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#79: Willoughby Britton, Jared Lindahl -- Does Meditation Have a Dark Side?

Many of us get into meditation because we want to be calmer, less stressed and less yanked around by our emotions, but sometimes there are unwanted effects. Brown University researchers Willoughby Britton, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, and Jared Lindahl, a visiting assistant professor of religious studies, published a new study today on the wide range of difficult experiences and challenges meditators they interviewed said they faced in their practice.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
For maybe see this is a ten percent. Have your podcast Danner. This is as close as we get to breaking. News the motivation for help. Oh, we are doing a special interview today. with the pair scientists and researchers at Brown University who have put out a fascinating new study being published today in plus one hears that most of us. I venture to sail almost all of us get into meditation, because we want the good stuff we want to be more calm. We want to be more relaxed. We want to have less stress who want to be less yanked around by our emotions. We see those tantalizing brain scan the imagery from the FM arise, and we want our brains to be changing in that way. We see athletes and entertainers doing stuff and we want it. I think. Certainly that was the case for me, but the truth is sometimes there are.
Out of acts, and you don't hear a lot about it. There has been an enormous amount of scientific research into this subject, a controversial subject I might add until now, and which brings us back to the aforementioned researchers at Brown, University, Willoughby, Britain and Jared Linda, who have just put out this study. that is being published. As I said in the Journal plus One, let me just say: I'm going to give a caveat that you've heard me give before a, which is that at meditation is a very small world. So, as is sometimes the case of these guys are my friends, and that doesn't mean I won't be asking the tough questions, but just in the sand, in the name of folder honesty. I want to say that so Jerry will be thanks for coming on extra having ass thanks.
Pleasure to be here. I know you ve been working on this. I know just because we ve been talking about for years. I know you ve been working on this really in a very, very dog manner for a long time. So, congratulations on and finally seeing this work publishing. I know it's just the beginning. I want two before we get to counter the meat of what your reporting here, some of the side effects of me tatian. I want to just get a little bit, so it people know who they're dealing with here. I want to get a little bit of background for both of you, so it will be. Let me start with you: how did how did you get into meditation and when why this particular angle for your research? I started meditating twenty two years ago, actually, after the death of a friend, childhood friends, so very much for the same reasons, other people get into it had a lot of grief and anxiety and and wanted to learn ways to hold that better. So that's how I started and
most of the research that I've done on meditation has been around the health benefits, so particularly around depression and high states of negative aspect has been my main approach, high states of negative of what you say about it, and, for me, a feeling just feeling anxious, Strasse depressed down Blue sat better yeah so that yeah we're looking at mitigation of high states of negative effort. Yes, I mean that's been main researches really you know the benefits but really emotional benefits and then looking. how how those many different types of meditation effect the brain in the body and how to those changes in the brain embody. How did they relate to the emotional benefits? So that's been my main research and I think that as the the field-
of meditation, has gained more traction and more ground. We ve been able to ask broader questions, and I think that its in that larger context of no many years of research on positive experiences that were able to ask something a little bit more balanced questions. I think I see it as a maturation of the field to be able to look it's exactly on the help of its but but big. You just curious from your personal experience. What drew you to looking at some of the side effects here are some of the the the darker aspects of meditative experience. Did you have some of these negative experiences that p
Your interest personally sure I've had plenty of a really challenging experiences, and you know number of my dimer friends have as well, and I think we saw how meditation was being represented in the media as a sort of martini or like warm bath, and it was sort of a joke like it's. No, it's not quite that simple, but then we started to see that people actually believe that they think that it's so you know, can be used for much anything across the board without any downsides or challenges, and anyone whose meditating for any period of time knows that that's a little bit of a simplification. So I think that was the just our personal practice and talking to friends and teachers that
knowing that there is still more to the story and then, when I was doing my residency at Brown impatient psychiatric hospital, there were to meditate hers. Tat were hospitalized while I was there who had just come off a ten day retreat and I sort of thought too in one year seems like something worthy of following up with, so that was really the beginning of like. I should take this seriously and my research in and make this into a research study of failed miserably, giving your full title you through your assistant, professor, in the departments. is psychiatry and human behavior brown universities, who you are a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, Mutton Messina correctly. Actually now I'm not a psychiatrist unites very, very confusing, because my appointment isn't the department of Psychiatry that I'm actually a clinical psychologists have an hour. She hd not an empty
I've done, but you ve done Neuro Science, research, rats or I ll- get and tell them. That brings me to your fiance Jared Lindo visiting assistant, professor in Brown, coal get centre for the Humanities Jared. How you get into meditation and why? Why did you get interested in this particular angle, aside from just falling in love with Willoughby yeah that came much later, so I've been involved with the practice of meditation for about twenty years. My interest really started very early in college, where I was first I guess, exposed to yoga meditation classes, and I think what interested me and what is for a long time interested me is questions around the nature of consciousness, the range of possible human experience.
