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***See below for a complete topic breakdown.***
Meditation is good for you…. Right?
Yes… well, maybe. It depends. It depends on what you mean by meditation.
Is it a 5 min meditation app you are doing on your phone? Is it guided relaxation? Is it a clinical mindfulness program? Is it a 10-day vipassana? Is it a self-guided process inspired by some random book you read somewhere? Is it a spiritual practice?
Meditation is not just one thing, but a general term to describe a vast array of different practices that come from a similarly vast reservoir of cultural and religious traditions across time. What kind of mediation we are doing, why we are doing it, and in what context we are meditating makes a difference in how—or if—it will be good for us.
To make matters even more complex, it is possible for mediation to be outright harmful to us.
Yes. Mediation can hurt us, significantly. The potential adverse effects of mediation can have broad-reaching negative impacts on our lives; negative impacts that are not so easily resolved.
Especially in a cultural context—namely, a Western secular context—where we widely hold the belief that mediation is, by default, good for you; and where the potential harms of the adverse effects of meditation is widely ignored.
Thankfully, there are bright minds shining onto this dark issue, and our guest for today’s episode is one of those minds. Her name is Anna Lutkajtis
Anna Lutkajtis is a higher degree researcher from Sydney, Australia. Her research focuses on mysticism and the healing potential of altered states of consciousness. Her PhD is investigating the phenomenology of the high-dose psilocybin experience. Where in she is particularly interested in how techniques that were originally designed for contemplative and spiritual purposes have been integrated into modern Western medicine and psychology. She is the author of The Dark Side of Dharma: Meditation, Madness and other Maladies on the Contemplative Path. Which is the central topic for today’s podcast.
The Dark Side of Dharma (in my words) explores the negative consequences that mediation can have on people exploring it; the whats and whys and history of those negative consequences; why they are under-represented, under-understood, and under-addressed in western mediation cultures and research—even explicitly ignored; and the strange distortions made of ancient mystical traditions and spiritual practices into capitalistic wellness practices.
In this episode of Adventures Through The Mind podcast, Anna and I speak about mediation; the adverse effects of meditation; where those adverse effects may arise from; the importance of meditation teachers having psychotherapeutic skills; the nerfing of spirituality; and why it is that Western meditation contexts not only generally lack awareness and understanding of mediation adverse effects, but why those harms are seemingly actively and explicitly ignored.
Furthermore, we touch on psychedelic experiences as well; the media landscape surrounding their industrialization; the influence psychedelics have had on meditation culture (and vice versa); and how Anna’s research into the adverse effects of meditation overlaps with the growing interest in psychedelics amongst clinical practice, investors, and the wellness industry at large.
Looking for support after experiencing the adverse effects of meditation?
Here are some links Anna suggests:
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- (0:00) Opening/Intro
- (8:51) Presenting the thesis of The Dark Side Of Dharma
- (12:42) What is Mediation? | Transcendental Meditation, Vipassana, & Mindfulness
- (18:02) The adverse effects of meditation (including spiritual crisis)
- (21:33) Pathologizing the adverse effects of meditation might be a mistake
- (25:48) The harms of secularising/decontextualizing meditation from its historical traditions
- (32:53) Colonial extractivism and the distorted hubris of Western secularism
- (36:38) The central role of mediation is a response to colonial conquest
- (39:34) Repackaging Buddhism as a science to appeal to the Western Mainstream
- (41:19) What’s missing in Western meditation contexts vs traditional ones (a personal story)
- (44:38) Traditionally, “Having good health is a prerequisite for meditation” not the other way around
- (49:26) Some adverse effects can come from the misinterpretation of meditation (and psychedelic) insights
- (55:14) The trickster energy of high dose psilocybin
- (58:04) The importance of meditation teachers having psychotherapeutic skills
- (1:05:03) A concussion-symptom break
- (1:09:19) Presenting meditation as a cure-all is harmful | what drives this presentation?
- (1:19:09) Might the shifting media-tech landscape support psychedelics from falling into traps of corporate branding
- (1:24:42) Anna asks James about how he feels The Dark Side Of Dharma might apply to psychedelics
- (1:27:06) The influence psychedelics have had on meditation culture (and vice versa)
- (1:27:37) Once you open the door, it can never be closed again
- (1:29:56) Nerfing spirituality, spiritual bypassing, deception, and no, it’s not all good.
- (1:34:08) Places to reach out if you are experiencing adverse effects
- (1:36:11) Follow-up links
- (1:37:46) Outro