Meditation and mental health issues

It’s widely suggested that the more extreme end of mental health problems and meditation are not a good mix. For those who suffer delusions, and struggle with consensus reality, any journey into the mind is potentially fraught with danger. It’s very easy to imagine this is an issue for other people, for people somehow set aside by things that make ‘them’ separate from ‘us’. This is not so.

The way a brain functions is influenced by its environment and the way in which it is used, as well as all the hardware issues. Any brain can become dysfunctional – obsessive thinking, and narcissism are wholly available to all of us. Any of us can court delusion, and can render ourselves dysfunctional. Used the wrong way, mediation can be a very problematic thing indeed.

I’ve done whole meditation days, and as an occasional thing they are wonderful, but I also had a friend who took up meditating full time and destroyed his life and mind in the process. Whether the meditation was a cause or a symptom it’s hard to say, but either way it needed taking seriously.

We can use meditation to build and reinforce a sense of being special, spiritual, superior, and this can help lead us astray. If we are creating pathworkings and visualisations, it’s important to keep an eye on what ideas we are reinforcing, what we tell ourselves about the kind of people we are and the sort of world we inhabit. This is by no means easy, and a mind that is unwell is least equipped to see how an apparently spiritual course of action might be turning into something damaging. It is easy (I speak from experience here) to use meditation time to reinforce fears, obsessions, and to keep running round the very loops we need to avoid.

There are no easy answers to avoiding this. Checking in with other people can help, as can watching out for situations where you’re being asked to validate an experience that might not be a good thing to validate. If you think someone else is hurting themselves with meditation, an aggressive challenge is not the answer, that much is clear.

Meditation should be about calming the mind, opening to inspiration and insight, self knowledge, creativity, relaxation and delight. However, much the same can be said of cake and ice-cream, and if you go overboard with those you can ruin your bodily health. Balance is key, and knowing that the risks are available to anyone may help.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

4 responses to “Meditation and mental health issues

  • alainafae

    I think the pitfalls you have mentioned may be part of why Buddhism, famous for prevalence of meditative practices, generally advises non-attachment, neither attaching to the “good” things that reinforce an “I’m special” attitude nor the “bad” things that encourage an attitude of being “lesser”.

  • caelesti

    I think this is where having a good spirituality-friendly counselor who’s familiar with your particular mental health stuff is handy. I know OBOD has mental health disclaimers on their stuff, but I’ve gotten the impression that the journey/pathworking material they use is relatively light as far as trance states go. Not having used it I can’t say for certain.

    • Nimue Brown

      I had some really unsettling experience in the Ovate grade – good, but weird, there’s definitely scope to get into trouble there. I think the bard grade is pretty safe. I would imagine sympathetic and well informed support would make a lot of odds with all of this. I wish that counselling was more available.

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