How consciousness and subjective experience can be developed regulated or wielded as a tool rather than just times and investigated, rather than something just sort of passively, experienced and as I was studying, philosophy and anthropology and religion in college. Maybe I am particularly interested in the contemporary techniques that are really attempts to get better acquainted with the mind and the body and emotions and perception and to have a more active and maybe dynamic relationship with those, so questions around consciousness. Range of human experience is and how those impact
it has been for a long time what I've been interested in and eventually what I came to pursue academically. I in my undergraduate, and especially in my graduate training, which was in the academic study of religion and by the time I was finishing, my phd more specifically and the cognitive science of religion, so using methodologies and existing scientific research and theories to attempt to provide some novel explanations for the relationship between religious practices and religious expire. answers, and so I was researching in particular on expire This is described in metaphors of light and luminosity, and it
What happened that I was giving a conference paper on that at a cognitive science, a religion conference here at Brown back in two thousand ten and Willoughby was paired to be my response to that paper based upon some expertise. She had and that's when I first became acquainted with the study that was really just beginning, at that point in two thousand ten. So she was our shoes already pushing ahead with what was known as the varieties of contemplative experience, study and at that point It was just getting off the ground. I can never probably around. I don't know a dozen interviews or so that had been been completed at that point and then I were had a number of academic appointments after graduating that year and still kept in touch with her. We ended up running a number of research symposium and and also writing the first paper based upon preliminary data from the study, which was really an attempt
unify my dissertation question with the reports of light experiences that she had already gathered in the first kind of half of the study. So our prior paper that has been published on those light related experiences was putting forfeit a model based upon my dissertation research. on how sensory deprivation is a close analog to meditative practices, and we might have something to learn from looking at sensory deprivation, research and explaining certain types of experiences associated with meditation. So that lead to our initial collaboration, and I just it's a hard project not to become immediately interested in and totally captivated and consumed by. So I
eventually figured out how to get to Brown and really do then to directing the project, completing the interviews and running a lot of the qualitative analysis that we dead as the basis of the paper? I like. fact that I have a tiny walk on role in your relationship because I happen to have been stopping by in province on my way to see my parents in Boston. The day you moved injured, that's right and where remember meeting you for the first time- and we had just gotten back from IKEA and their unloading Billy bookshelves and you got out of the cabin your suit, and that was our first half hour together with you. Helping us move bookshelves, big impression on me right right, exists, the devil. You get made a big impression on me. I've been as Jared said, wind when you hear about this study, you get bitten, you do become captivated by it. So, let's get to the study chair, so let me start with you here will be what
is the headline out of this study end. You dared mentioned interviews, so we should say that you bit the and I'm on propaganda mangled this, but the basis the data is that you conducted a, I believe, a hundred interviews with meditated who had had challenging experiences and that form the basis of yours Eddie and and I'll. Let you describe what the headline the conclusions are. And so the basic idea was to, We already know all the positive effects they ve been circulating for fur, years now and we wanted to see in a water, what's the others the story, what are the other kinds of effects, and so one of the best play- is to find that out is to ask meditation teachers, especially ones that run their own centers, have been teaching for decades and I've seen hundreds and hundreds of students. So that's where we started was talking to really experience teachers about you know what kind of difficulties have you observed,
your students and when we asked them those questions, a number of the teachers started to tell their own stories. Oh and my life and my practice see or hear some of the difficulties that I had so Then we started making those teachers, our inner hearing as teachers, we did a supper interview as practitioners as well. So that's why that sixty percent of our sample ended up being meditation teachers themselves. So we have two sets of interviews, one of teachers talking about their students and then one of Mediterranean who have ya, reported various kinds of challenges so that that's the story Basis- and I think there are ninety two altogether- would wonder the challenges your finding, what a what people encounter well,
There's fifty nine categories of experiences so quite a few to go over and we separated those out into seven different domains. So we have perceptual all effective, which is emotion, all some magic. Cognitive, systematic meaning body related. Yet bodily related body function cannot motivational and social. I am sense of self censorship, a lot of give a lot of different one marvellously started, start unpacking. These will now what would like just gimme some Are we talking about so sense of self? So what we would he mean by that so there are a number of different types of changes, were associating with sense of south. This ended up being classified as don't domain, of relief,
it phenomena for a couple of reasons that I think are worth understanding at the outset. The first is that There are the processes around our sense of self, are really quite complicated and cut across a number of aspects of human experience, so there's bodily aspects that contribute to our sense of self there's. Also narrative ass acts that contribute to our sense of self, and so already it's a is a complex phenomenon. It's also a type of change. That's really pretty central to Buddhist teachings and traditions, one of the central OZ of Buddhism from the very beginning has been to introduced. Changes into one sense of self and there are a number of key terms in and debates around this, but often it's in entails
into an understanding that certain aspects of one self that one took too may be enduring or permanent or definitive, are actually less so and there, there more subject to change revision, and maybe even in some cases that with teachers would say that the their illusory they're, not even real and an enduring sense. So this is particularly employ because this is related to some of the goals of meditation and more traditional contacts and you'll, see some of the show up, even and in some of the more applied aspects of meditation in say, contemporary cycle gee, I wear may be one of the problems that one could address with meditation would be you. Enduring negative self image or rumination about
one self thou that leads to the sort of states of negative emotions that doctor Britain was Tom about moments ago. What about a few? I'm! So you don't exist. Yes, sir. That's an interesting one, a little bit more on their deep end of the pool than simply the changes around narrow thence and south image, so there maybe even before we get that there is as a bridge too, that a lot of practice instructions not across the board, but certainly in some traditions, will ask them you take a stance of true distant seeing oneself from, or even maybe de identifying, with one's transient thoughts, emotion, then body sensation. So, as these things. arise and pass away in the nation of your meditation session there, some distant
from identifying with those thoughts, emotions and body sensations as me, and that can be really helpful for people who are mere, maybe overly identifying with certain things and in getting into again maybe states of distress or states of sort of undesirable neg negative emotions on account of that, but just as there are benefits to that, if you keep doing that, are to do that in a really intensive and prolonged process, a number of, the types of changes could happen that or maybe no longer quite under your control anymore. So thoughts arise, but they dont the alike there you at all or body, sensations arise or actions arise, but you feel like there's no agent twos and control of those so you're walking across the room- and you don't know- was driving the ship, yeah and maybe walking cross. The road would be a more. their scenario where that would would be love a little bit more
Yea additives is a dangerous like maybe we're talking about psychosis here. That's it that's a tough I mean I think there are. We do have some some other symptoms that we can discuss two to get at that end of the spectrum, which is also something we saw in the study, but with regard to the changes of sense of self may be just two to conclude on this point, I think one the key points that we want to make here is that certain things that, in certain context, like a retreat, are Maybe novel insights even maybe really helpful in the context of a retreat if they are enduring, and especially if there are no longer in your control as that retreat or practice session ads, and as the practitioners trying to integrate and his or her daily life, those things that were interesting novel, maybe even in cycle changes those can become difficult to to
the integrate and even a source of impairments and distress, if indeed there no longer something that you can manage. Well. So, if you can't sort of come, have your sense of agency incentives come back on line when you need it too, because you spent a lot of time. Deconstructing at that can be a problem, so I think the A lot of the issues we are seeing dealing with our arising in this context of integral following a practice session or integration following a retreat. That can be particular context in which some difficulties arise. Ok, but will only pressure in this case It sounds like, and we ve only gotten into were in one of the seven domains here there are lots of domains that what you're describing here sounds like if you meditate enough, you could lose your damn mind. That sounds a little but like a scare tactic now, I'm trying to be scared about using this is what people are going to conclude
more or worry about when they hear that. So just talk talk me as a proxy for the listener off that ledge, and I think I think that you know the way that the administration has been marketed has has similar to kind of a warm bath very benign and harmless, and I think that you know, maybe they take home message- is to have a little bit more respect for the power of these practices. So I dont think that we want to scare people away from tat. hang at or you know and do some kind of mass paranoia. But I think that you know these the range of My experience is beyond our common taxation and even funds that are distressing or impairing to functioning have been document is documented. Before
and we just you know, documented that they are still happening in modern day. You know buddhist monitors and that that might be something that we want to consider as the meditation industry, keeps going what wealth? Well, sir, and if you stay this quite currently in your paper and in the accompanying press release that the meditation forever millennia and in the literature from way way back? They talk about difficulties in the varying schools, you're looking at Who does a minute three main schools of Buddhism. There then Tibetan and tariff quota. They talk about that kind of difficulties, met at a meditative will encounter and in in terawatt. If, for example, there is a stage of the path known as fear,
so this is. You know, as you say, in your own paper, this is not new, but it hasn't been looked at in this new batch of of science and excitement that we're seeing around meditation, but I've edged one drill a bit deeper. On that scary question, I asked before we You say to somebody who's hearing. This in and is like, oh well, so, should I not meditate now well as well to be said, and I dont think that the conclusion that should be derived from our research is that this isn't worth doing. Ah- and it's worth keeping in mind that, because this a interview based study where really We have are sixty year. Ninety two different stories was to stick with the practitioners. Four minute we have sixty different practitioner narratives that had a wide range.
