in Adverse (side) effects, Reviews: Books and Stuff

Connection Between Intensive Meditation & Mental Instability

Photo by Moyan Brenn, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Photo by Moyan Brenn, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Is there a connection between intensive meditation and mental instability? How much should people risk to pierce the veil of divinity itself?

In A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment, investigative journalist and anthropologist Scott Carney unravels riveting accounts of Westerners obsessed with Eastern spiritual teachings. In gripping narrative, Carney delves into the characters of people obsessed with “enlightenment” to the brink that pushes them into insanity.

This post is my review of an absorbing book:

A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment, Scott Carney, Gotham/Penguin Books: NY:NY, Hardcover, 2015

a death on diamond mountain skeptic meditations

“Ian Thorson was well known only briefly in Buddhist circles, and more so for the unusual circumstances around his death than for any of the actions in his life. Looked at from one perspective, his plunge toward enlightenment is an obvious case of madness. Yet lurking in the shadows of the cave where he died are clues about the idiosyncratic reasons Americans have adapted Eastern mysticism to their own ends. More important, Thorson’s own self-sacrifice begs the question, How much is too much to risk for a chance to pierce the veil of divinity itself?” p 13

Path to Enlightenment Fraught with Danger?

On the morning of April 22, 2012 a thirty-eight year old Stanford student, Ian Thorson, died of dysentery and dehydration on a remote Arizona mountain top during his intensive quest for enlightenment. After Thorson’s demise, Carney was struck by how Thorson’s tragic death was similar to the suicide of a young woman he traveled to India with for a silent meditation retreat.

The unorthodox Buddhist teachings of Western Lama Geshe Michael Roach, and his ex-wife Lama Christie McNally, took on a grim reality that culminated during an intensive meditation retreat when Ian Thorson died in McNally’s arms while hiding in a cave to achieve enlightenment1.

Lama Geshe Michael Roach explained that “…Doing yoga for four hours a day or five hours a day; it’s not fun. And it’s not a joke. It’s a life-or-death attempt to become a being who can serve all living creatures before you die”. p 132

Using Thorson’s tragic spiritual journey as a springboard, Carney investigates how the promise of “enlightenment” pushes some people to forsake the world around them and risk their lives and sanity.

Striking parallels with the meditation cult I followed

Reading A Death on Diamond Mountain reminded me of my own decades-long spiritual quest with an Eastern meditation guru. I had forsaken the world, family, all–to obtain the guru promised spiritual liberation. In my obsession to pursue enlightenment, I escaped to the cloistered monastic community on top of Mount Washington that overlooked the jagged skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles2.

Eyal Richter, untitled, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Eyal Richter, untitled, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

There are striking parallels between the cult of yoga meditation that I followed and the tragic obsessions with enlightenment recounted in A Death on Diamond Mountain.    

In upcoming posts I will examine these parallels with dangerous spiritual obsessions, such as Thorson’s in his unorthodox Buddhist cult, with certain spiritual diseases, and with the psychic costs and madness I witnessed while I was a monk for fourteen years in the Self-Realization Fellowship yoga meditation cult.

Students of yoga meditation and Eastern spirituality, or any person concerned about the risks on the path to enlightenment, owe it to themselves to read this absorbing book, A Death on Diamond Mountain.  

The final sentence of the book is, “Only the curious will learn what happened here”. Unfortunately, many serious devotees lack interest in learning about the risks of intensive meditation. Worse, they deny risks. Many people obsessed with the quest for spiritual awakening are in danger of abuse and mental instability.

A Death on Diamond Mountain is an engrossing investigative story that reveals how an obsessive quest for enlightenment is riddled with danger.


1 Here’s an ABC News video on the tragic events that led to the death of Ian Thorson and the reactions from his stunned, angered family: Buddhist Yoga Retreat Death Raises Questions on Ariz. Monk’s ‘Enlightenment’ Preaching

2 Read my Monasticism index of posts for many of the experiences and examinations I had within the Monastic Order of Self-Realization Fellowship.

Leave a Reply


  1. We also have examples of death by Christianity — people so stuck on proving God will take care of them (and their children), that they forego medical care. Fanatic pursuit of mythical Divine power can be deadly in any religion — mystical or legalistic or devotional or …

    It is great that the author of this book and folks like yourself are exposing the dangers of these groups — “cults” or orthodox.

  2. Why are some of us so eager to abandon ourselves to someone else’s way of thinking? Is it because we are so frightened to stand alone and face ourselves and the world? I wonder if one has to initially be insecure enough to do something so drastic as to ignore one’s own common sense and logic. Perhaps those faculties are already impaired. At the same time, we all want to be free from pain and fear, so we are easy bait for these cunning hucksters promising enlightenment and bliss. Maybe these hucksters are caught in their own web of illusions, too, unaware of the idiocy they are spreading.

  3. Your questions, Uwsboi14, are worthwhile to pursue. I hope we can explore these questions and human characteristics in further discussions.

    We humans are trained by our parents, society, organizations, and religion to be obedient to authority. Yet, not all authority leads to destruction nor self-distrust. It’s too easy to want simple answers and hope someone will tell us we are on the right track. Myself included. Developing critical-thinking and being a healthy skeptic arms us against shams and hucksters.

    Thanks for your comments.

  4. Willowby Britton has been conducting research into this issue for some time now:

    There’s been rumors of this kind of thing being common with TM for the past 40-50 years, culminating in the recent finding that since 2007, the number of suicides amongst meditators in the TM community skyrocketed:

    Of course, the article glosses over two important facts:

    prior to 2007, as far as I know, suicides were in the normal range in Iowa, and 2007 was when it become obvious that TM-founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was about to die, as his last public appearance made abundantly clear:

    Other factors may have contributed as well.

    ON the flipside, Prudence (Dear Prudence) Farrow had a song written about her because she was spending up to 5 days in her room meditating, forgetting to eat, and neglecting any other basic physical needs (smelly room I imagine). And yet, she recently published her PhD Thesis for her Sanskrit PhD from Berkley: and has been giving interviews and talks about spirituality and appears to have survived her excesses with TM just fine:

  5. Good to see your back commenting, saijanai: I have linked to Britton Lab on the sidebar on this website. I will check out the other four links you provided, including the hour long movie of Prudence. Seems like some interesting perspectives on TM.

    Regarding your statement “[Prudence] appears to have survived her excesses with TM just fine”. That sounds apologetic, as in trying to defend that it was “worth” the risk of insanity or mental instability. If that’s your stand, please feel free to explain succinctly. Also, if that is your stand, what about those persons, like Thorson, who don’t survive or stay diseased/insane?

    Thanks for your comments

  6. THere’s bound to be people who fail-to-thrive or are even injured by any practice, no matter how benign it might be for most people. The TM organization screens for such people indirectly via the fee they charge, and there ARE TM teachers trained specifically to handle people who have had PTSD-levels of stress, but they are still rare apparently.

    That said, if something is harming you, don’t do it. Even TM teachers, after much teeth-pulling, will tell you that.

    The last resort for handling issues that may arise due to TM is to reduce meditation time. The “nuclear option” is to simply stop doing TM at all, but most of the time, at least from their perspective, the alternatives are sufficient:

    more rest after practice, more activity after practice, more rest before practice (better sleeping patterns, mainly), and if all else fails, reduce meditation time.

    if the above don’t work, then reduce meditation time to zero, at least for a while, but that’s reserved for extreme cases, as I understand it (disclosure: not a TM teacher).

  7. @saijanai: Fair enough. I compare your statement to the Fair Balance disclosure statement required by the FDA for consumer ads for prescription drugs.

    The promotional ads for drugs must disclose that the product has contraindications, warnings, precautions, adverse reactions, interactions, dosing instructions and conditions of use and directs the patient to stop use if x symptoms occur and to consult immediately a physician.

    I know that meditation is not an FDA approved drug but I’m just pointing out that many claims are made about the benefits of meditation (to treat medical and psychological conditions) without full disclosure of the warnings and adverse reactions, and so on. I know not everyone has the same reactions to meditation. Though at least one study by Kornfield (I cited the study in my blog post “Unusual experiences” of mindfulness) suggests that 80% of meditation practitioners have atypical and/or adverse reactions associated with meditation practice.

    Cheers and thanks for stopping by.

  8. TM studies are mainly made by supporters and practitioners of the TM organisation. What most people never see are the independent studies done on it by outsider groups, which tend to completely refute the former’s claims.

    Moreover, people that are born again in Christ have no psychological issues whatsoever, compared to every other form of spirituality. That is a fact. Even casualties of severe damage by meditation practices who are born again in Jesus find their problems go away.

    The purpose of all spiritual practices except Christ are altered states of consciousness that supposedly lead to “enlightenment” but generally lead to the insane asylum, homelessness and psychosis, states of dissociation that are unhealthy, demonic possession, physical problems and soul death. All of these spiritual practices generate a temporary “high” like drugs do and the cumulative come down effects are seriously bad indeed.

    Actual, authentic, real and lasting happiness and peace do not ever, EVER, come from meditative or trance experiences. Self imposed hypnotically engendered beliefs that some meditative high produces happiness are a thick crust of poop that covers over a deeply unhappy person that is still a seeker, no matter what they claim to the contrary.

    If your happiness depends upon getting some buzz high, and attempting to sustain it for the rest of your life, you had better reconsider everything. Drugs produce no happiness at all.

  9. @SkepticMeditations

    The disclosure thing is only possible because pharmaceuitical companies fund their own research to look at thousands of subjects in order to get FDA approval.

    The largest TM study to date had 100+ people in the experimental and control groups. In order to go from anecdotes to statistically significant findings for side-effects, TM studies would have to be 10x larger.

    That non-significant-results study we discussed earlier,, was only half the size the original design called for. The section on adverse effects noted:

    Adverse events<i>

    No participants in the control group reported an adverse event. Five participants in the TM group reported a total of eight adverse events. In 7 (88 %) cases, adverse events were short-lived (≤3 h duration). Adverse events were of moderate intensity in five (67 %) cases, mild intensity in one (13 %) case, and severe (i.e. sciatica) in one (13 %) case. In all reports, participants believed the event ‘possibly’ related to TM. Events were primarily neurological in nature, with one report each of headache, neck and shoulder pain, anger, restless feet, pins and needles, sciatica and blurred vision. No adverse events necessitated referral to a health professional, with 4 (50 %) cases requiring conservative action only (e.g. change of position, distraction, relaxation), 3 (38 %) cases requiring no action, and one case (13 %) necessitating single administration of a mild analgesic.<i>

    In the above cases, the precaution would be…

    Warning<b>: Research shows that sitting too long in one position during the practice of TM can cause muscle cramps similar to that found in people sitting to long in one position doing anything else.<i>

    As I said, to get anything reliable to report, you’d need at least 10x as many people involved in the study, and probably 50-100x as many people involved in the above study, or about 1,000 subjects. And this, in a field where 200 subjects is considered huge.

  10. @ David:
    “Moreover, people that are born again in Christ have no psychological issues whatsoever,…”
    That was hilarious! I don’t know what world you live in. But as an ex-Christian, and a person who reads the news and has many acquaintances and friends who are Christian, I can tell you that data does not back you up.

    But I imagine you will attempt the “No True Scottsman Fallacy”: Well, if they have psychological problems, then they must not be truly “born again”.

    I do agree that the false sanctity of “I am a mediator” can be used as a covering for deep psychological issues, but similarly “I am Christian” can and is often used the same way.

  11. Sabio, it is easy to selectively quote someone and present it out of context in order to argue against a point that wasn’t made that way originally. For example, I previously wrote that meditation leads to psychological problems. Clearly, that is different to saying that a person (ANYBODY) has or doesn’t have psychological issues. I’m sure you know a lot of “born again” Christians that have psychological issues. In fact, almost everybody does. Totally different meaning.

    Either that, or I should have been extra super careful when I worded my previous response.

    As for an “ex-Christian” I used to be one of those, too. Suffice it to say, I know the difference better than most people and especially than people that were born into a Christian family, tried it out as a child, went to College and turned to Eastern mysticism and meditation.

