As a fast-growing number of public schools are incorporating mindfulness meditation into the lives of the school children, few seem aware of just how dangerous meditation can be, especially for children. The following is an extract from our 2018 booklet on mindfulness as a reminder to parents and grandparents.
The Dangers of Meditation
Numerous research reports show that meditation can be dangerous, especially for the vulnerable and weak (a category in which children fit). A preface to an article titled “Meditation is Touted as a Cure for Mental Instability but Can It Actually Be Bad for You” written by Dr. Miguel Farias* states:
If it’s so powerful, might meditation also do harm to sensitive souls? [While] researching a mass murder, Dr. Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, [meditation] can leave devotees in pieces.1
[M]editation, for all its de-stressing and self-development potential, can take you deeper into the recesses of your mind than you may have wished for.2
In the article, Farias relays the stories of people who were meditators and upon further research came to believe that meditation can be very dangerous. He found there were other professionals who agreed:
In 1992, David Shapiro, a professor at UCLA Irvine, published an article about the effects of meditation retreats. After examining 27 people with different levels of meditation experience, he found 63 per cent of them had suffered at least one negative effect and seven per cent profoundly adverse effects.3
[A] number of Western Buddhists are aware that not all is plain sailing with meditation; and they have even given a name to the emotional difficulties that arise—the “dark night”—borrowing the phrase coined by the 16th-century Christian mystic St John of the Cross to describe an advanced stage of prayer and contemplation characterised by an emotional dryness, in which the subject feels abandoned by God.4
In another article titled “3 Hidden Dangers of Meditation You Should Know,” David K. William references the work of Dr. Florian Ruths, consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley hospital in London, and researchers at Brown University showing that meditation can invoke the following results:
It can bring feelings of ennui, emptiness and even fear.
It can bring changes in your sense of self, and cause impairment in social relationships.
It can be disempowering and keep you passive, contained and compliant.5
The article describes Brown University’s “dark night project,” (later named “The Varieties of Contemplative Experience Project”6) describing how “some Buddhist meditators have been assailed by traumatic memories.”7
Professor Willoughby Britton, lead researcher and psychiatrist in the project, has recorded surprising problems among some of the Buddhist meditators that include: “cognitive, perceptual and sensory aberrations,” impairment in social relationships and changes in their sense of self.8
Another article, titled “The Dangers of Meditation: It Can Actually Lead to Insomnia, Fear and Hypersensitivity to Light,” states:
[M]indfulness, so popular with celebrities like Emma Watson and Angelina Jolie, could be bad for you—causing insomnia, anxiety and hypersensitivity to light and sound.
These were side effects discovered by US researchers exploring the phenomenon of “meditation sickness” by interviewing nearly 100 people.
They found, while some experienced bliss from concentrating on their breathing and practising “loving kindness,” others were left in pain or struggling to return to normal life.9
The article also reports on a study done by Brown University:
The study, published in the journal PLOS One, describes the “billion dollar meditation industry,” with more than 20 mobile phone apps now devoted to mindfulness.
But medical reports document cases of meditation-induced psychosis, seizures and mania, while Zen Buddhists have long acknowledged the existence of “meditation sickness.” . . .
A team led by Brown University found people could suffer ill effects from doing just half an hour of meditation or after only one day.10
In the study, it was discovered that the most common side effects were fear, anxiety, panic or paranoia.
This was experienced by 82 per cent of those questioned, while 42 per cent suffered hallucinations, visions or illusions and 28 per cent said they had become hypersensitive to light and sound.11
Author Mary Wylie, Ph.D., writes:
These effects are well documented in Buddhist texts as stages along the long, hard path to inner wisdom but . . . aren’t featured in mindfulness/meditation brochures . . . [meditation is] in fact, a far deeper, more complex, and less well-understood process than many people realize.12
Some of the Dangers and Effects of Meditation
The following list is derived from the various sources we used to compile our booklet on mindfulness meditation:
hypersensitivity to light and sound
panic and paranoia
unable to function or work
a loss of sense of identity
elevated mood and grandiose delusions
unrestrained behaviors (sexual and violence)
confusion and disorientation
feelings of emptiness and ennui (listlessness, dissatisfaction)
impairment of social relationships
cognitive, perceptual and sensory aberrations
causes passiveness and compliance (even when those are negative responses to certain situations)
It is worthwhile to note that most of these symptoms are similar to symptoms that occur with the use of hallucinogenic drugs. Is this really what America’s children should be put at risk of enduring? There is no way for a teacher to know which children will respond negatively to meditation. As one concerned parent asked, “Can any district guarantee that no one will suffer negative effects of mindfulness in its classrooms?” Are school districts willing to take the risk of lawsuits against them if children start experiencing some of the symptoms above?
We find it sadly ironic that while part of the motive in having children practice mindfulness is to cut back on bullying and violence, several of the potential symptoms, including “unrestrained” sexual and violent behavior, would feed bullying and violence, not diminish it. Some of the mass shootings that have taken place in this past decade especially were committed by those who had a history of practicing meditation. A case in point is Kyle Odom, a 30-year-old Marine veteran who shot an Idaho pastor six times (the pastor miraculously survived). In an article we posted, we stated:
A “manifesto,” written by former Marine Kyle Odom, the 30-year-old man who shot Idaho pastor Tim Remmington, reveals that his life started to change drastically when he began doing meditation while in university to relieve stress. The meditation experiences . . . eventually led to two suicide attempts and then the shooting of Pastor Remmington.13
When we consider some of the possible symptoms from practicing meditation—depersonalization, unrestrained behaviors, psychotic depression, a loss of sense of identity—we must ask the question, will this huge thrust by American public schools to have all school children meditating end up producing a greater amount of violence and psychotic behavior in our society rather than more peace and love? Again, we must ask, how will teachers who instruct children on mindfulness exercises know which children will have adverse reactions? There is no way they can know, and thus, they are playing Russian roulette with America’s youth.
(An extract from MINDFULNESS—What You May Not Know and Should Have Been Told)
1. Dr. Miguel Farias, “Meditation Is Touted as a Cure for Mental Instability but Can It Actually Be Bad for You?” (http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/meditation-is-touted-as-a-cure-for-mental-instability-but-can-it-actually-be-bad-for-you-10268291.html).
5. David K. William, “3 Hidden Dangers of Meditation You Should Know” (http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/3-hidden-dangers-meditation-you-should-know.html).
6. Brown University, “The Varieties of Contemplative Experience” (https://www.brown.edu/research/labs/britton/research/varieties-contemplative-experience).
9. Victoria Allen, “The Dangers of Meditation: It Can Actually Lead to Insomnia, Fear and Hypersensitivity to Light” (Daily Mail, UK, May 24, 2017, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4538240/The-dangers-meditation.html).
12. Mary Sykes Wylie, “How the Mindfulness Movement Went Mainstream—And the Backlash That Came With It” (Alternet, January 29, 2015, https://www.alternet.org/personal-health/how-mindfulness-movement-went-mainstream-and-backlash-came-it).
13. “Kyle Odom, the Man Who Shot Idaho Pastor, Says Meditation Started it All” (Lighthouse Trails Research, March 10, 2016, https://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=19057).
(Photo from bigstockphoto.com; used with permission.)
Out of My Mindfulness by Lynn Lusby Pratt