Mindfulness Meditation: The Good, the Bad and the Dangerous
Mental health professionals and people around the globe have increasingly been embracing the positive benefits of mindfulness and guided meditation for several decades. But like all good things, there can be a down side.
So beginners to mindfulness, especially those who browse online meditations and experiment with them without the collaboration of a mental health professional, are wise to keep a few cautions in mind, even as they notice positive developments.
Benefits of Guided Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness and guided meditation can be started by anyone finds the audio online and begins to sit quietly and listen. They may experience an improvement in perspective and managing emotions in daily life. Used in conjunction with therapy, many mental health professionals say the benefits can be focused and increased.
“Through mindfulness-based therapy, my clients gain three essential skills,” said Shai Lavie in an article in Psychotherapy Networker. Lavie is a licensed family and marriage therapist in San Rafael, California who has seen clients experience some of these benefits:
- Self-regulation – The ability to be self-aware and soothe oneself in situations of emotional intensity.
- Self-awareness – The ability to identify the current emotional state, determine habits of coping that may not have been positive in the past, and step away from those coping routines that aren’t working in a healthy way.
- Self-compassion – Learning to diffuse shame and self-criticism through a deeper form of self-acceptance.
Research and personal experience has shown how valuable meditation is – it can reduce stress, help ease pain, make it easier to sleep and deepen the meaning of our life, said psychologist Itai Ivtzan of the University of East London in England.
Potential Dangers of Mindfulness Meditation Without Therapeutic Guidance
“It is also important for us to recognize the potential hazards of meditation, which might arise during practice. This is especially relevant to beginners,” Ivtzan said in an article in Psychology Today.
Those potential dangers of beginning guided mindfulness mediations on your own include:
- The rise of negative emotions – Getting in touch with experiences and emotions that have not been dealt with can cause inner turmoil. In this situation, it’s important to seek assistance from a mental health professional.
- Frustration from not reaching peak experiences – Many people may begin guided mindfulness meditations on their own after hearing about experiences of illumination, peace and profound joy. While these may be actual experiences, it often takes time to learn to keep the mind from wandering in meditation, so a beginner may experience a sense of frustration or failure. In this situation, it is helpful to seek guidance from an experienced teacher of mindfulness.
- Ignoring the need for therapy – Meditation is a long-term journey that can be healing and nourishing. However, if someone is facing difficulties, meditation might not offer the complete healing they are hoping for or require. Mindfulness is not a cure-all or a silver bullet, so when issues are long-standing, complex or urgent, it’s important to find a trusted mental health professional.
- The danger of non-attachment – Taking a step back from whatever happens, or whatever we feel, acknowledging that it is transient, and accepting that it will soon change and transform can be a positive skill. It can keep a person from getting overwhelmed with the “drama” of life. However, non-attachment does not mean avoiding, repressing or disregarding important facets of our lives. We should not detach ourselves from the people and activities we love and enjoy. Mindfulness does not mean becoming passive.
Using Mindfulness to Minimize Harm and Maximize Good
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center who is credited with launching the interest in the benefits of mindfulness beginning in 1979, offered this perspective on mindfulness in an article in Psychotherapy Networker: “The message of mindfulness is an invitation to everybody to wake up to the true dimensionality of who we all are, and to move in a direction of maximizing the good that comes from our activities and minimizing the harm both to ourselves and others. And that could be done on a corporate level, on a national level and on an international level.”
It’s important when beginning mindfulness practices to make sure the developments on a personal level are heading in a positive direction. Mindfulness, said Kabat-Zinn, is “the development of practices to cultivate wakefulness, kindness and compassion.”
Basic Mindfulness Meditations:
One safe and simple way to begin a mindfulness practice may be with the sounds of nature:
Calm: Nature sounds and shorter guided meditations
Fragrantheart – Heart centered meditations include 1-minute guided meditations on calming, stress release, peaceful sleep and inner peace.
Simon, Rich, “Jon Kabat-Zinn on the Healing Capacity of Mindfulness in the Modern World,” Psychotherapy Networker, Washington, D.C., Feb. 16, 2016.
Lavie, Shai, “Helping Clients Bring Mindful Awareness to Anxious Thoughts and Sensations,” Psychotherapy Networker, April 28, 2016.
Ivtzan, Itai, “Dangers of Meditation,” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, United Kingdom, March 11, 2016