Experiences and, in some cases, experiences quite similar to each other. What makes an ex a particular experience even feel negative. Let alone dressing or impairing that that I think we know. Another major part of our paper is to attempt to identify what we call the influencing factors these are the perhaps some of the variables, probably not even all, of them that impact whether a practitioner is going to feel distress or have a negatively valence experience hat whether they're going to be impaired. How they're going to resolve this experience? How long experience is going to last so when we interviewed these practitioners, in addition to them talking about usually a couple of dozen different types of experience that they have not all of which, by any means, were negative
but at least somewhere. They also identified usually around a dozen of these influencing factors and that can range from things like their early life history so of their medical or psychiatric history can range from what types of practices they were doing their degree of social support to the relationship with their teachers and the commission these and a whole list of what we called health behaviors, which were different types of responses. Usually so things like psychotherapy, presents an absence of medication, changes and diet and exercise these sorts of things really, depending on the particular type of phenomena that we're talking about, so certain phenomena tended to be may be either transient or fairly easy to resolve our integrate
whereas others differently required a lot more support and often support going beyond what meditation, teacher or centre or practice or conception of the path could provide certain. Just to come back and come a little bit on what your mentioning earlier about the presence of these phenomena in this text and traditions, I think you're right about that a lot of these phenomena. Are there what's interesting? We found is that, despite recognition or acknowledgement of a lot of these things- and I certainly wouldn't say all of them there is also often some disagreement about what they mean and what their value is. So as we were interviewing teachers, we were really hoping to get some consensus statement about what is it irritation difficulty, and what do you do about it? But teachers really very considerably based upon
their background there lineage their teachers, their approach, whether they had on some sort of psychological or psychiatric training, in addition to their training. As a buddhist teacher, a lot of these things could really influence what they consider to be part of the path. verses what they considered to be, as you are using the word earlier, a side effect or less aid on a wanted. A fact that in one that may be required some sort of intervention beyond just practicing. Lee or some sort of easy fix through practice technique on this, I think, is again another really key point that from our side that the experiences themselves don't necessarily have intrinsic meaning and they're, not all intrinsically adverse. Maybe there are a couple of exceptions to this, where intense fear suicidal ideation. These types of things were
pretty pretty universally tree as things that need some sort of remedy, and it's not something that a practitioner should stay and for a prolonged period. But, as you pointed out, even even fear can be a tricky one, because there are particular conceptions of the path, as you pointed out, and tell her about it. But is it in where that's considered an expected stage and even perhaps a sign of progress, and it No, a difficult one is could be read as moving on to something that is ultimately of benefit to the practitioners, so this ends up really always being negotiated socially with the teachers with the communities and in cases where practitioners don't have that type of support or framework are these things can be even more disorienting haven't. You said so many interesting things there Jared and then in particular I've heard Willoughby talk
this before in our private conversations that people who get into meditation again for the martinis lush warm bath. Maybe I know that these that, in that that these difficult stages, are considered you no signs of progress in some of these schools. Are you maybe but they're not signing up for that. So lady, so I mean, did there seems to be some sort of like cultural misunderstanding here, almost yeah occult, I would say, a mismatch and am in one, possible way forward. Is you know when people start met stating it might be a good idea to think about why their meditating, what what do they want? What kind of goals are they trying to achieve a what You know you even what is well being what is happiness? What is suffering like really think about that and then make sure that the practice
teacher and the tradition and the programme that you choose Billy matches your goals, because there are so many different kinds of practices and teachers and approaches and reasons to do these practices that getting a good fit is really kind of the best way to optimize you're results. How common? You think difficulties are yeah, that's the million dollar question and, unfortunately, the way that we did. The study that are the methodology is really not set up to answer that question. So it's just gonna have to be known, stay tuned for a future research kind of answer. Do you think an analog. I use I and haven't talked what's this publicly, but it's just my own head is with exercise so with exercise as you know, we all know it's possible. You again earth and that's why you know your Jim makes these on a waiver. But it's not you know it's not
I get her once in a while- that's not having to me every day, and there are things I can do to to mitigate the chances, reduce the chances that I would get hurt. Would you say that's a fair analogy, yeah. I'm always looking for a really good metaphors and analogies haven't found a perfect one, but I think I think exercise has a lot to offer I mean, there's theirs, in exercise? You also here, like a no pain, no gain kind of instead Sometimes in that sounds, that's Andrea, great until you enjoy yourself, and then you know that you're, a coach is like. Oh, no, I didn't mean no pain, no gain in that sense, so Selina. They they scale back those instructions when it come sit. So there are. There are some nuances there, but you know within within exercise there's also people who are trained to identify know what types of
behaviors are pastures or you know intensities, are likely to lead to injury and there's entire books written about it that are too many there. So I think With that analogy, we want to build something, compare, the ball in the meditation community that doesn't really exists now, so talk talk about which you want to see built. While I would, I think that just have a general aware. So when you get the paper, we there's also a code book with a fifty nine had a like a really detailed descriptions of these experiences and does. This is like one hundred one for meditation teacher, like any teacher, should should be very well versed in any of these experiences and just be able to identify them when they come up and they may have, grant views on what should be done about them or how to manage them, but they should at least be in a very familiar. With what they are, and I think, generally speaking,
Someone who goes into meditation should have a sense of what they are as well, that might just just a basic type of awareness so that that's like the kind of the two, the basic level and I think, as we, as the research continues and other people are also doing. Research on this will have a better sense of like what kinds of options are the most helpful, and I think we have some idea of what can be tested at this point, but we don't really have real, answers, so I think that's kind of where we're going to build. Really informed and adequate support structure. When these experiences come up, dont them. I go to the inside meditation society. Don't they have? If I recall correctly, they have somebody on staff to deal with people who are experiencing challenges and have for a while. Yeah they I mean there have been support staff and they are awesome and they have a lot of people, but there's often only one or two people.
