The Dark Side of Meditation
10 Challenging but Ultimately Healing Effects of Meditation
The Dark Side of Meditation
We often hear about the benefits of meditation. It’s amazing how the simple practice of sitting in a quiet room can bring about such change.
Blaise Pascal believed that, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Meditation helps us figure out solutions and understand truth. It has such power to transform our lives.
But it’s not always roses — there’s a dark side of meditation as well.
It’s not easy to confront the truth of your reality. Most people have built up deeply embedded self-deceptions to cope with their lives. And when that starts to breaks down, it can cause some suffering.
Now to be clear, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t meditate. There are only a few very rare cases in which you shouldn’t meditate — diagnosed mental illness being one of them — but remember, this is a healing process, and sometimes healing requires suffering.
These difficulties are challenges to overcome, not reasons not to meditate.
And most of the points below are ultimately positive. They’re necessary steps on the journey towards purifying and healing ourselves.
Here’s the dark side of meditation — the challenges that come up to teach us how to heal.
1. Can worsen mental illness
Meditation can exacerbate symptoms of serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia or depression.
It brings to the surface tendencies that have been dormant or suppressed.
Remember, this is only in extreme cases. If you’re worried, consult a doctor to help you decide if it’s appropriate to meditate.
People with serious illnesses can practice yoga, breathing exercises, or even mindfulness instead. You can read more about that in this research article.
2. Confronting unpleasant aspects of yourself
As we meditate, we may find that we start to notice aspects of ourselves that are not so pretty.
Meditation gives us greater awareness and true awareness means you can no longer deceive yourself about who you are — you have to confront the truth. Instead of blaming other people, you start to take responsibility.
You may realise that you have a tendency to make snide comments or respond to life with jealousy, anger, or greed. When we start to become aware of these things through meditation, only then can we begin to make changes and heal.
In the end, this awareness of unconscious habits patterns leads to self-mastery and freedom from negative cycles of karma.
3. Brings out repressed suffering
We all carry suffering within us; it seems to be a part of the human condition.
Somewhere along the line, we learnt that there are certain parts of ourselves that we needed to hide away, traits that aren’t acceptable in this world. We learned to choke them down.
We’ve also experienced things that have caused us pain, even those of us who live seemingly happy lives.
When you meditate, you can’t keep suppressing that pain. Emotions bubble to the surface and you’re forced to confront them.
I’ve had times in meditation when I’ve ended up crying on the floor in the fetal position. It was hard and unpleasant, but it helped me to become free from suffering that had been locked inside.
4. Makes you more sensitive
There are certain things you do in your life right now that cause you anxiety, suffering, and fear.
You may have no idea what they are, but with meditation you’ll discover them.
I figured out that coffee was causing me to feel anxious, red meat was affecting my emotions, and jealousy had been creating pain in my relationships.
These are only a few of the discoveries I’ve made. It’s not always fun to see the truth, but it paves the way to freedom as you drop these negative behaviours.
Most people live in a haze, with no idea of the consequences that their actions cause. Meditation shows you clearly what you are doing and how it is affecting you.
5. Feelings of isolation
Often on the spiritual path, people go through a time of inwardness or isolation. Their social life becomes less active.
You might find that you don’t connect so much with the people you used to associate with, or that you want to spend less time socialising.
Also, the things you do whilst socialising change. You may want to go to a class or for a walk instead of sitting in a bar or going to a party.
I experienced a time of isolation and many of my other spiritual friends did as well. It’s a necessary step on the spiritual journey — a sign of change.
And those people who are your real friends will still be your friends. But some may not like that you’ve changed. And that’s ok.
They were probably never your real friends to begin with.
6. Re-experiencing trauma
Traumatic experiences are often repressed and meditation can trigger painful memories and repressed emotional experiences.
If you find that you are remembering traumatic events, be sure to proceed with caution. Consult a doctor or therapist to help you through.
It’s ultimately better that these experiences come to light. In the subconscious mind, they create all kinds of damage.
Once they are conscious, we can find the tools to cope. But in these instances it’s important to work with the right people who can help you work through the trauma.
