You Know the Benefits of Meditation – But What Are the Pitfalls?

You-Know-the-Benefits-But-What-Are-the-Potential-Dangers-of-Meditation 1

By Dr. Itai Ivtzan

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

A few years ago, after I discussed the great benefits of meditation in one of my workshops, a student said to me: “Well, what you’re actually saying here is that meditation is great, and does not have any dangers or side effects.”

That comment made me realise how easy it is to highlight the bright side of meditation while disregarding its potential dark side. Psychological research, as well as our personal experience, has shown how valuable meditation is: it reduces our stress, deepens our meaning in life, eases our pain, and makes it easier for us to sleep.

However, it is also important for us to recognise the potential hazards of meditation, which might arise during practice. This is especially relevant to beginners, who might experience one of the challenges discussed below and think that there is something wrong. It is also vital for meditation and yoga teachers to be aware of these potential dangers, as their students might encounter similar challenges, and need support.

I believe that, if we could bear in mind that these possible perils exist, we would be able to deal with the challenges in a healthy manner, instead of halting meditation practice.

1. The “Right” Way of Meditation

Some teachers or books contend that their way of meditation is the “right” way, and go as far as to dismiss as wrong other techniques and approaches. This is a dangerous area, where everyone needs to be extremely cautious. One of the most beautiful things about meditation is that it could be practised in numerous ways and techniques. There are many approaches to meditation, and you would need to seek the one that is right for you. Flexibility and openness are the name of the game, and claims that there is only one effective way to meditate are just restricting. Practising a wrong meditation technique could be a harmful experience for you; if you try a meditation method for a while, and still it doesn’t feel right, you would need to switch to a different one.

Facing Your Buried Emotions

The most profound interaction you experience in meditation is the interaction with yourself. As part of that, you would get in touch with buried and supressed emotions. Meditation could trigger waves of anger, fear or jealousy, which had been sitting deep within you, and that would make you feel uncomfortable. This is a natural and healthy dimension of meditation practice, and these emotions will gradually subside. However, if unaware that meditation could bring those buried sentiments out, the practitioner might feel that something is wrong and avoid meditation, under the uncontrollable impact of the emotional wave.

Seeing “The White Light”

You might have heard stories about people who say they see a white light or feel flying as a free spirit, when they meditate. Although this might be an experiential side effect of meditation, seeking such experiences is unhelpful. You would be frustrated, when you don’t get the experience you were hoping for. Meditate, and let everything else take its natural course.

You Know the Benefits But What Are the Potential Dangers of Meditation - Flying

The “Perfect” Practitioner of Meditation

You might have expectations of yourself in relation to meditation: Sitting still for a long time, feeling calm after meditation, and not being angry; the list is long. This is where the danger of expectations lies. We are human beings, and as such we have times in our lives when it is more difficult to sit and meditate, or feel calm. It is perfectly natural.

Meditation is Not a Therapy

Mediation is a long-term journey, which is healing and nourishing. However, if someone is facing difficulties and seeking help, meditation might not offer the support they are hoping for. It might be that they need to see a therapist or healer to feel heard and understood.

Self-Compassion in Meditation

When we engage, as part of our meditation practice, with uncomfortable feelings and sensations within us, we have an obligation towards ourselves: to be self-compassionate. A peril lies here in pushing too far, too much, beyond the capacity of our heart and soul, at that given moment. It is important to be able to sit still with whatever is moving within you, but you would need to be able to take a step back from the feeling or sensation, if it is too much.

The Danger of Non-Attachment

Non-attachment is one of the building blocks of meditation. It is the skill of taking a step back from whatever happens, or whatever we feel, acknowledging that it is transient, and accepting that it will soon change and transform. This quality of non-attachment is important, as it helps us not to get carried away with the “drama” of life, and to remain calm and peaceful.

However, such non-attachment does not mean avoiding, repressing or disregarding anything. We should not detach ourselves from the people and activities we love and enjoy, nor should we become passive or inactive. Non-attachment simply changes the quality of the relationship with life: it allows you to make conscious and peaceful choices, because you relate to people, events and yourself, in a non-attached manner.

Dr Itai Ivtzan is running online, live, Meditation Teacher Trainings. For more information and registration click here

Awareness is Freedom

Awareness Is Freedom - Dr. Itai IvtzanDr. Itai Ivtzan is passionate about the combination of psychology and spirituality. It makes his heart sing.

