Meditation can be harmful: Don’t become a blank slate

Meditation can be harmful, especially when you try to escape from something. When I first started meditating I thought that meditation was about retreat and reaching some state of ultimate bliss far away from the troubled relationships of everyday life.

There are various dangers and negative side-effects that can come with escaping reality. After many years of mindfulness meditation, I found that being alone with my thoughts, emotions, and sensations is only part of the practice. What comes up during meditation needs to expressed, processed, and integrated through dialogues with other people, peers, and teachers.

In an open and experience-near approach to meditation thoughts and emotions are the juice of the practice. They are often related to moral views about how things should or should not be. So don’t just push your thoughts away by focusing on the breath all the time. Don’t try to become a blank slate. Get to know your views and attune them to the demands of everyday life.

These are some moral judgments about right and wrong may arise in your meditation:

Strongly held views about what is supposed to happen during meditation make your practice painful, disappointing, and discouraging to the degree that you may stop because you cannot meet some rigid standard.

Strongly held views about meditation may turn your practice into some sort of rigid self-discipline, or another way to be harsh and critical towards yourself thereby confirming negative believes you may have held about yourself before.

Strongly held views about the appropriate thoughts and emotions that should or should not arise during meditation may keep you from valuing what is happening in your body and mind while meditating.

Strongly held views about doing things “right” or “wrong” in your life that you are rehearsing during meditation may hold you back from taking new and potentially more wholesome actions that you haven’t tried out before.

If your meditation practice is trying to get rid of views, rather than attuning them to what is at stake at the moment you may waste your time. At worst, the side-effect of meditation may be that you are pushing your judgments out of sight until they operate under the radar of awareness. What views come up in your meditation and have you ever talked about them with somebody?

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