And are not always available after their retreat ends and the person needs you no longer lot more long term, or sometimes you know even twenty four hour care? So that's it. A good start, but I think we need more, and I think that there are lots, clinicians now that that have training unmindfulness in meditation based interventions, and they would be really great people to be taking on some of the people that are having more enduring difficulties. You you, this is such an there. You spoke before, but the cultural misunderstanding that can happen with people who you are looking for a bubble bath and find that their sense of self as dissolving, and that's not what they wanted. But there's it there's another potential culture clash here, which is You could walk out of meditation retreat having some specific meditation related challenges like to list some of the things that you include like hypersensitivity too.
I'd or sounder insomnia, involuntary body movements, things thing or heightened sense of hearings idea or a loss of emotions altogether. These are some of the things that you Funding in your research, but if you go to clinician who has no training or background in meditation. You might get on our own medicated or treated in a way that actually dozen meet your specific needs, because they're gonna see through the lens of a psycho pathology right, yes, and think that you know we have to be really aware that there are multiple frameworks at play here and there really always have been too. So I think it's important too really understand where the meditate her is coming from which framework or frameworks. very using and to have that decide. We know where they are seeking help and I think that this can really cut both ways: tubes,
to come back to the no pain, no gain analogy that you, too are discussing in the context of exercise a lot of Active foreigners in our study and even some teachers invoked something akin to that framework for the four meditation that it's supposed to be difficult and that's part of the process and that's part of how one gains benefits from it. I think the challenge becomes that it's really not always clear where to draw the line between something that's difficult, but can be held in the context of practice, worked through and then benefited from from something that can't be and from something that need some sort of additional support. Part of the, and I think that something that needs to be negotiated between the practitioners and the teachers, which is why were hoping, that this study will inform both of them one of the child,
just as in the current meditation world in America at least, is that lot of people go away for these retreats. That may even be quite geographically distant from where they live and reside and as Willoughby mentioned. you might have some good resources while you're on the retreat. We hope, but that that may not also get you in the two see you through the process of integration or if these things are enduring they come back up in your daily practice. Lot of people in our study had difficulties, even in the context of daily practice. Of this is not just limited to retreat contacts. that then, that that those resources might not be available, it's also the key. That given a lot of these the transient, you have some students coming on retreat. While there are some good attempts to understand a practitioners background, most teacher,
aren't gonna know a lot about the people there are working with unless they develop a close relationship with them and so think in this case. This is also why it's really important for the practitioners to be informed. That summit, backs of young there if history or their personal, medical or psychiatric or traumatic history, that these things could be at at play and that they they could be be beyond the scope of what they should expect, a meditation teacher to be able to hold and help them process. So I think that again, this is all really a process of awe of negotiation. It really I highlight the importance of communities and relationships in both appraising responding to what's happening during meditation. You know that meditation is the cause of the things you're finding in your study. a lot of them in EU funds are pretty
a whole range of things, but but some of them are pretty are, are pretty daunting, amend, suicidal ideation, for example? How do you oh, that that is the result of some sort of pre existing psychological can or psychiatric condition yeah. So this is one of the most challenging questions to assess causality and so what we did was we use the methods that regulatory agencies like the FDA or the World Health Organization used to assess the safety of medical devices or medical treatments, and so they typically use thirteen different criteria and we were able to use eleven of those criteria. So I can go through
one. At a time I go through them ad nauseam in the papers. If you want to know more about it, but subjective attribution is one like does the teacher or the practitioner think that meditation was the costs so that the basic they thought it was counts for at least in point, then, the temporal proximity, which has also called challenge where the they experience happen during meditation or shortly after then, we have come distance sea and there's three different kinds of consistency where it happened on more than one asian? So they say every time I meditate acts happens. So there's the temporal proximity is repeated over time. Then you have, Inter, personal interests, objective, consistency where this happens across different people so in the context of meditation the same experience as a rising across different people, and then you have cross modal consistency where both teachers and meditate
others are saying that this is caused by meditation You have to challenge, which means that affect goes away, you, start meditating, so people back off for a while and then like their headaches, go away or they start sleeping again and then re challenges when when you start again, you start meditating on and then you, subsidy and gone or your headaches come back. So those are are the ones that are related to the time. The time frame the temporal proximity and then you also have subject export judgment. So the fact that there are thirty, two, meditation teachers who said that these effects are caused by meditation and then we also have prior published reports. So we found more than forty published reports in the medical literature and describing the same kinds of experiences and being attributed to meditation. So we we made an effort to
to address the causality as best we could with the design that we had in you. Some arose that with admirable concision. I have to say and look. Let me ask a related question, which Jared touched. little bit earlier the dosage question, so you gotta talk a lot about retreats. But what about those of us who practice only five to ten minutes a day we use an app or we read of John Kerry, then or share in Salzburg and we're just kind of map and, along with our own five to ten minutes or whatever get these people likely to I've been to you know, hypersensitivity, delight in a semantic changes such as insomnia, involuntary by movements and all this serve litany of of challenges that you lay out in your and your study yeah. I think on a shy away from commenting the term likely because, as Willoughby mentioned earlier, we we really cannot say anything conclusive about that. What I can say is that it, I think it's worth thing in mind that with those
areas causality motive, causality assessment that we're just summarised We are also looking at those in relationship to a lot of these other variables that are better, maybe practitioner, specific or practice specific or relationships specific, and I think that in this case you know something like that. There are some ways in which were getting some indication that Sir, practitioner level. There are say, for instance, prior trauma history, the present absence of that in those desert does are two different than populations that you know we can't just them together and say. Well, if these two people are doing thirty men, a day or two hours a day that there necessarily gonna have comparable experiences because is not just about the amount of practice. The amount of practice definitely can be of
able, but there are a lot of other variables that that we also looked at so, for instance, you to stick with that example. The there is. Education in our study and in other prior, studies on meditation. That re experiencing of of dramatic memories is something that can happen, and it doesn't necessarily need a lot of practice- and there were a lot of people made me a lot, but there were enough But in our study who were working at the law, or end of practice, amount and intensity that I think we should take seriously the possibility that Some of these things could start to emerge could start to show up. They might not end up being as intensive for other people, indifferent contacts or with different backgrounds.
