The proliferation of mindfulness and meditation practices has been met with widespread acclaim, as its health benefits have been widely touted and experienced by many individuals. However, it comes as a surprise to some that these practices can actually have adverse effects, and it is not a one-size-fits-all solution that should be prescribed to everyone without caution. Thanks to ongoing research, we are beginning to understand the factors that contribute to the severity, prevalence, and nature of these adverse effects, and to shed light on the previously unknown dangers of these practices.
This growing body of research has been crucial for enabling proponents and facilitators of mindfulness and meditation practices to better safeguard their students and audiences, and for individuals to take steps to protect themselves. Many programs, retreat centers and individual facilitators have been taking pro-active risk prevention steps including getting trained in how to help support someone experiencing adverse effects, as well as trauma-sensitive meditation guidance, screening participants or at least offering guidance on how to self-assess one's susceptibility to being harmed by the practices, providing full disclosure of the risks, and having psychotherapists present during intensive mindfulness meditation retreats. In many cases, these steps are being required by workshop venues, MBSR programs, and mindfulness meditation facilitator training programs.
The following was written in regards to mindfulness meditation, yet the same applies to "no-self" ego deconstruction facilitation, and in my experience, to a much more alarming degree:
"The primary motivating concern that researchers seem to vocalize today is that there are risks, negative side effects, and counter-indications that are being ignored or even obscured.”
While there hasn't been adequate research into this yet, there are shockingly widespread reports from people who have been severely negatively impacted by contemporary non-dual ego-dissolution teachings, including meditative practices like self-inquiry, which aim to instantly dismantle one's sense of self. Given how extreme these practices are in comparison to mindfulness meditation, all rational and caring people should support the urgent call for non-dual teachers to take the same initiative to pro-actively safeguard their audience from the risks associated with practices aimed at instant "ego death"/ deconstruction of one's foundational sense of self.
In the words of Daniel Lawton, "There needs to be a real call to action, especially within communities that pride themselves in doing no harm and being compassionate.”
On Adverse Effects of Meditation
The varieties of contemplative experience: A mixed-methods study of meditation-related challenges in Western Buddhists
Progress or Pathology? Differential Diagnosis and Intervention Criteria for Meditation-Related Challenges: Perspectives From Buddhist Meditation Teachers and Practitioners
I Have this Feeling of Not Really Being Here: Buddhist Meditation and Changes in Sense of Self
Somatic Energies and Emotional Traumas: A Qualitative Study of Practice-Related Challenges Reported by Vajrayāna Buddhists
Meditation Sickness - Buddhism's Biggest Open Secret- Wendy Agsar
Preliminary Research Into Adverse Effects of Non-dual "Loss of Self"
Losing Oneself: Persistent Nonduality, Depersonalization, Dissociation, Mental Health, and Memory -Elizabeth Stephens (CIIS)
Complexities and Challenges of Nonduality -Elizabeth Stephens, California Institute of Integral Studies
The Dangerous Art of Depersonalization - What psychedelics, psychosis, and mindfulness can teach us about no-self, and why set and setting play such an important role in ego deconstruction
- Alex Tzelnic
Self-Assessment Guidance by Rebecca Bradshaw from The Insight Meditation Society
"Considering a Retreat?
Here are some steps to check before you check in
Make an honest self-assessment as to whether you are ready and able at this time to take on the physical, emotional, and psychological stress of a silent retreat and the integration time afterward. It may be helpful to consult with a mental health professional, especially someone who has had experience with silent retreat themself. If you are suffering from severe depression, anxiety, or PTSD, it is probably not a good idea to join an intensive retreat. Try meditation classes instead, or a one-day or non-residential weekend retreat.
Choose a teacher who has training and experience working with trauma and mental health issues on retreat. Avoid teachers who choose a one-size-fits-all type of meditation instruction.
Be honest on any mental health questionnaires, and during a retreat share your experiences fully with your teacher, who needs this information to give you appropriate tailored guidance.
Listen to your gut. If it tells you that you need to leave the retreat, trust that.
Finally, you cannot treat a trusted meditation teacher’s advice as if it were medication advice: consider with your doctor whether the prescription is appropriate for you. Be aware of any possible side effects and report them immediately. Follow the doctor’s instructions, and if necessary adjust the dose so that it is correct."