Mindfulness and Madness

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silmcoach
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Mindfulness and Madness

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Jolyon Jenkins tells us that mindfulness meditation has become huge, not only for eastern mystics, hippies and alternative healers, but even something your GP might suggest. It’s claimed to be not only a treatment for mental illness, but something which everyone can benefit from, even if they are well. Surely, he asks, sitting quietly and listening to your breathing can’t do any harm?

Suzanne attended a 10-day silent meditation course. Participants were not allowed to talk, touch each other, or make eye contact for the entire course. They were asked to feel every sensation in their body, from head to toe, doing this over and over again, to watch their thoughts, and remain perfectly still. She was okay until the seventh day when she had a huge panic attack. She advised the teachers but they told her to carry on meditating. After returning home she experienced psychotic episodes of depersonalization and derealisation to the extent that she was admitted to psychiatric hospital and given anti-psychotic medication. This is not a one-off case; Jolyon spoke to several other people who had had similar experiences after meditation, and there are many case histories of people who had only undertaken part-time meditation for non-clinical reasons experiencing similar negative after-effects.

David Ingram, an emergency doctor in Alabama, who also runs an online meditation forum, tells Jolyon that strong experiences are what you should expect from meditation. Coming through such experiences and coping with the mental aftermath is part of the developmental process, it’s just that western science has largely missed this.

It is even possible for people to have such experiences spontaneously. For some, unprepared, these experiences might lead to quite negative after-effects. Jolyon concludes that within a religious tradition with a meditative component such difficulties might be expected and accepted as necessary on the road to enlightenment. But as a secular quasi-medical treatment, or even life-style choice, meditation has the potential to turn your life upside down. This could be for the good, but alternatively, it might lead to the opposite of what you were expecting.

Presenter/producer: Jolyon Jenkins
BBC Radio Four 16 March 2016.
silmcoach
Greatest wealth - happy heart, peace of mind :D

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