But this is really a question that we think needs a lot more further research. We have a mixed pool of of practitioners. They were doing a lot of different things up a lot of different amounts, so we can't really conclusively answer that question of how whether there's a safe amount to do it, for instance, but I think people should join really be aware of what some of these phenomena are, maybe even be aware of how some of them are even closely It had two things that are: there are good to give an example of that regulating your emotions and may be decreasing. Your Should all range or intensity can be something that really trying out meditation for, and it can be a really big benefit for them to do that, but the brand of that range or the other end of that same trajectory could be the loss,
emotional range altogether and we ve we ve, had a number of stories of people coming off. Save intensive retreat in practice and not feeling any emotional connection with their their family and loved ones and having that be a real source of distress that what was once a positive aspect of gaining more equity, need any more emotional emotional range, that when emotions disappear together? That's maybe no longer no longer desired. It could do so. Did those peculiarity just interrupt you Jared. I know I've Interrupt Yokota dead. You want to make sure I follow up on that. Did those people say that that that lack of it action for their family without a permanent thing, or was it a temporary shift? Yet, thankfully, that tended to be temporary. I don't think anybody is still going through that, at least I hope not
the temporary meaning, like one of those. I remember last sitting here so yeah temporary, but long and in its really the the enduring nature of it and again, the loss of control over that. That can be part of why that's distressing so this complicates matters further, to also bear in mind that, in these practices are coming out of often very monastic contacts are coming out of a tradition that, at least in certain historical and geography contacts was about renunciation of worldly concerns, so one could even suggests that
This is again one of those things that might be a sign of some sort of progress that may be one is to continue on the path and an that's actually considered a goal. Not all Buddhist or a buddhist traditions would agree with that, but it's there definitely some that, for whom they, this sort of intense equanimity could be. Strewed as valuable. The challenge then becomes what are the dominant motivations of people who are picking up this practice and twenty first century America, and is that really what their wanting or expecting, regardless of whether that's considered to be the goal in some other place or time? That's where again, this cultural negotiation and is is a big part of what we think were with here. So let me see if I can state your bottom line and terms of and ended up I'll, probably almost certainly will match the seven than you guys is correct. Me
is your bottom line to rank and file meditated, and I'm not talking about folks, were you know, avidly attending retreats in time, but your basically, you know you're do in five to ten minutes a couple days a week? Terror is your bottom line like yes, this is a good thing to do. Just know that there is a range of potential outcomes some, which may not be positive, it not happening? Will you don't know the frequency but eyes sushi shut? I'm kind of law. So what? What should we be telling people too, they have their eyes open for if there- continuing or looking to establish a meditation practice. I mean Obviously, meditation practice has been. You know profoundly beneficial for many many people, so If your interested in meditation, you should try it. I mean the end
But I also know that there are many different versions and different types of practices and different programmes and apps and and teachers that have different orientations with different goals. So I think you know being informed consumer lake do your homework and and is choose wisely and choose a programmes is similar to choosing a doctor in choose one that that matches what you're looking for. So I think that that may be one take home message. were absolutely not trying to dissuade people from meditating was obviously a huge benefit for many people. But that's not the whole story, and I think you know one of the motivations for the study is to really give voice to a group of people that have felt. Incredibly ashamed and very isolated because they had had a less an optimal meditation experience and were trying to you know, give
a little bit of voice it like this also happens and enough. It happened. If you have some some something other than common relaxation in your meditation experience like you're, not alone, and it's not your fault, we, these are well documented experiences in and they and they happen. So it's a lot of it is reaching out that group. That has really been Argentina Ized up until this point and we should insist on it. I just add some absolutely good, I think in in order to reach them. community and also help, then that we hope that raising awareness about the range of possible experiences, the range of possible very both at impact those and how they land on someone and the range of responses for what to do with them. While we don't have
who's have data on any of those things we. What we have is our summary of what people told us. Practitioners and teachers told us. We hope that that can not only help practitioners be more informed consumer yes, but the people who were responsible for guiding those practitioners, whether that's meditation teachers and centres, whether that's click increasingly, cannot clinicians as well, that their increased awareness about the range of possible phenomena and the range of responses to them. That in time, we can help provide some resources that will help them fit about how to again negotiate what are often some some really challenging decisions about how to interpret something. What type? What is the best response? Is it just is it to keep practicing and get through it is it's a stop practicing seek something else. What what should we do here
we're not really in a position here too yet make those types of recommendations to study, started and emerge from a collaboration with teachers and practitioners inclinations. and we think the implementation of any best practices is also going to be a collaborative project. But it will inevitably people listening to this pike s. Some some percentage will have These experiences, our maybe dealing with their right now, is there are their resources out there for people. I mean there are a number of teacher, is that our very knowledgeable and available there oh clinicians that are knowledgeable and available. I mean what we're hoping to do is actually create sort of referral lest as part of our website, and we
We ve had a number of teachers and clinicians volunteer to be a resource that we just haven't, had an opportunity to put that together. Yet, but that's what we're hoping pickin people contact you people do contact me like. I've had more than three hundred people contact me and I ll do my best to talk to people as Does I can but its oh, it's a lot of volume and more than I can handle. Well, so I'm hoping that this know that we can have other people help out with that he, u for awhile, were running so called Cheetah house in your house, the one where I hope moving the IKEA Furniture at Kyoto tells him of it that you, you basically had people were having medic meditation difficulties living with you for what you talk a little bit about that. He has A number of people that that called us in
thanks to the study are some of the media coverage of the city. You know they would were well enough to not be in the hospital, but they were not well enough to be in a working and they really just needed a place to to be in community with other people that understood what was happening to them and support them through this because, again, like a lot of times, the conflicting frameworks are being told that you're you're sick, or this is pathological that wasn't helping them, then used needed a little bit of space and community However, in a big, victorian home and have a third floor with a couple extra rooms and at so people stay there and you know healed and talk to each other, and it was. I hope that something like that can be resurrected in the future. It was financially not really that feasible to have. You know, be sort of taking care of this many people with having a full time job, doing something
