Correlation Between Meditation and Violence?
You would certainly believe that a possible correlation exists if you’re read Time Magazine’s blog on mental health lately. There’s a post titled “Aaron Alexis and the Dark Side of Meditation”. In it, the author makes a thinly veiled attempt at pinning this atrocious act on the fact that the shooter, IN THIS CASE, claimed to have meditated daily.
To quote the article:
“At worst, most people see meditation as flaky, boring, self-involved or harmless. But as research starts to document how it can help to fight stress, high blood pressure, addictions and many other mental and physical disorders, it’s also becoming clear that meditating isn’t always so benign — particularly if it’s used against a background of existing mental illness….”
The article then goes on to talk about a study done by a Brown University Neuroscientist who is studying some possible adverse effects of meditation, namely, the crazy emotions that meditation can stir up in some people. She’s calling it the “Dark Night Project”, proportedly having to do with the dark night of the soul that is written about in countless literature pertaining to the contemplative traditions.
While there are certainly negative emotions that will surface during meditation, it is important to keep things in perspective. Meditation and violence are a loose correlation.
Luckily, this article also mentions that Aaron had violent tendencies and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to his time as a 9-11 rescue worker. He also drank alcohol heavily. I’m sure that these two things had less to do with his actions than, say, meditation…
To quote some more:
“… there are enough anecdotes about such dark experiences in writings on meditation and from teachers and practitioners to suggest caution in prescribing the practice for the severely mentally ill without appropriate guidance.”
Yeah, anecdotal. I’m not taking sides here, but to quote anecdotal evidence… Then, to go on and make an assumption like this:
“While it’s impossible to know what role, if any, meditation played in Alexis’ mental states, it’s clear that most therapies and practices that are powerful enough to have positive effects are also capable of doing harm when used in the wrong way and in the wrong people.”
I’m not sold.
The truth is, there are dark things that come up while meditating. Trying to quiet your mind is difficult, and becoming acutely aware of what thoughts occupy your mind at any given moment can be strange and overwhelming at times. Having a teacher who’s been through it helps, as many traditions have had for millennia.
That said, articles like this serve to stigmatize something that has the ability to help far more people than hurt. Meditation and violence is a loose correlation at best. Serious meditation can help you deal with issues that have been buried deep in your past in a positive way.
Still though, common sense prevails. If you feel overwhelmed or can’t deal with things, seek professional help. That’s why they are there. If you feel violent after meditating, please stop and seek help. There’s no shame in it.
I think the dialog should be more about why people have trouble getting access to mental health help supposedly first-world country. I also find it funny how many of the same people who lobby for less gun control also don’t want to pay for services that could help those who are on the brink of carrying out catastrophe. Perhaps more mindfulness is in order?
What are your thoughts?