SYMPOSIUM – The Dark Side of Meditation

University of Edinburgh, -, -, Scotland.


The symposium will be held at the Chrystal-Macmillan
Building, George Square, on Saturday 29 February 2020, 12.30-5.30pm.

Registration is free but tickets are limited:

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

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

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 symposium, 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.

Keynote lectures:
Dr Christine Kupfer, Social/Medical Anthropology & Education Studies,
Dr Liane Hofmann, Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental
Health (IGPP), Freiburg, Germany.
Dr Isabel Clarke, Consultant Clinical Psychologist & Spiritual Crisis
Network Director, Southampton.

Dr Andrew Watson, Chief Psychiatrist for NHS Lothian Dr Audrey Millar,
Consultant Clinical Psychologist NHS, Edinburgh Dr Kitty Wheater, Edinburgh
University Mindfulness Chaplain, Medical Anthropology, Edinburgh Isaac
Portilla, Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics (CSRP), University
of St. Andrews Richard Johnston, Director of Christian Mindfulness, Fife,

Tickets are free but there is a suggested donation of Ł5/ Ł3 (concessions)
at the venue to pay for coffee, tea and biscuits.