Sir, I mean, I think, it's a great idea, and I think that there's a there- have been other places like that. I believe there was one and in the California for awhile, whereby sort of meditation communities where people can be supported in a more long term way by their peers, but yet Cheetah House, as a residential facilities, is no longer it's just too soon apartment now, but we have our trying to make the resources available on the website- and we also have started just the beginning of some support groups, because I think one of the things that were finding that people find really helpful is to reach it reach across that I'm feeling of isolation and shame and when people share their stories with each other's systems, so supportive and and comforting. So the support group idea, I think, is a really great one, but
just just started that you mentioned before that. So the fact that you ve been setting this has been out in the in the public for a while so Your is releasing the results on May twenty. Fourth, but for a while that even the studies, an ongoing, and that has attracted a lot appear to who had questions. What has the rear you, ve been in the meditation industrial complex. You know the the Like me, you have apps and other scientists who have been touting the benefits of meditation. How do people respond to the fact that you're doing this. I mean I'm not surprising. I think it's been a mix, I think, how can a lot of really encouraging responses in that so the centres for mindful? as the Umass Honour, the Oxford Centre, the banker centre. The big centres that are interested in are involved in doing mindfulness. Instructor trainings have been, in a very open and supportive of the research they ve written,
support letters when I apply for grants are trying to make our four could look into a questionnaire that can be used in clinical trials in meditation centres and a number of the directors of those mindful of centres wrote letters of support and how important this was and how much it was did. So that was really encouraging and they ve also invited me to to come share. The data in some of their mindless instructor programmes and the summer and the UK, so I think, that's all, really positive development. A number of dharmu centres have asked shared nigh to come and give could just kind of overview of the different experts Does that we're seeing and our data to different armatures and also the support staff at the centres so Hopefully that will let you know continue, you know and then there's other people that are just not really ready to hear it, and I think that the the dominant narrative
this being all good, all positive, panaceas, a very powerful one, and one that you know. People want that to be good, and they don't really want to hear that there is another side to this story. So I think there you know. Inevitably, there's gonna be some backlash, but I think that's just the way it is. So I mentioned before I am part of this meditation industrial complex. I made that term up of medium the term, not the first person to use it, but it's not a thing really, but what what? What? What what responsibility didn't do somebody my position have been. I have a pike ass, they write books or am I wrote one book, I'm gonna do another, have an app what Responsibility do I have when talking about this, to get two presented in the right light, and I guess the second part of that question is. Are we at the ten percent have Europe, we have coaches, who
you know any anybody who uses are app can has access to an experienced meditated that they can communicate with directly through the app these people have ten to fifteen years of experience. We ve done a lot of talking about. You know how to know if somebody has an issue. What are the answers to their questions when, when is the right point for a referral to an in person clinical setting? Is that enough think. That's terrific start, no doubt about it, and I think that that probably goes above. beyond what you could find and in some of the other more bare bones. Abso, certainly of applaud you from for making those efforts. I mean, I think, then the main thing, is to have a mechanism where you can really be tracking. What's going on with people, They can be able to report back some of the difficult
These are challenges, orangist uncertainties that they're having in implementing their practice meditation via an app this. A new experiment that has never been done before in the history of of meditation and is a product of our contemporary, highly technological technologies, culture, and I think, it has. It has some real implications for what types of sperience is people are and to have it through this impersonal, medium. Certainly one of the things that we're fine, from our study that, I think should be a concern to anybody whose implementing or The ring meditation through this medium is that degree of social support and perceived social support was really really important and for people who
didn't really have a community or were geographically d from their community or could only have access to a teacher very irregularly that was stuck could be a real difficulty for them and somebody who could really track them carefully. Who knew what to look for them could really ease them through a challenging experience and maybe even keeping from being one, then ended up being distressing or are harmful for them and could really make it be something that was ultimately positive, I think it's great to have experienced meditate. sure meditated or teachers who people can talk to one I would just caution about that- is that there are people, who can meditate for a long time and themselves not have gone through some of these difficult so we come back to the example of
I'm a history if your coaches don't haven't had- attic memories resurfacing in their practice, because they dont have a trauma. History, they not necessarily know how to draw upon their own experience. In order to respond to somebody like that, and there's lots of other types of examples where individual differences are really important and which not play teachers who have had the. Why strange of challenging exe answers and manage them are often the best equipped to can have no better respond and how people through that, but for better or worse this teachers are not always that a common or accessible or able to really help every body whose just getting their their feet wet. Yeah we ve developed standards of care are, we know, in conjunction with an experienced meditate, very, very experienced meditation teacher so that our coaches you're, pretty experience themselves
know when to refer people fur qualified in person support, but This is something that we are going to take very seriously and we want to continue to work on it and that's why I personally and we as a company, find the work you're doing to be really valuable, I think one of the things that I learned about monitoring fur adverse effects is that negative effects of treatment are a very different kind of thing than positive effects. And so people are not going to voluntarily tell you when they have negative effects, so it's very likely that they'll just they'll, just not tell you especially the teacher And so you there needs to be a kind of programme or monitoring system where it's actually not even enough to ask people no, have you had any unusual or unpleasant facts, because that these open ended questions
oh, don't generate the kind of accurate counts as Very that's where we have this specific code book, so you have really really specific information about what to ask about. And then when you start asking specific questions like do, you feel like you don't exist or do you feel like you're existing outside your body, or you know that movements happen on their own and they're not made by you oh yeah, yeah. I have that so people like they need to be. It needs to be a very specific question so that there is a will, there is a real, like, ah, science to monitoring correctly. So that's another thing that I think that the entire field of meditation, including apps, will eventually It will eventually get good at that. So I think that that's probably coming down the line you with your help, there is one other one other thought that I had you know we know that the support system- Tat we ve created are enough and I say that when my phone,