  12. @ david
    Yes, I quoted you. So, when you said, “Moreover, people that are born again in Christ have no psychological issues whatsoever,…” — are you now telling us that this in NOT true?

    Yes, I was born into a superficially Christian family. I deconverted at 14 years old and then personally came to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior at 17 years old. I deconverted after leaving college, btw. So I might know both sides better than you’d comfortably like to imagine.

    So, do you think that Christians can have as many psychological problems as Hindus or Buddhists?
    Do you think being “born again through Jesus” protects from psychological problems?

  13. @saijanai: I agree with you that it is critical to note funders of the studies and the “interests” of the researchers and the publishers of the findings. All humans have biases. My intent, on this site, is to attempt a smart, intelligent analysis using critical thinking before coming to half-baked, hasty, erroneous conclusions.

    Many, if not most, of the Transcendental Meditation studies (most meditation studies) are conducted by researchers who themselves have a conflict of interest and are funded by meditation advocates. Similar to pharma pushing drugs, we ought to expect claims to accompany adverse effects. Indeed, most clinical studies of meditation I’ve reviewed do show adverse effects. The trouble is that the public and media latch onto and hype only the benefits and seldom caution about the risks and side effects of intensive meditation.

  14. @David: I agree with you “TM studies are mainly made by supporters and practitioners of the TM organisation.” I’m not convinced though of your claim that “most people never see the independent studies done by outsider groups…”.

    I agree and think you are onto something about intensive meditation often acts like a “drug” and induces trances, bliss “buzzes”, and hallucinations. See my post on Depersonalization and Derealization. Anecdotally, from my experiences and observations of 100s of intensive meditators the practice of meditation often can be equated to a kind of “drug” used to escape or numb the pain of real life. That sometimes has its value, just like drugs that are not abused have value in stabilizing or helping in some cases.

    I appreciate that you care to comment in our discussions. What is sadly missing from many of your comment’s claims is evidence or citations of studies or findings. A link, a citation, something, anything to substantiate claims will add credibility to your assertions or arguments.

    I don’t know where to begin with your assertions that born again Christians have some advantage or benefits over meditators. You’d have to provide some substance or citations as I noted in my paragraph above.

    @Sabio: Excellent point of clarification, when you said: “I do agree that the false sanctity of “I am a mediator” can be used as a covering for deep psychological issues, but similarly “I am Christian” can and is often used the same way”.

    Thanks for your contributions to our discussions.

  15. @saijanai: Thanks for sharing the link to the tragic but fascinating suicidal tendencies in the TM town in Iowa Suicide in Fairfield: Iowa town struggles with mental health awareness.

    I read the article and it reminded me of the pressure the monks felt to be perfect and the psychoses that resulted, from all the meditation and striving for perfection.

    As a former ordained meditation monk of 14 years in Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order, I experienced such shame, guilt, and fear of not living up to the perfection of the divine examples of the gurus, saints, and senior disciples. The psychological damage can be irreversible and dozens of monastics had psychotic breakdowns, including myself on one occasion.

  16. Sabio,

    I thought I already made it clear what I meant. Let me try to rephrase it again.

    I didn’t mean to say that Christians do not have psychological issues.
    I meant to say that being born again usually doesn’t have any of the damaging effects that meditation practices usually end up having.

    Is that clear?

    I’m interested in your conversion and deconversion experiences. Why did you deconvert? And did you take up any other spiritual practice after that?

  17. Hi Scott,
    Probably my laziness, but I should perhaps use better wording in the future.
    I meant to say that people that promote TM usually cite research done by the TM org and conveniently leave out independent researchers conclusions that might not agree with the data they are promoting. Usually, independent research shows things like “TM is no more effective than simply sitting still and closing the eyes for half an hour”. Or the Herbert Benson “relaxation response” produces the same effects. Or that there are detrimental effects from TM.
    For reference, I would cite “Flim Flam” by James Randi, in a chapter on TM; and the skeptic’s dictionary citation under TM that links to a paper by a skeptic called Barry (Beyerstein? I forget if that was his surname). The latter is a kind of long essay on meditation in general with some additional information about vitamins and other alternative health methods. I hope it is still available online, as it presented quite detailed analysis of TM compared to simple relaxation and other meditation methods. Also, there is a section on meditation in The Skeptic Encyclopedia published by MIchael Shermer’s org. For adverse effects of TM, I would cite “falling down the rabbit hole”, which is an online website anti TM, and also Dave Hunt’s book, “The Occult Invasion”.

