Posted by: Marie | January 13, 2010

(225) Guest Post: Dangers of Meditation

Post #225

Guest Post

Today, I am honored to publish a guest post written by Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Dr. Goldstein is a clinical psychologist and conducts a private practice in West Los Angeles. He is co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (due out February 2010), highly-acclaimed CD’s on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety and Depression, Addiction and Relapse Prevention, and Success and Stress Reduction at Work, a FREE Mindful Companion EBook: Top Mindfulness Quotes and How They Can Support Your Mental Health, and an interactive program for finding relief from anxiety and stress via his progressive online behavioral change program in Aliveworld. Additionally, he produces a Mindful Living Twitter Feed and an electronic newsletter.

Dr. Goldstein produces the blog Mindfulness and Psychotherapy on PsychCentral. With his permission, I am reproducing an article originally published on his blog: What Everybody Should Know About the Dangers of Meditation. I wanted to post this article on my blog because it highlights the value of “being with” our pain and honoring it in the context of friendships, therapy and meditation.


What Everybody Should Know About the Dangers of Meditation

In his recent article, Enlightenment Therapy, Chip Brown writes about a real life story that conveys the pitfalls of meditation, the importance of therapy and personal narrative, and the potential benefits of a combined approach. The story is of Zen master, professor, poet, and essayist, Louis Nordstrom. For the purposes of this blog I’m not going to get into the differences between the various different approaches to meditation (e.g., Zen, Vipassana, etc..), but explore Brown’s illustration of the importance in being aware of the subtle motives we may have to engage in meditation and how we might be using as a form of escaping our pain.

Many of us have experienced much wounding in our lives and some of us have even cultivated defensive coping styles as children to disengage or disassociate from these feelings in order to not be overwhelmed by them. Nordstrom experienced his own trauma and abandonment as a child and said:

“The Zen experience of forgetting the self was very natural to me,” he told me last fall. “I had already been engaged in forgetting and abandoning the self in my childhood, which was filled with the fear of how unreal things seemed.”

Photo by Martin Chen

For Nordstrom, meditation felt like a natural fit as there was a familiarity and calmness that came from detaching from thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It was attractive. However, his own depression and challenges continually arose throughout his life. He decided to go back to therapy. In therapy he came to understand a subtle, yet subversive motive he had to engage in meditation. In one way he was using meditation to cover up the pain he felt from the past, and by detaching from his thoughts, feelings, and emotions, so there was no self, he was saving himself from the possibility of his “self” ever getting abandoned again as he had by his mother in childhood. In other words, by using meditation to abandon himself, he saved himself from feeling the overwhelming pain of being abandoned by another in relationship. In doing this, he remained walled off and alone even in his relationships, which can be an instigator for depression.

In returning to therapy he recognized something vital to his healing:

“One of the most important insights I got from therapy with Jeffrey [the therapist] is that subconsciously I want the depth of my suffering to be witnessed by someone.”

So many of us, deep down, just want to be seen and acknowledged. Therapy and authentic friendships (which can be hard to come by since so many of us are unaware of our emotional triggers), can be a great source of having our pain understood, validated, and accepted.

Practicing mindfulness meditation is not about detaching and forgetting ourselves. It is about “being with” whatever is arising in the moment. We are attempting to pay attention to ourselves, on purpose, and when judgments arise (e.g., this is good/bad, right/wrong, fair/unfair), seeing if we can notice those, let them be and just bring ourselves back to the experience of connecting with ourselves, not disconnecting. Practicing mindfulness meditation in service of connection can be a wonderful source of healing.

From a mindfulness psychotherapeutic perspective we are not trying disconnect from ourselves, but instead, become aware of all the history and experience that influences us today, remembering our life so we can cultivate insight into how it affects us intrapersonally and interpersonally in our relationships. We can learn to hold our past wounds in a nonjudgmental way, cultivating compassion and love for ourselves.

In the end, Louis Nordstrom was able to integrate the insights from therapy with his Zen practice. His journey of insight through his practice and therapy can be a great teacher to us all as we continue on our own paths through mindfulness and mental health.

As always, please take time to interact below. Your thoughts and comments provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.


  1. I’d like to know what changes Louis made to his practice.

    The post begins with dangers to meditation and seems to end with correct meditation not being a danger. The idea seems to be that meditation done correctly is psychologically beneficial. Hope I’ve read it right.

    If I’ve understood the post it is saying: (mindfulness) meditation is not dissociation but its opposite – understanding that we are an active agent in our experiencing.

    I really like the emphasis on connecting with others. I haven’t seen this talked about much when people discuss meditation.

    Thanks for posting this Marie.

  2. Hi Evan,

    I think you have read this right. Louis’ experience tells us that meditation can be beneficial and it can also be used as an escape. Our awareness around this is what matters.

    If you haven’t yet read the full article I’d suggest it. The idea is that we can use meditation to detach from our feelings, but the work that brings about healing is the one where we engage meditation as a way to embrace our emotions and cultivate greater awareness around them. This, I believe, is where integration occurs in our brains and where we ultimately feel more balanced and whole.

    Thanks for remaining engaged,


  3. I am so psyched you found this!

    I’ve written about some of my experiences that are akin to this on my blog… under “Enlightenment” category. But I didn’t have a context for it.

    For me, I am so grateful for these experiences…

    I have yet to fully read the 11 page article.. but I will and I will comment more on it once I do.

    Again, thanks for the guest post! Thanks Elisha. Thanks Marie

    • Hey, Paul –

      I really enjoy reading Elisha’s writings . . . he is a deep thinker and what his mind and heart produce is always enlightening.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      – Mare

      • Thanks! It’s all printed out (both his article and the one he linked to). It’s the kind of reading I really need to sit with. But I haven’t yet… you know, daily life stuff gets in the way! :)

  4. I’ve recently started taking meditation more seriously and now meditate everyday. I have a super active mind which would sometimes distract me while I’m painting. Meditation has helped me to be present and focus while I paint. It’s an amazing feeling to let your ego go while you paint and just flow through each movement.

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