August 08, 2009

Can meditation be bad for you?

ChogyamNewspapers and magazines are full of stories about the positive effects of meditation practice, so it was only a matter of time before we'd begin reading about about its perils.

The Vancouver Sun's Douglas Todd writes today that New York psychoanalyst Micheal Eigen and philosopher Ken Wilbur, both meditators, express concern about meditation's potential ill effects. Can contemplative practice feed our narcissism and mask serious problems? Can it cut us off from our feelings and cause us to lose touch with others?

After reading Eigen's book, The Psychoanalytic Mystic (1998), the Vancouver Sun's Douglas Todd has been inspired to ask:

[C]an meditation, contemplation and related practices encourage people to detach too effectively from their so-called negative thoughts, leading them to actually detach from life itself?

Can meditation even feed into the North American consumer society's predilection toward narcissism, which sees individuals cultivating an inflated sense of their own importance?

An attempt at spiritual practice that feeds the ego? Sounds a lot like what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called "spiritual materialism." The good news is that there's a simple cure: find a teacher—and a good one—not the kind Eigen describes in Todd's article. And if you don't have a teacher, buy a copy of Chogyam Trungpa's Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. On second thought, buy it anyway.

The bad news? I can't think of any right now.

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dress's picture

The Buddha praised the practice of meditation as a way of paying homage to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha that was better than offering material objects. The practice of training the heart to reach purity pleased the Buddha because it is the way by which a person can gain release from all suffering and stress. The Buddha taught us to meditate so that we can free our hearts from their slavery to the defilements of the world.

We’re still not released from suffering as long as our minds still have worries and concerns. Being a slave to our concerns is like being in debt to them. When we’re in debt, we have no real freedom in our hearts. The more we pay off our debts, the more lighthearted we’ll feel. In the same way, if we can let go of our various worries and cares, peacechristian louboutin will arise in our hearts. This is why the Buddha taught us to center our hearts in concentration so as to give rise to stillness, peace, and the inner wealth with which we’ll be able to pay off all of our debts. All our burdens and sufferings will fall away from our hearts and we’ll enter full freedom.

Waylon Lewis's picture

Meditation is described, in Buddhist practice, as a self-cutting sword, a self-burning flame...if you practice the technique simply and arduously, such obstacles mentioned above will become food for practice, instead of "problems." Like shiite becomes fertilizer, or compost.

While I'm still horribly neurotic in 1,000 different ways, I can personally attest that, when I follow the technique I learned from Trungpa Rinpoche's Shambhala community, my obstacles pop and become free, over time.

BTW, it's Wilber--a common little mistake, as the name is commonly spelled with a 'u.'

BlindRob's picture

Since I have rather recently indulged myself in an anti-psychoanalytic rant on this website, I will restain myself on this occasion- and especially because I myself have noted the narcissistic tendency that makes medidation so popular in our culture. But come on, no one who is at all familiar with Buddhism could ever go astray the way the doctors' duckies did. That sort of thing is Buddhism's antithesis and anyone using the word Buddhism with those sorts of results was either using the term delusionally or with intent to mislead. Or, of course, carelessly.

Selfish selflessness « on the precipice's picture

[...] call it “silent selfish camp”. Today, the Tricycle Editor’s blog referred to an article that ran in The Vancouver Sun about meditation’s ill effects – in particular narcissism [...]

Constance Casey's picture

I have some concerns about people who are very depressed, and are not able to do metta for themselves, or loving kindness for themselves, are alone, tired and worried doing certain kinds of meditation. If one is very depressed, it would be crucial to find simplicity, care for oneself and have a teacher who can find some meditation techniques and a plan that fits. Each person has a unique circumstance, nervous system, life style and ability to concentrate, so the best is for folks to seek clear and gentle guidance.

Sean's picture

We already meditate.

Meditation is also defined as repeatedly thinking about an object many times. We are already meditating on negative thoughts and obsessive habits. It's this kind of meditation that can be narcissism and detachment.

People come to Dharma with this habit and because of ego-clinging reify this habit into their sitting practice.

Positive meditation on positive thoughts done with mindfulness can reduce this negative meditation. You need a good teacher to help guide you through this.

Greg's picture

This is a nice article by Jack Kornfield from a while back. It asks similar questions to the article above.