The Dark Side of Meditation: Understanding and Overcoming Difficulties on Spiritual Paths and in Mindfulness Practice

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPublic lecture/debate/seminar


Meditation and mindfulness have grown in popularity. A large body of research published in recent years shows how mindfulness and meditation can be used to ease a wide range of mental and physical problems. Yet hardly anybody has looked into problems that can arise through or along with these practices. For some, meditation can be accompanied by difficulties that go beyond the inability to calm one’s mind: Half-forgotten experiences might be remembered that are upsetting for the practitioner. Meditators might see lights or have visions. They might feel that their body is moving uncontrollably, that they do not inhabit their body anymore in the way they did before, or that energy is moving through them. Insights acquired during meditation might change a person’s way of seeing the world, and they might find themselves unable to continue living their life in the same way as before. Some people begin to doubt some of their fundamental beliefs and fall into a “dark night of the soul”. Many meditators are unsure how to make sense of these unusual experiences and do not know where to turn for help. For a few, their experiences during and after meditation become unmanageable and psychiatrists diagnose them with psychosis, PTSD, depression or anxiety disorder. While psychiatry sees these experiences as unwanted “side effects” of meditation, spiritual traditions often value them and recognize them as opportunities for growth. In this workshop, we will try to find bridges between the different ways of explaining meditators’ experiences. Experts from clinical psychology, anthropology, mindfulness and different religious backgrounds will discuss the experience of spiritual emergencies, different factors that influence them, and ways of working through them. All welcome! Keynotes: Dr Christine Kupfer, Social/Medical Anthropologist, Edinburgh. Dr Liane Hofmann, Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health (IGPP), Freiburg, Germany. Dr Isabel Clarke, Consultant Clinical Psychologist & Spiritual Crisis Network Director, Southampton. Roundtable: Dr Kitty Wheater, Edinburgh University Mindfulness Chaplain, Medical Anthropology, Edinburgh. Dr Audrey Millar, Consultant Clinical Psychologist NHS, Edinburgh. Isaac Portilla, Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics (CSRP), University of St. Andrews Richard Johnston, Director of Christian Mindfulness, Fife, Scotland. Dr Wojtek Wojcik, NHS consultant psychiatrist, Edinburgh. (to be confirmed)
Period29 Feb 2020
Held atEdinburgh University, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionNational