Adverse Meditation Experiences: Navigating Buddhist and Secular Frameworks for Addressing Them

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The intent of this article is to stimulate a conversation and encourage interdisciplinary discussion and dialog between “secular” and “Buddhist” camps around the notion of adverse psychological experiences that might occur in the context of meditation practice and training, be that as part of a day-to-day practice or in the context of a residential and intensive retreat. Depending on the context, there are significant differences in the way that such experiences are made sense of and, as a result, there may be significant variations in tradition-specific accounts of how to manage such experiences. In each context, implicit foundational values (about, for example, what counts as mental health, or the goals of meditation practice) may lead to very different accounts about what counts as harmful or helpful, and therefore about what is an appropriate course of action. For those teaching meditation, either in secular or religious contexts, this has clear ethical implications—how are the best interests of the student served? This paper will explore examples of this tension by comparing and contrasting accounts about adverse meditation experiences from Buddhist and secular perspectives. A case will be made for a dialogic, mutually engaged, and supportive relationship between Buddhist and secular approaches to adverse meditation experiences.

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