    I didn’t comment on the possible beneficial aspects of medical drugs. I simply stated that the adverse effects of meditation resemble detrimental illegal drug usage that produces a buzz or high and that this cannot be equated with true and lasting happiness.
    I didn’t assert that born again Christians have an advantage over meditators. I simply pointed out that born again Christians do not have detrimental effects as a result of being born again, like meditation practices clearly do.

    Sabio compared meditators with “I am Christian” as both harboring psychological issues. I don’t and didn’t disagree with this. However, “I am Christian” is a million miles different to a person being a born again Christian.

    It would take way too long for me to give citations and references detailing the born again Christian paradigm in comparison with the detrimental effects of meditation practices, drug usage, hypnosis, mediumship and so on and so forth. A good place to start, though, would be looking into the works of John Ankerberg and biting your own tongue to stop your brain from overheating due to the Christ centric flush of the belief system he adopts. That, and I believe that real interest in anything I mentioned would include personal research of your own and not needing to rely on citations all the time. I’m sorry if I appear lazy in that regard, but I am quite fed up with the whole “cite your sources” thing as if my opinion is somehow assumed to be incorrect from the get go.

  18. @ David,

    Thank you for clarifying. Here are a few follow-up questions to your comments.

    (1) Can “Following” Jesus do Harm?
    But are you saying that the momentary “born-again” experience does not have any damaging effects — in that moment. Or being a “born-again” Christian does not have any damaging effects?

    I imagine you agree that born-again Christians can have devastating psychological issues. But the unanswered questions are if you think that “knowing Jesus as their personal savior” protects them from that. Or where do you think psychological problems come from that born-agains have (whether is it pedophilia, porn-addiction, drug-addiction, personality disorders or the like?)

    (2) “Real” Christians

    David, as I spoke above of the “No True Scotsman Fallacy” — you are familiar with it, right?

    Commenting to Scott you said, “However, “I am Christian” is a million miles different to a person being a born again Christian.”

    This hints at that fallacy. Such that, if you found a self-proclaiming Christian to have psychological problems, you quickly either discount the problem as either:
    (a) they don’t have a correct relationship with Jesus (they have turned away from Jesus, they are not trusting Jesus etc…)
    (b) they aren’t really a Christian
    (c) they have let demons or the devil into their life

    I am curious how you make your story about Jesus and the born-again status safe from any unhealthy issues.

  19. @ David> – concerning my deconversion,
    One of the reason I started blogging is because I was arguing against atheists on their websites (upset with their misrepresentation of religion and Christians in particular). So instead of leaving long comments on their posts, I would write the ideas I use over-and-over in a post and link to it. I had no desire to repeat myself over and over. Likewise, later, I started doing that for Christian bloggers too, then new agers and Buddhist and lots of others (over the years). But don’t get me wrong, many of my post are criticizing myself — which I feel is very healthy.

    Anyway, you asked about my deconversion. Here are a few posts that begin to touch on that very complicated subject. Feel free to comment there — I keep comment threads open.

    In Jesus’ Name: My Deconversion

    Hinduism was my Undoing

    My Pathetic Deconversion: Failed Christian Exceptionalism

    My Confessions: This will help you to see that it is not only Jesus that I left behind. You will see my foibles clearly here.

  20. PS, david:

    “Spiritual Practice” is an interesting phrase. Since I no longer believe in a spooky other world or a soft fuzzy better plain or some celestial dimension (or demonic realm), I thus also no longer think in terms of “spiritual” anything. BUT, and this is my gripe against many atheists, if I translate the word “spiritual” in “spiritual practice” to mean “psychological” or “self-reflective” or “interpersonal” or “emotional” or the like, I feel the answer is important. Because I think many religious folks are doing important good practices even though they are dressing them in their own fictional theology. Likewise, may religion-free folks (agnostics, atheists and apathetics) can criticize religion without seeing these potential benefits while themselves, perhaps, not build practices to nurture the items I mention above.