springing then, then? That means that the support systems that are in place are our enough, but right now that the fact that, like people gaming, I get so many emails every week and cause every week more than I can handle. That's an indication to me that there's that were missing something that there is something else that needs to happen. Let me just reduces we. We know we ve done some questions from our users that or interesting along these lines. I just wanna Red one. not gonna use the name here. But this is a quote and I'm gonna say users, I mean app users I've been listened to Joseph Joseph Goldstein, the insight our visa Ultimate for me and also with SAM Harrison, Harris's old friend of Joseph Sand, mine guessing higher stages of realisation, but these discussions of reaching a new level of perception shedding the convention notion of quote self maturation of the spiritual practice is one of the ultimate truths are true with,
Amazon or something like that, and how this can be painful and torrenting and disturbing. This is what I want to be ignorant of of am I alone in this. Am I the only one who wants to abandon the practice when it reaches these higher stages? Would you guess, would you how would you respond to this user, yet this interesting issue that I was thinking about as Willoughby was talking about monitoring, so say your monitoring for someone who having a in someone reports, a loss of sensitive agency over their actions, it not just an issue of identifying a particular experience, its then an issue of what does that mean in? Is that an insight is that part of the gold or is that something that is going to be. Concerning so does again, where I think near the practitioners goals.
Met. It ends expectations also their context. Are they doing this in the context of an app? that is primarily advertise. better emotional regulation com, and in her its functioning and daily life? If that's the experience, that's happening in that context, perhaps there is a mismatch there and they might want to have some sort of guidance back towards the types of things that they were more expecting. Some course, quite different if you are on a meditation rich, at a monastery in a traditional, but his contacts you ve done a lot of scriptural study and you're interested having these insights into changes and sense of self. and seeing if but his teachings around the reduction of suffering that are thought to accompany those can really play out for you, then I think the experience may be described in identical words.
Could mean something different for that person. Who has that motivation is in that context and is oriented towards that goal, and this is for me one of the interesting questions meditation comes out of the monasteries and into the market place how is this impacting what these different experiences me, and it really makes the study much more complicated and makes it complicated. Amidst are you know, sample of Let us and it makes even more complicated attempting to apply what we found to other meditation application. Your own acts in the field of mindless based interventions, which are often really said,
He waited indifferent cultural contacts with different narratives about what supposed to happen. What is the goal here so in in response? I think that you know that the context is really important. The motivation is really important, and that makes it very difficult to say what any of these things mean in any intrinsic sense. So what are you guys think are the next day there are so many open questions. Would you guys openly acknowledge what are you? What are you what he was excited about? Looking at next, where one of the big questions you want to tackle going forward, while we had a lot of a long list,
but I think for me, I'm really interested to understand the mechanism and because I'm a neuroscientist than neurobiological mechanisms, which I actually think are extremely low hanging fruit, because we have, we have a pretty good knowledge of a lot of the effects on the brain that different meditation practices have and the what these difficulties. I dont think they're going to be radically different than those they're probably going to be this aim, but just sort of an exaggeration. So, for example, you know a lot of my earlier research and even my TED talk. You know goes on and on how good meditation as it strengthen the prefrontal cortex and controlling Limburg system and a migdol learn how that results in you know improved emotional reactivity in or decreased emotional react
If it is so, that's like we already know that that's that's the positive side, but having a really strong prefrontal cortex that shuts down your limit system and your autonomic nervous system is also the neurobiology of dissociation, and you know blunted affecting kind of a zombie like state that that, if you keep going, could could result in that, so it it's not that different and, like I said it, slow hung hanging fruit, which is always a good thing and research. not to have to reinvent the wheel. So I think I M excited to see whether other people also take that on. I think there have been a number of other people who are looking into our already working on a number of the mechanisms that were thinking about and I'll. Just for my own perspective, those of you who read the paper in which
hope. You will attempt to do you see that the study that we're reporting on as we'd mentions is interview based qualitative study and you might be surprised to find that it being qualitative study does not feature qualitative data, and this is really because this first paper is an attempt to summarize what we did our of methodology and what we found in our and our overall summary of our results, but where we can go from here is working with the many thousands of pages of transcripts that we have the really rich and interesting and compelling narratives that both practitioners and teachers gave us, and we can look at new to undertake specific questions. Whether that's looking at how people, in a particular tradition or sub tradition,
think about certain issues? We can look at clusters of related experiences and think about how and why those might be emerging together. We can do all sorts of, I think creative, interesting analyses that will allow us to slowly get some of these voices in and stories out. There is well and- and have it not just be this admittedly more abstract summary that were offering this first paper. So there is already a number of works in process and basically almost under review for some of our forthcoming papers, and I think people can expect that will be.
Thinking carefully about and writing and publishing on this for many years to come as we wrap up here. What is there something I should have asked but didn't I think I mean I think one of them and that we said this in the press release and we say it in the paper, but I think it's important to sort of counter act. A lot of the predominant assumptions that are we often get in response. this research and that that of meditation difficulties, only the only happened to people on intensive retreats only happen to people who have you no priors psychiatric vulnerabilities, the psychiatric disorder or a trauma. History only happen to people who are not adequately
paired or our have adequately supervision or don't have a teacher? And while those made play a role we found exceptions to all of those. So I think that Unfortunately, there is no sign of pat answer for why these things happen. That applies to everyone like that. Everybody's experience is unique and that there's it's a complex set of factors- arms heard that crack kind of creates a perfect storm for each person. So I think that you know really honouring individual differences in diversity and complexity is the name of the game, and I know that's not. The media is Forte, but I'm going to ask for it anyway. You you have ever since the first time I met you will be at the Buddhist Geeks Conference in Boulder Colorado back in like two thousand and ten or something like that at some sort of weariness about them. I'm not I'm not saying it's unjustified, but you this.
