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Can Meditation Be Dangerous? A Deep Dive into the Dark Night of the Soul

Can mindfulness meditation ever be harmful? Do people have negative reactions, or responses to meditation practice? And if so….WHY so?

There is an incredible amount of positive literature on the life changing benefits of meditation. But, there is also a dark side to meditation, and it’s a side that’s not discussed all that often in public places and spaces….especially where the focus tends to be on the positive. In many contemplative traditions, there is the concept of the “dark night of the soul”, which has been written about historically for many hundreds of years. And while it may not be the COMMON (or typical) experience for most meditators, it is something that ought to be understood by those of us diving deeply into the wild, weird and often wacky terrain within our own minds. Here is an excellent article that discusses just that – and some of the folks who are working to bring light and love to a dark subject.

You can read the whole thing at the link following the short excerpt below.

Nathan Fisher, the study’s manager, condenses a famous parable by the founder of the Jewish Hasidic movement. Says Fisher, “[the story] is about how the oscillations of spiritual life parallel the experience of learning to walk, very similar to the metaphor Saint John of the Cross uses in terms of a mother weaning a child … first you are held up by a parent and it is exhilarating and wonderful, and then they take their hands away and it is terrifying and the child feels abandoned.”

Kaplan and Fisher dislike the term “dark night” because, in their view, it can imply that difficult contemplative experiences are “one and the same thing” across different religions and contemplative traditions.

Fisher also emphasizes two categories that may cause dark nights to surface. The first results from “incorrect or misguided practice that could be avoided,” while the second includes “those [experiences] which were necessary and expected stages of practices.” In other words, while meditators can better avoid difficult experiences under the guidance of seasoned teachers, there are cases where such experiences are useful signs of progress in contemplative development. Distinguishing between the two, however, remains a challenge.



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