    But to be direct with part of the intent of your question, yes, I practice Zen and Yoga meditation. But I no longer did bhakti practice (emotional worship of the divine) — like Vaishnavite Hinduism (worshiping Krishna, Ram or others), any devotional Buddhism, Sufism, or such — though I read on them extensively, visited their temples and saw the similarities to many flavors of Christianity. I came to see tons of problems in all of these (meditation included) and write of them on my blog).

    But I continued self-reflection, observation, self-doubt, forgiveness, generosity and other practices in my own feeble way. Sure, they aren’t tied to a religion or spirit thinking, but you’ll have to decide if those should be considered “spiritual” (or of any value whatsoever if not helped by your Jesus).

    Does that help?

    PSS David:
    Consider reading this post (Build an About Page) to motivate you to starting your own blog so we can learn more about you by clicking a link in your name — if not more. It would facilitate meaningful dialogue significantly.

  21. @David: Thanks for sharing some references that could help us understand your argument or assertions you made in earlier comments. I was not aware of some of those sources you cited and will check them out.

    The reason I would ask for citations or references is two-fold: 1) when assertions, arguments, or claims being made don’t seem substantiated by evidence; OR 2) arguments or assertions are not coherent, can’t be understood when using reason or logic.

    Hope this makes sense. Organized comments that readers can follow and make sense of (without having to rely on “faith”) are much appreciate. Thanks for your contributions to our discussions.

  22. @SketpicMeditations

    You say:

    Many, if not most, of the Transcendental Meditation studies (most meditation studies) are conducted by researchers who themselves have a conflict of interest and are funded by meditation advocates. Similar to pharma pushing drugs, we ought to expect claims to accompany adverse effects. Indeed, most clinical studies of meditation I’ve reviewed do show adverse effects. The trouble is that the public and media latch onto and hype only the benefits and seldom caution about the risks and side effects of intensive meditation.

    Well, there are a few studies funded by believers, but most are funded by public sources like the NIH and virtually all the TM studies on hypertension were funded by NIH grants (to the tune of $20 million). The American Heart Association didn’t make its recommendation by reviewing believer-funded pilot studies. To find out more, contact lead author Robert Brook. It’s easy enough to find his email address and he’ll respond to reasonable emails, or such has been my experience.

    And which “most clinical studies” have you reviewed? There are darned few out there on any meditation practice.

    And 20 minutes, 2x a day, is hardly “intense” meditation.

    That is all the rank-and-file TMer ever does, except during retreats, where practice is still limited to perhaps 4-6x per day instead of 2, and meditators are taught simple yoga asanas to perform between sessions.

    And even in the most intense teaching retreats, such as the 8-week-long TM-Sidhis class, we still didn’t meditate more than a few hours a day, and many of us slept most of that time. In fact, sleeping was so common throughout the 8 weeks, that we were told to bring blankets and pillows and camp out in the back of the room if we felt a need to sleep during the busy-work lecture period where we listened to random (usually) videos of Maharishi after lunch and after dinner.

    The days of Prudence Farrow’s 5-day meditation marathons were over for several years before I learned in 1973. By then, the 4x/day retreat structure had been devised, which still only works out to less than 90 minutes of TM per day, and again, only during supervised retreats and many/most people find that they end up falling asleep during mucho f their extra meditation periods.

    By the way, for your amusement, this is a video of a Colombian Scouting Jamboree, Father Gabriel Mejia style:

    The “money shot” is 2:14 seconds in since I don’t think wordpress supports URL frames;

  23. @saijanai: I stand corrected by you about my generalizations about funding. I know precious little about all the studies and am gradually learning more about them.

    Too many, if not “most”, of the studies are poorly conducted (no controls or poor controls, etc) and the meta-studies of the best clinical tests indicate thus far that–Meditation Not Better than Drugs or Exercise, Study Finds.

    Meditation has benefits. Some studies demonstrate that. But we should be cautious in encouraging patients to use meditation as an alternative therapy unless we also provide the risks and adverse reactions that may occur with practitioners. Not everyone is as level-headed with their expectations of meditation as you seem to be!