7. Scary life changes
We already mentioned that your friends may change, but there are other areas of your life that can shift as well.
My day-to-day life looks very different today from how it looked 7 years ago.
Back then, I would’ve woken up on the weekend, brewed some coffee, read the newspaper, and watched the news. Then I might have gone down the pub to watch football with some friends, and drunk a few beers.
But these days, I typically meditate, read spiritual literature, and drink herbal tea. Then I hang out with my family, do some work/service, and maybe go to a meditation group.
My state of mind is so much calmer and happier as a result of my daily activity. I still have fun and socialise but it’s less wild.
Your life will change, slowly, over the course of years, and that may be scary. But in the end, you’ll know it’s all for the best.
8. Shifting sense of self
As your life changes, your idea of who you are may shift as well. This doesn’t happen overnight, but over the course of months and years.
You may have previously had many self-definitions: I’m this, I’m that; I’m, clever, I’m interesting, I’m funny.
With time, you have less need to define yourself with language and concepts — you just are what you are.
If you do identify yourself, you’ll be more likely to see yourself as someone on the spiritual path. But you’ll have less need to see yourself through the framework of concepts.
9. Dissolution of ego
One of the most significant shifts is that you find your ego gets weaker.
You begin to care less about what other people think of you, worry less about being interesting or “cool”. Instead you have a growing sense of connection with others.
You’ll be more interested in other people rather than worrying about yourself. And realise that everything you thought you were is just a story in your mind.
You won’t lose your individuality, so don’t worry about that. What you will lose is the excessive focus on yourself, your personality, and your self-definitions.
People find this one scary, but this brings a liberation that you wouldn’t believe. The ego is a prison, and the stronger it is, the more suffering it creates.
10. Can make you more "selfish"
This article from the telegraph explores how meditation can make you more selfish. The article paints this as a negative thing, but it’s actually not so bad. We spend so much of our lives looking outward instead of exploring our inner world.
But when we meditate, we have to spend more time looking at our inner world and figuring things out.
If we want to heal, we first have to discover the issues that are causing us to suffer.
So if you want to find freedom, allow yourself to be a little more inward-looking and even selfish for a time. Ultimately you’ll be more helpful and able to serve others.
The Dark Side of Meditation: What to do
So what can we do to get the most out of meditation and ensure we don’t get stuck? Here are a few tips on how you can get through the challenges and move forwards.
1. Accept the healing process
Keep in mind that meditation is not some magical solution that’s going to make all your problems go away. It’s a lifelong journey of healing and clearing away all the junk in your subconscious mind.
But it’s a process.
There will be ups and downs, joyous moments and difficult ones. But over time, everything keeping you from love and peace and joy will fall away.
2. Realize it's all for the good
When the difficult times come, when you’re confronted with some challenge or suffering, realize it’s all for the best. Remind yourself that what you are doing is courageous. It’s for the brave and you’re doing so well to confront the truth
At times, you may have to take some sort of action to overcome a challenge in your life and that may be difficult. So try to remember, it’s so you can become free.
3. Get a good meditation teacher
At a point, it’s important to get a meditation teacher. You can read all about how to do that here. A teacher will help you through the challenges that you’re facing and guide you on what actions to take.
You might find that your spiritual journey shifts once you get in touch with a good teacher. It did for me.
4. Find a spiritual community
Joining a spiritual community has huge power and it surrounds you with people going through the same things as you.
If I could say one thing to myself from 7 years ago, I’d say, “Stop trying to do it alone.”
This is true in all areas of life and it’s one of the most important things I’ve learned. Be around others who have walked the path you’re walking; then everything else will fall into place.
5. Leave plenty of time to sit in stillness
After you focus on the breath in meditation, or after repeating a mantra, it’s important to leave time at the end to sit in silence. The reason I mention this here is that it’s during this time that we can go deep into stillness.
If we forget to leave time at the end, we may stir up energies and karmas without taking the time to remove them. In that silent space at the end of meditation, these energies get dissolved and you become free.
Have you experienced any difficulties or challenges in meditation? Any emotions that came up? Any unpleasant sensations or experiences? Leave a comment below.