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Symposium and Roundtable: The Dark Side of Meditation, Edinburgh, 29 Feb 2020

29 February, 12.30-5.30, 50 George Square, Edinburgh University.

The Dark Side of Meditation: Understanding and overcoming difficulties on spiritual paths and in mindfulness practice.

Meditation and mindfulness have grown in popularity. A large body of research published in recent years shows how mindfulness and meditation can be used to ease a wide range of mental and physical problems. Yet hardly anybody has looked into problems that can arise through or along with these practices.

For some, meditation can be accompanied by difficulties that go beyond the inability to calm one’s mind: Half-forgotten experiences might be remembered that are upsetting for the practitioner. Meditators might see lights or have visions. They might feel that their body is moving uncontrollably, that they do not inhabit their body anymore in the way they did before, or that energy is moving through them. Insights acquired during meditation might change a person’s way of seeing the world, and they might find themselves unable to continue living their life in the same way as before. Some people begin to doubt some of their fundamental beliefs and fall into a “dark night of the soul”.

Many meditators are unsure how to make sense of these unusual experiences and do not know where to turn for help. For a few, their experiences during and after meditation become unmanageable and psychiatrists diagnose them with psychosis, PTSD, depression or anxiety disorder. While psychiatry sees these experiences as unwanted “side effects” of meditation, spiritual traditions often value them and recognize them as opportunities for growth.

In this workshop, we will try to find bridges between the different ways of explaining meditators’ experiences. Experts from clinical psychology, anthropology, mindfulness and different religious backgrounds will discuss the experience of spiritual emergencies, different factors that influence them, and ways of working through them.

All welcome!


Dr Christine Kupfer, Social/Medical Anthropology & Education Studies, Edinburgh:  The Dark Side of Meditation: An Overview

Dr Liane Hofmann, Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health (IGPP), Freiburg, Germany: Spiritual and meditation-induced crises: historical developments and current state

Isabel Clarke, Consultant Clinical Psychologist & Spiritual Crisis Network Director, Southampton: When the spiritual path goes astray: the work of the Spiritual Crisis Network


Dr Andrew Watson, Chief Psychiatrist for NHS Lothian

Dr Audrey Millar, Consultant Clinical Psychologist NHS, Edinburgh

Dr Mark Miller, Philosopher of neuroscience, University of Sussex

Isaac Portilla, Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics (CSRP), University of St. Andrews

Richard Johnston, Director of Christian Mindfulness, Fife, Scotland

Chair: Dr Stefan Ecks, Medical Anthropology, Edinburgh University.

This event has been organized with support from the Global Mental Health Network (Edinburgh University) and the Edinburgh International Centre for Spirituality and Peace (SC038996).

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