers game, but an ideological game." That's why it's important to continue to provide a principled philosophy as to what the role of government ought to be, despite the numbers that stare us in the face.

  4. #3

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    Beer and tunes, all I need to unwind.
    “…I believe that at this point in history, the greatest danger to our freedom and way of life comes from the reasonable fear of omniscient State powers kept in check by nothing more than policy documents.”

  5. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Suzanimal View Post
    I tried meditation but I can't do it. I finally accepted what's relaxing to me isn't meditation.
    Franzia?
    "He's talkin' to his gut like it's a person!!" -me
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    "Each of us must choose which course of action we should take: education, conventional political action, or even peaceful civil disobedience to bring about necessary changes. But let it not be said that we did nothing." - Ron Paul

    "Paul said "the wave of the future" is a coalition of anti-authoritarian progressive Democrats and libertarian Republicans in Congress opposed to domestic surveillance, opposed to starting new wars and in favor of ending the so-called War on Drugs."

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by dannno View Post
    Franzia?
    Aye

    I also enjoy QNT, floating in the pool, eating cold watermelon on a hot day, listening to music (pretending I can sing), soaking in the tub, fresh sheets, camp fires, eating marshmallow skin, popping stuff (bubble wrap, balloons, zits), snuggling/hugging (I like to touch people - I'm a toucher), browsing thrift stores for weird $#@!, spinning rides and roller coasters, smelling gasoline, cookies baking, and fresh cut grass, birthday cake, scratching the doge in his sweet spot (he kicks his leg and sticks out his tongue - it never gets old), drinking coffee, drinking coke through a red Twizzler straw, facials, and having my hair washed.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ron Paul View Post
    The intellectual battle for liberty can appear to be a lonely one at times. However, the numbers are not as important as the principles that we hold. Leonard Read always taught that "it's not a numbers game, but an ideological game." That's why it's important to continue to provide a principled philosophy as to what the role of government ought to be, despite the numbers that stare us in the face.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Suzanimal View Post
    Aye

    I also enjoy QNT, floating in the pool, eating cold watermelon on a hot day, listening to music (pretending I can sing), soaking in the tub, fresh sheets, camp fires, eating marshmallow skin, popping stuff (bubble wrap, balloons, zits), snuggling/hugging (I like to touch people - I'm a toucher), browsing thrift stores for weird $#@!, spinning rides and roller coasters, smelling gasoline, cookies baking, and fresh cut grass, birthday cake, scratching the doge in his sweet spot (he kicks his leg and sticks out his tongue - it never gets old), drinking coffee, drinking coke through a red Twizzler straw, facials, and having my hair washed.
    All forms of meditation.......




  8. #7

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    I usually need alittle something to help put me in a meditative state.


    Don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows

  9. #8

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    I like voting in polls

    Helps take my mind off work
    It's all about taking action and not being lazy. So you do the work, whether it's fitness or whatever. It's about getting up, motivating yourself and just doing it.
    - Kim Kardashian

    Donald Trump / Rand Paul (Vice Pres) 2016!!!!

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Suzanimal View Post
    Aye

    I also enjoy QNT, floating in the pool, eating cold watermelon on a hot day, listening to music (pretending I can sing), soaking in the tub, fresh sheets, camp fires, eating marshmallow skin, popping stuff (bubble wrap, balloons, zits), snuggling/hugging (I like to touch people - I'm a toucher), browsing thrift stores for weird $#@!, spinning rides and roller coasters, smelling gasoline, cookies baking, and fresh cut grass, birthday cake, scratching the doge in his sweet spot (he kicks his leg and sticks out his tongue - it never gets old), drinking coffee, drinking coke through a red Twizzler straw, facials, and having my hair washed.

    Raindrops on roses
    And whiskers on kittens
    Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
    Brown paper packages tied up with strings
    These are a few of my favorite things

    Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
    Doorbells and sleigh bells
    And schnitzel with noodles
    Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
    These are a few of my favorite things

    Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
    Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
    Silver-white winters that melt into springs
    These are a few of my favorite things
    Quote Originally Posted by juleswin View Post
    You do know that you [dannno] are a moron right?
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    I love Che because...
    Quote Originally Posted by juleswin View Post
    ...he did that which I was too cowardly afraid to do
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    Just for the record, 99% of the time I say "In my country........" I am actually messing with you people because I know you guys have absolutely no idea what happens in my country.

