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.