    I bookmarked the videos and articles you shared and will check them out.

  24. @saijanai: I just finished watching the YouTube video you shared: SOULJOURNS – PRUDENCE FARROW BRUNS, HER LIFE WITH TM AND MAHARISHI MAHESH YOGI. (Prudence that was the subject of the Beatles song, “Dear Prudence”).

    What struck me while watching this video interview of Prudence:

      * Prudence says as a child and teen was starved of attention/affection from her parents (her mom and dad were famous movie directors and actors);
      * When she was a young teen her father “lost everything”: his job, his wealth, and had a stroke when she was a young teen;
      * Her father was an alcoholic, had health complications from stroke, and died when Prudence was aged 15 and at that time she had a “spiritual experience”, she sought sense and meaning in escaping into god and meditation.

    I identify with Prudence’s tragic childhood and subsequent quest for meaning in intensive meditation.

    In a recent post, I confessed Think & Grow Rich Gurus about my tragic family life as a teen:

    After lifesaving brain surgery, Dad would have intermittent seizures. In his paranoid hallucinations he’d demand that our family of four pack our belongings into the car so we could flee to the mountains for the end of the world. In early morning hours, the police might call. Dad had to be picked-up at the police station. He’d walked for miles in his pajamas and had been found on top of a neighbor’s parked car, yanking the wiper blades, and ranting about the end of the world.

    It was during a period of these events, when I was age 15, that I read a book I’d found in my Dad’s library. The book contained the laws of success that altered my impressionable life when it said: [we come from the Great School of Masters…]

    If I may ask you a personal question, what was your relation or family life like in your formative years? Any tragic events or loss of parental affection that may’ve directly or indirectly led you to seek a guru or enlightenment in intensive meditation?


  25. @ Scott (SM),
    Interestingly, religious folks use the “You had a bad Father” argument all the time to try and tell Atheists that the reason for their disbelief in our Heavenly Father is because of a poor Earthly father.
    Bad up bringing causes bad beliefs — hhhhhmmmmmm — easy attack

  26. @Sabio,
    Maybe you’re right. Though I wasn’t actually thinking that “bad upbringing causes bad beliefs”. My query is more subtle than that.

    I’m interested in exploring how possibly:
    * How does extensive lack of attention from a parent(s) play in the lives of devotees who use intensive meditation to alleviate suffering?
    * How much may upbringing or lack thereof contribute to a person being vulnerable to the authority of god-like, charismatic persons or gurus?
    * How much does crises play into the authorities promise there is an end to sorrow/pain, freedom from pain through their brand of enlightenment/salvation, or finding of comfort in intensive meditation practices that promise enlightenment.

    At the moment, I don’t have a clearer expose’ or argument. I have read and researched cults. As far as I remember, crises often do contribute to a person’s tendency to be embrace religious or comforting answers from god-like personalities. It seems exceptional, though probable, that a crisis could also lead a person to be an atheist out of clear rational and critical-thinking that finds lack of evidence for god claims. Not because the atheist is angry at god, which seems to be atheism based on irrational thinking.

    I’d be curious to hear what you think caused you personally to intensely seek enlightenment in the days your were on your own intensive “spiritual” quest? Obviously there are many variables but often there is an event that triggers or environment that nurtures such “theistic” or “esoteric” beliefs.


  27. @ Scott

    You remember my allergy to the word “cult” — all to say, religion systems and other groups (gangs, for instance) offer authority that people crave for. Many forms of Christianity (even non-cult versions) offer authority — I have much experience there. And it does not require “god-like” personalities only — even structure itself can act like that.

    As for me, I have always been an explorer — your can read my conversion story for more– but I have ALWAYS be allergic to authority and thus never got trapped.

  28. I’ll check out the TM critical site, Red. Please tell me a little about yourself. What is your particular persuasion or background and what brings you here? Thanks for your comments.

  29. @Red, @SkepticMeditations

    From the “Rabbit Hole” website: “Conclusion
    Heavy participation in TM is a formula for psychological destruction. ”

    On the other hand, here is a different perspective:

    Conclusion: Heavy participation in TM is a formula for being hailed as the most respected living national leader in Africa.