Buddy that you ve been conducting for many years now and of conducting it What involuntarily in public, because people have known that you are working on this its generated controversy. Every step of we will now it's finally out. What are you worried about? What's funny and I think Journalists and scientists have these stereotypes, if each other, which our kind of true so journalists, think that we, you know, can't give a straight answer that we caviar everything to death. We split hairs. We just have these long winded answers that don't say anything. I'm sure people think that movement. Listen to this I'm cast so far. You know and scientists are frustrated with the media. We think that you know that it will do anything to sell a story. They don't care about accuracy or the truth, and they want a sensational eyes, and so you know there's this really unfortunate relationship, and I think that that really needs to change and its at specially now, with like alternative facts and fake news, and just
you know there is definitely the desired and won't want to go hide and not not deal. the media at all. But I also I'm thinking about the people who were you know alone and feeling ashamed of what happened to them in meditation and they need someone to reach out to them, so I'm I'm sort of its my practice right now till I deal with the media, because I do your medication brightened at my meditation practice had a lot of- and this is not just you know, making up stories in my mind. This is based on experience. I've had a lot of I've been misquoted, I've been
Venus. I really only gave one interview so far and that interview has been caught up in red packaged and he knows circulated in different places where I was never invited to give commentary. So I haven't had good experiences before and I am I am, but I think this is important and I think that there are a lot of people that are suffering needlessly, that I can actually help. So I'm I'm making an effort, but it's definitely not like high on my list, if it's is as if it's challenging it. What is the twist that your word about how? What is the way in which this research could get twisted it? You don't want to get twisted, I think one of the things that that's most concerning to me is that you know there are a number of people. These are like major stakeholders in the meditation industry, 80s or dharma. Teachers need a long term. Meditators people have written books, you know, and they were brave.
I have to talk about their experiences and some of them were really harrowing and heartbreaking and they told us their stories and some of the responses that I've seen have been various kinds, of
dumb blaming. You know like that that somehow this experience that they had was their fault. You know they didn't know what they are getting into. They meditated too much. They didn't have the right teacher. They did wrong just some kind of way that its their fault- and I mean- and I we know from you know, attribution psychology that that's called the fundamental attribution error. When you, you don't make disposition all attributions to something, especially if you don't like it. So we know that's going to happen, but it just pains me to see that people who have already been through so much by being in this research study are being blamed again. Get sorted reminds me of the Vienna Vietnam. That, Sir, like you, know, Warburton that's who are blamed for having PTSD, when in fact it's no war causes trauma and not some kind of personality. We
So I see that pattern happening again and like it. It makes me really sad what about the flip side that people would write articles of meditation, drowsy courtesy. I made out of that kind of a version of the, because you know I think that, just as there are, we want to say that, just as the individual factors are not the whole story and you and you can't just blame the person or their approach and that somehow meditation is, you know not culpable or there's no role that the practice itself played. There is a role that the practice played, but again it's not the only raw and so that I think to two misconstrue it that way.
is to assume that the practice is inherently dangerous and that certainly not the case either in that's very much, not what we're saying I'll be right in the paper. What really looking at here is what we call in an interaction based model where there there are instances in which the practice is playing a role and our causality assessments were in large part, a way of making sure of that and keeping people out of the study, for whom this experience was just happening anywhere due to other life circumstances and that they don't take meditation play. RO? I just happened to be concurrent. I we did our best to try to not have that be part of what we were studying, but so that to say that again, there's there's multiple things going on here: it's not all practitioner and it's not our practice and exactly how much of each
responsible in these cases. Is really individual and I think to really get a handle on this is going to require a lot more research and research, that's design differently than what we did, which was primarily to document the range of these effects, but not really address issues of frequency and certainly not address you address in a kind of fundamental inconclusive way, issue, of course, out so little bit of housekeeping here. If people want to read the study, which I recommend, this is a good red or just or also to find out more about you guys from your work. What what? Where would you send? So we made an effort to make sure that this study and all of its as accompanying supplementary files are free and accessible to the public, so he chose an open access turn our plus one p.
Oh ass, one like the number, so you can just go to their website and find out. You can also just follow the link that will be part of our press release. Sure good. What I am about to say is pro probably coloured by my purse. of actual for you guys, but I do really think that that this is an incredibly valuable contribution. You're making and- and I, as I said before, I see it as part of the maturation of this still new field and I think we need to do. We shouldn't be afraid of the truth here we should talk about what the difficulties are and let people know so that they can make an informed consumers. So I thank you thanks. Anna and Elsa, do you want to take a few? Other people are gonna, think you're folks up a brown university. What you I'm in your city, Europe, it brought improvidence, Rhode Island, and there was a certain amount of hustle that needs to take place on your end, to make this technically possible to get you no radio studio on campus. big thanks to those guys and want to take the vote. On my end, go ahead and learn Efron who produce this podcast, who also had to do so.
Hustle and also and you're, going to have more hustle to do to get this posted in time. So a big thanks to everybody involved here and thanks again to both of you, will be in Sheridan. Congratulations again on getting this study out after so many years of hard work pleasure to be here. there's not a person in Amerika who hasn't been impact it in some way by the corona I was pandemic, but it every community there are pockets of people who were soon
every day. This is my Monday last day of the cylinder stretch, photos from one about these or America's essential workers, the people who are keeping moving. I turn into a home school mom and now in a new programmes from ABC News you gonna hear from damage. Was she went back to my office on cybercrime because he is not here and making sure that our community hostility smiled faintly Lorraine? This is the essential inside the from the emergency room, the police cruiser to the czech outline. You hear what this pandemic sounds like the people putting themselves norms, which is always a risk brain is home to re. Kids are my husband or my appearance, listened to the essentials inside the curve on Apple podcast, river podcast him.