His book Awareness Is Freedom: The Adventure of Psychology and Spirituality proposes a unique combination of spiritual and psychological concepts that together lead to greater self-awareness and wellbeing. It is structured as eight lessons, each focusing on different aspects of psychology and spirituality, to support readers in their personal journey of self-growth.

The psychological and spiritual theories described in the book are backed up by scientific findings that enhance the legitimacy and power of its message. The book also includes practical exercises which allow the reader to apply the ideas in an enjoyable way that will lead to self-improvement and greater satisfaction in life.

Awareness Is Freedom: The Adventure of Psychology and Spirituality is available for purchase here.

Also by Dr. Ivtzan:

About the author:

Dr. Itai Ivtzan

Dr. Ivtzan is a positive psychologist, a senior lecturer, and the program leader of MAPP (Masters in Applied Positive Psychology) at the University of East London (UEL). He is also an honorary senior research associate at University College London (UCL). He published many books, journal papers, and book chapters and his main interests are spirituality, mindfulness, meaning, and self-actualisation.

For the last 15 years Dr. Ivtzan has run seminars, lectures, workshops and retreats, in the UK and around the world, in various educational institutions and at private events while focusing on a variety of psychological and spiritual topics such as: positive psychology, psychological & spiritual growth, consciousness, and meditation. Dr. Ivtzan is confident that meditation has the power to positively transform individuals and even the whole world. Accordingly, he has been investing much time in researching meditation at the university, writing books about it, and teaching it.

If you wish to get additional information about Dr. Ivtzan’s work, or contact him, please visit www.AwarenessIsFreedom.com


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  • Dimitri Ledkovsky

    It’s about time somebody spoke out on this issue. Most people quit meditation practice because they are totally map-prepared for it. Others allow themselves to be dominated by authoritarian control freaks. The abuse of this practice is expanding at about the same rate that yoga once experienced. To the “controller mentality” it sure looks like the perfect vehicle for moulding a docile, passive public. Why else introduce it into school systems, the very epitome of authoritarian mind control?

  • Tsais

    I know many pitfalls of meditation – mostly by failing to stay awake. The candle could fall over and burn the carpet. Or someone might make off with your stereo in the next room, while you’re laying down on the carpet, sleeping more soundly than you had in weeks 🙂

    Much worse than falling asleep is becoming hallucinatory, seeing lights, that are probably just caused by electrical interference on your optical nerve, kinda like a visual tinnitus. Don’t meditate after reading a book from some person blathering on about other dimensions filled with angels carrying lanterns or whatever.

    I also remember one smart and confident guy going off to India to “find his guru”… Two years later, he returned as a babbling idiot who couldn’t finish a sentence. He kept riding his bicycle drunk and ended up in the hospital a lot. Never got it out of him what actually happened. Maybe he thought he could snap his fingers in India and pop himself a giant, seedless Samadhi. Or maybe some sadistic charlatan took him for a ride.

    My advice: If people tell you this and that, neither believe nor disbelieve it. At most, give it rating how likely or unlikely it seems. Then forget all about it. The only thing relevant are practical instructions to try. Then spend enough time following the instructions to see if it has any positive effect slowly arising or not. If not, try another. But whatever you do, don’t look for lights. Don’t look for anything. And don’t stuff your stomach with cow milk, meat or heated (fried) oil. Your meditation depends as much on your body as it does on how you hold your mind. So the food does have an effect.

  • Meditation is a way to develop wisdom and compassion. The core of the practice is the cultivation of mindfulness. The more you meditate the more you become aware of what you like and don’t like, what you are passionate about and what you aren’t. Regular meditation gives rise to clarity about what is important in life and a sense of confidence to make choices that enliven your passions and dissolve distractions. Life takes on greater meaning and you feel a deeper sense of purpose and satisfaction.

  • Patrick Salmon

    That is exactly why I empirically discovered that when starting a meditation session
    while overwhelmed by negative emotions, it is super useful to stop,
    then do EFT on the emotional pain, then resume meditation when the
    emotional storm has passed and the issue has been accepted. You can also have to do the EFT in the
    middle of the meditation when you “connect” with super bad emotions
    while roaming in your subconscious mind.