We often hear of the endless benefits of meditation– and with good cause. Study upon study continue to be released, showing the immense treasures the many different forms of meditation can provide. We can rewire our brains, learn about the nature of our thoughts and emotions, cultivate compassion and empathy, and generally become happier, more productive people. This we know.
But what about the downside? While we’ve already featured an excerpt from one researcher on the topic, there’s much still to be said about the cathartic and often frightening effects a sustained and devoted meditation practice can have. While the end result remains, of course, more light-heartedness (i.e. en-LIGHT-enment) meditation itself is a serious tool, and should be treated as such — not a toy. All of us have skeletons, demons and other such psychological boogeymen hiding within — it is a simple side effect of life on earth. The release of old emotions, psychological hang-ups, past traumas, shame etc. is something meditation, it seems, can bring on after a time.
According to clinical cognitive and behavioural psychologist and mediation expert, Dr. Paula Watkins, years of research suggest that those new to meditation should, as with all fresh endeavours, proceed with caution. We all know of the common tendency many of us have to dive into something new with total abandon, overzealously — and often obsessively — pursuing our interesting new past time down the rabbit hole in search of fulfillment and happiness.
Meditation retreats, in particular, she says, can be especially catalytic in opening the type of mental Pandora’s Box many of us may not even realize we possess. She calls them a “psychological boot camp” of sorts:
“Intensive meditation retreats are not all bliss, a lot of stuff can come up when you are meditating ten hours a day for ten days. . . it can release blocked or suppressed emotions and memories.”
According to Dr. Watkins, People with emotional issues and mental disorders are most at risk, and must be very careful when meditating, doing so only under the guidance of a licensed instructor or counsellor:
“When meditation is happening, all sorts of mental events arise, and in meditation we are watching and directly paying attention to these events. . . and if they are coming from a place of mental illness there’s the risk that the person is going to be paying more attention to them.”
Watkins, who herself hosts meditation workshops and online courses, does maintain that meditation remains beneficial for the majority of people, only saying that caution should be exercised. For those of us with a little experience, and who feel ready to welcome the demons, however, meditation remains one of our greatest allies.
“To be primitive in our relation to the outer world is to be superstitious; but to be primitive in relation to the inner world of the psyche is to be wise.” ~ Edward Edinger
Image: The Meditating Monk, by xsix on flickr