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  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Danke View Post
    Raindrops on roses
    And whiskers on kittens
    Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
    Brown paper packages tied up with strings
    These are a few of my favorite things

    Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
    Doorbells and sleigh bells
    And schnitzel with noodles
    Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
    These are a few of my favorite things

    Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
    Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
    Silver-white winters that melt into springs
    These are a few of my favorite things
    I can't believe singing wasn't on her list. O_o
    Quote Originally Posted by Ron Paul View Post
    The intellectual battle for liberty can appear to be a lonely one at times. However, the numbers are not as important as the principles that we hold. Leonard Read always taught that "it's not a numbers game, but an ideological game." That's why it's important to continue to provide a principled philosophy as to what the role of government ought to be, despite the numbers that stare us in the face.

  12. #11

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    You'll feel better if you wash your hands afterward, Danke.

    Scientists Pinpoint a Simple Way to Help Us Start Anew

    (NEWSER) – Looking for an easy way to clear your mind and refocus? Scientists say they've found a simple activity we should all be doing daily anyway that will help get us there: clean your hands. Researchers at the University of Toronto call it "reorienting one's priorities," and report in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General that wiping our hands acts as a physical proxy for mentally separating ideas that are still kicking around in our heads. This allows us to refocus on a new goal. The researchers tested this by having participants focus on certain goals by taking a short survey or playing word games. Some participants were then asked to evaluate what they'd done, while others were asked to use a handwipe to clean their hands first.

    Sure enough, those who cleaned their hands were less likely to think of the goal they'd been primed to focus on and less likely to find it important, reports Entrepreneur. But that's not inherently a good thing. "For people who were primed with a health goal, for example, using the handwipe reduced their subsequent tendency to behave in a healthy manner—they were more likely to choose a chocolate bar over a granola bar," one of the researchers says. Still, UPI reports that the overall effect was helping people be susceptible to new ways of thinking, so when a re-set is required, it's a simple option to try.
    http://www.newser.com/story/244234/w...nds-first.html
    Quote Originally Posted by Ron Paul View Post
    The intellectual battle for liberty can appear to be a lonely one at times. However, the numbers are not as important as the principles that we hold. Leonard Read always taught that "it's not a numbers game, but an ideological game." That's why it's important to continue to provide a principled philosophy as to what the role of government ought to be, despite the numbers that stare us in the face.

  13. #12

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    Meditation was helpful to me as a tween. It's isn't "unwinding" in the sense of beer and tv.

    Haven't done it in decades, don't need to.
    "I have a strong temperamental attachment to the meaning of words. In the age I find myself in, that condemns me to a daily dose of pain." - John Derbyshire
    "Give me control of the scientists' money supply and I care not who fakes the results."
    "I can find millions of 'social problems' such as: 'Too many red-headed people have hangnails'." - Murray Rothbard

  14. #13

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    I've talked to a psychiatric victim, doing Tai chi chuan for a hobby. This is a form of meditation, where (slow) body movement is combined with meditation.

    In Tai chi they concentrate on fantasy type of ideas: holding an imaginary ball in your hands the size of the earth (really "big" ideas)...
    My impression was that the victim in question had some superwoman fantasies, caused by Tai chi. This was labelled as manic.
    Upon realising that the own skills weren't nearly as wondrous as imagined, came the depression.
    She was labelled as manic-depressed.

    Of course the whole idea of doing meditation to become "enlightened" is also a form of imagining yourself to be a superhuman.

    There are different forms of meditation: if I understand correctly yoga is also a form of meditation combined with (slow) body movement (like Tai chi).
    There are also forms of meditation, where you have to repeat a mantra in your head (chanting some kind of short sentence in your head over and over again, like the hare Krishnas do out loud).

    In my opinion the best form of meditation is concentrating on deep and slow breathing, you can even do this during normal activities.
    This has no possible adverse effects, while it can reach the ultimate goal of meditation - quieting you inner thoughts that jump around like a monkey from tree to tree...
    Last edited by Firestarter; 06-26-2017 at 09:50 AM.
    Do NOT ever read my posts.
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