- As you might expect, this article argues that the benefits of meditation have been exaggerated and the potential harms ignored.
- This stance is derived from a meta-study – which looks at studies that attempt to determine whether meditation has benefits – particularly in the area of compassion. Control experiments – which try to determine whether the benefits of meditation are due to the practice itself or to other reasons, or chance – are examined and found wanting, or absent, and confirmation bias – recording positives and ignoring negatives – is identified.
- Of course, there are many anecdotal accounts of the positive effects of meditative practice – as there are for a whole swathe of self-help techniques and alternative this’s and that’s. But the benefits might not be down to the techniques themselves, but simply due to individuals trying to take their previously aimless lives in hand. If so, it may be bad policy to point out possible placebo effects as the important matter is to have lives taken in hand; the exact means of doing this are a secondary consideration1.
- The article notes accounts of “dark nights”, where – sometimes for extended periods – meditation can lead to depression. This wasn’t a surprise, given similar accounts in Christian meditative practice2. The article points out that – in the religious context – these techniques are pursued under the supervision of a master (or spiritual advisor). In the secular context a psychologist ought to be involved, but in practice self-helpers just help themselves.
- A point that I thought was important was based on a quotation at the end of the article from The Buddha Pill, which points out that “meditation wasn’t developed so we could lead less stressful lives or improve our wellbeing. Its primary purpose was more radical – to rupture your idea of who you are; to shake to the core your sense of self so that you realise there is ‘nothing there’. But that’s not how we see meditation courses promoted in the West. Here, meditation has been revamped as a natural pill that will quieten your mind and make you happier.”
- This connects nicely with my research into Personal Identity, in particular the sub-topics of Self3 and Buddhism4, where the latter denies the existence of the former, and also to nihilism5.
- Of course, this might not be a cogent objection to the use of a technique – it might even be an example of the Wikipedia: Genetic Fallacy. It doesn’t matter much how an idea came to be, it’s its present utility that’s important.
- Though in my view – if meditation is simply a means to an end – I’d prefer one less time-consuming.
- Thomas Merton explored the connection between eastern meditative techniques and (Christian / Catholic) contemplative prayer in the tradition of Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross.
- These traditions recognise extended periods where the contemplative seems to be getting nowhere after initial experience of meditative ecstasy.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)