According to a recent study, published in PlosOne, more than a quarter of people who meditate regularly have had a “particularly unpleasant” psychological experience related to this practice, including feelings of fear and distorted emotions.
The research, led by Marco Schlosser, was based on an international survey of 1,232 people who had at least two months of experience in meditation and found that female participants and those with a religious belief were less likely to have had a “particularly unpleasant” experience.
“These findings,” Schlosser explains, “point to the importance of broadening the public and scientific understanding of meditation beyond that of a technique that promotes health. Very little is known about why, when and how those difficulties related to meditation may arise, but they occur and now more research is needed to understand the nature of these experiences.”
The study emerged from a growing number of research reports and case studies that indicate that psychologically unpleasant experiences may occur during meditative practice. In fact, some traditional Buddhist texts also refer to vivid accounts of similar experiences. However, very little is known about the prevalence of these experiences.
Of the 1,232 participants, 25.6% indicated that they had previously encountered particularly unpleasant experiences related to meditation. Among the male participants, 28.5%, experienced an unpleasant experience, compared to 23% of the female participants.
The figures were also different in those who had participated in a retreat and indicated unpleasant experiences (29%) and those who did not (19%).
“Most research on meditation,” Schlosser concludes, “has focused on its benefits, however it is necessary to broaden the range of meditative experiences studied by scientists. It is important at this point not to draw premature conclusions about the possible negative effects of meditation. Longitudinal studies will help to know when, for whom and in what circumstances these unpleasant experiences arise and if they can have long-term effects.”
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