It seems that we can't get by a day without reading some glowing article or hearing someone expounding about the positive benefits of meditation or 'plant medicine'. Though some of these practices are known, scientifically, to have some benefit within controlled conditions, it does feel really important to me- and hopefully it is of benefit to you- that I share about what I know about some of the negative effects that can come from these practices.
Having taught mindfulness for over 20 years: originally from with an Eastern approach but also from 2005 I have taught mindfulness from within a secular context. For instance I have taught MBSR for stress or pain or MBCT as a prophylactic treatment for recurrent depression or for anxiety in the NHS - I have worked with meditation with hundreds of people. Most people have extremely positive experiences but, sometimes, people have negative experiences and find it difficult to talk about these in a group setting. Having taught mindfulness in a clinical (NHS) setting I have been able to provide good clinical/psychotherapy 'follow up' to help people with these difficulties. I have also worked, considerably, with people who have had experiences with psychedelics or 'plant medicine'. Some of this experiences go 'way back' from before my clinical work, as a participant in the 1980's acid house culture. Some people have experiences that continue beyond the original experience and will not go away. These can generally be described as forms of 'dysregulated arousal' -nervous, stressful or anxiety states - or hyperarousal which can involve hyper sensitivity to sounds or lights. Of course, mindfulness involves becoming more aware- for instance of 'your body' or 'of sounds' or 'the breath' but this can become 'locked in' and, for some of us, this can be distressing.
Depersonalisation is the experience of 'feeling strange', sometimes as if you are not your self. This can sometimes be so overwhelming that we can become anxious about it and then it can become DPD (depersonalisation disorder). With depersonalisation we might feel that we are 'special' in a 'good way' or 'in a bad way'.
We can sometimes feel detached or distanced from people or events and things can seem unreal (derealisation). We might experience emotions that 'flow through us' but 'don't touch us'. We might have the sense of 'being an observer' and, though this can be of benefit, it might exclude feeling really engaged on an everyday human level or exclude such experiences as something that should matter.
With these experiences we might not feel we can recognize ourselves or others that we know- they/we appear strange. This can be disturbing.
Dissacociation is the experience of feeling 'spaced out'. We can often lose time and not really even notice it except that we 'lose time'.
This can be the result of trauma (sometimes a developmental trauma that we don't know about- for instance this was, for me, a common experience in my childhood).
These experiences can also be elicited by meditation or psychedelic use.
I have worked with people who came to believe that they had permanently changed themselves and could not retrieve any sense of normality; this need not be true!
This can be worked with!
Please don't suffer in silence or, blindly, try to 'push on through' with your practise.
There are so many experts and teachings about 'correct breathing' it's easy to forget that 'when we are fully and completely engaged in an activity that we love' that 'the body really knows how to breathe' without any help from us!
As a meditation teacher I have come across many people that, for many different reasons, start to become preoccupied with their breath and 'breathing correctly'.
This can happen frequently and - in one way- I have also experienced this myself. Someone might start to have fear around the breath - there might be a history of this with asthma and/or with panic disorder- or there might be experiences of fear/panic and this person might start to compulsively use the breath to manage that.
These experiences might manifest by either a/avoiding awareness of the breath by constant distraction (experiential avoidance) or b/ engaging constantly with the breath.
Either way, here, there is an element of fear that needs to be addressed directly so that we can learn to trust our breath in it's original nature.
There are other complications that can happen that are more subtle and numerous that I would prefer not to numerate. In essence, we can start to experience the world very differently and then find it difficult to orientate in the world as we knew it. Sometimes we are changed and cannot orientate in any way that we are used to. Please contact me for more details.