This morning a friend emailed me a link to an article about the dangers of meditation. The biased writer focused only on the story of one disturbed girl who attended a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat and after the 9th day left and was later found deceased due to suicide. The writer blamed the meditation retreat for her death.

Suicide IS tragic. Meditating doesn’t cause it. What more likely did incite that action was facing her darkness and not being able to get to the point of self-forgiveness. The article said she’d expressed she’d done something she was highly shameful about and had cried about it a lot in previous days.

Facing your shadows is tough work. It’s not for the faint of heart. It takes courage to sit on the meditation mat in silence and stillness without outside distraction for hours, days, (and for some devoted meditators like me) weeks.

Once you get into the zone, a life review can unfold. You recall that time you pushed your sister; when you cheated on a test; when you lied to your parents. You also remember snuggles with your first pet; tender loving moments with a grandparent who has moved on; and other random memories locked away for years.

Can this be disturbing? Yes.

Can this be liberating? Absolutely!

I attended the same 10-day meditation retreat the article called “dangerous” and “like a voluntary prison sentence”  and neither of those descriptions are accurate. For me, 11 hours of daily meditation for 10 straight days was peaceful. It allowed me to take out the trash in my mind and clear some things hanging out in my subconscious.

This type of meditation does put you in a place to be with yourself. In your busy life, how often do you really get to BE with yourself–the good, the bad, and the ugly AND have the space to cultivate compassion and understanding with your choices so that you can make more aligned ones in the future?

If your life looks similar to mine–not often enough–which is why I meditate.

Most people spend a lot of time, money and energy numbing the pain, the shame, the fear, or attempting to run from it. Your subconscious is also designed to repress emotions that you don’t yet have the tools to handle in the moment. All of that results in having a suitcase or two worth of baggage to be sorted through and dealt with on the meditation mat.

Instead of finding deeper nooks and crannies to stuff these uncomfortable memories and unpleasant feelings, meditation invites you to instead explore and examine them. Your shadow is presented to resolve. To forgive. To accept your humanness. To develop compassion–not just for yourself, but for others.

Yes, it can be confrontational and you will experience prolonged pain if you associate with it rather than get into the role of your Higher Self and witness these past interactions with the wisdom of your immortal consciousness.

I also attended a 21-day even more strict and intense meditation retreat in the jungles of Costa Rica that followed many of the protocols of Vipassana meditation, but also involved complete fasting and sleep deprivation. That intense experience brought to the surface several deeply repressed emotions. One was guilt I had been carrying that I had not done everything I could, and in the right way, for my beloved dog Tinkerbell in her last weeks of life.

The reality was I took her to two vets, incurred over $6500 of medical bills paying for tests and a surgery, and turned around 6 hours into a 10-hour drive to attend a workshop to come back and be with her as they put her down (the humane option given she could not breath without oxygen being forced into her lungs as they were collapsing from an untreatable genetic condition).

Yet I was still holding the belief that I could’ve done more–should have done more. When I got in touch with that guilt, I sobbed and sobbed. I cried until I was weak enough to allow the surrender into being human and imperfect to emerge. I was able to see myself in those weeks and feel how afraid I had been to lose her and how I had made the best decisions based on the information I had. I forgave myself and felt compassion for myself. I exited the meditation room into the jungle lighter and liberated from that guilt.

The insights and healing I have had meditating match those found by many from plant medicine journeys. I’ve experienced a few of those and for me doing the inner work through prolonged meditation sessions is my preference because it goes just as deep with no puking or nausea.

It’s terribly unfortunate that the girl in the article was unable to get to the place beyond her pain and shame. Had she been able to be with it just a moment or perhaps several moments longer to recognize that who she truly is was not what she did she would’ve experienced an inner freedom–a liberation–that could’ve changed her life in unimaginable positive ways.

So, is meditation dangerous? If you aren’t willing to face all of yourself, perhaps it could be, however, I believe that you are never given a challenge you don’t have the ability to overcome. Everything is within you.

A One-Hour Vipassna Meditation
Set aside an hour. Choose a completely quiet place in your home or nature. Turn off all computers, tablets and phones. Inform anyone necessary you are not to be interrupted for an hour. Set an alarm for one hour. Sit cross-legged, or if that isn’t comfortable, sit in a chair with your back straight and feet flat on the floor. You do not want to be lying down or slouching.

Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Really pay attention to the air coming in, filling up your lungs and releasing. Don’t change your breath, just observe your regular breath. Allow all thoughts to fall away. If a thought comes to your mind, and many likely will, just acknowledge it and allow it to float away.

If you get distracted and start thinking about something return to focusing intently on your breath. It’s normal to feel emotions come up and move through you. Graciously allow that to happen–it’s the subconscious trash being taken out–you don’t need to know the story behind it or what caused it, just let it go.

Meditation is similar to exercise. Sometimes you go to the gym and after you feel sore and tired while other times you feel energized and still others you may feel like you didn’t work out at all. With meditation, the experience you have is the experience your Higher Self feels you would most benefit from. Trust its wisdom and don’t judge your time on the mat.

If you made it through the hour sitting in silence and stillness–congratulations! Now it’s time to decide how frequently you’d like to practice.

If you didn’t, start with 10 minutes and once you successfully make it through that increase the time by 5 minutes until you reach one hour.

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