    (I can cherry pick too)

  30. I was probably one of the first people to jump on the mindfulness bandwagon in 2012, and one of the first to jump right off it again. No formal religious/spiritual/psychological training; just one of the everyday people to whom mindfulness and meditation are frequently recommended as a “cure for what ails ye.” Now I’ve become interested in learning more about the downside of it.

  31. @saijanai: I realize you are trying to counter Reds statement about some adverse effects of TM. Where we are coming from is examining the overwhelming majority of news and media articles exaggerate and over-emphasize the benefits of meditation.

    Few articles or media outlets examine the adverse-effects or the destructive-side to intensive meditation practices. That’s what we are discussing here. Looking at the other, “hidden” side. I’m not against meditation or any particular human invented technique of practice. I don’t see meditation as either beneficial or harmful, just like sleep or sex is neither always beneficial or harmful. However, on balance, I believe that practiced by a rational, emotionally stable person meditation is going to be beneficial in moderation.


  32. @saijanai,

    I was trying to contribute to the discussion. Interestingly, I did so without being hostile to anyone. So much for the idea that meditating automatically makes people more kind, polite, and compassionate.

  33. Hey Red,
    I read SaiJanai’s comment and don’t see any unkindness or rudeness. Did I miss something.
    I really appreciated your link to the Rabbit Hole site, btw.
    And I also agree that meditation does not guarantee kindness any more than “having Jesus in your heart” is a guarantee in any way.

  34. The words “I can cherry pick too” did not come across well.

    Glad the link was of use. I mean, recently I read that a pharma company (Eli Lilly, I think), repeatedly withheld data about dangerous side effects from its antidepressants and overstated efficacy. I feel that the same has been done with meditation (and, while we’re at it, some talk therapies as well). Only when people have access to all the info on something, both good and bad, can they make the right choice for themselves. So I think it’s good to paint a balanced picture.

  35. @SkepticMeditations
    If I may ask you a personal question, what was your relation or family life like in your formative years? Any tragic events or loss of parental affection that may’ve directly or indirectly led you to seek a guru or enlightenment in intensive meditation?


    Why do you assume I engage in “intensive” meditation?

    For the first 11 years of my 42 years meditating, I did TM 2x per day, 20 minutes each session. After I learned TM, I did TM + TM-Sidhis for 2x 45 minutes each session., and that includes a 10 minute rest period lying down (often napping) after Yogic Flying. 20 minutes x 2 or 35 minutes x 2 is hardly “intensive meditation.”

    My family history, while not remotely that of the Ozzie and Hariet Nelson variety, is hardly so extreme as to be characterized as “tragic” -“sad,” perhaps, but hardly movie-of-the-week levels.

    Any “excess” meditation that I end up engaging in is due to the nature of TM and my ongoing physical condition, which is exceedingly stressful. In such a situation, one may find that one falls asleep or otherwise loses track of time due to the nature of how TM and similar practices work. But that’s due to my chronic, life-threatening illness that I’ve had for the last 18 months, which generates enough stress hormones (according to my physician) that it is affecting all my blood tests.

    Even with all that, my blood pressure remains in the normal range of 125/75, which is quite good for a 60-year-old who is 170 lbs overweight.

  36. @saijanai: Thanks for sharing. I should’ve defined what I meant by “intensive”. By intensive meditation, I mean intensity, strong intention to get the promised results of the practice. I don’t mean necessarily the duration or length of practice, although in my experience the most intense devotees of meditation are often the ones who practice the techniques for the longest on occasion.

    Also, by intensity I meant surrender or focus on the lingering after-effects of meditation practice–from feelings of peace to depersonalization-derealization. Intense commitment to the authority of the guru or spiritual teacher who provides the meditation methods, etc. All these aspects I implied in my reference to “intense” meditation practices.

    I didn’t know you were in an “exceedingly stressful” situation and going through health challenges. Hope you feel better soon.


  37. @Red

    I meant to imply that the website you were citing was cherry-picking data.

    As I pointed out earlier, the TM community in Fairfield, IA has experienced a dramatic uptick in suicides since 2007, but in fact, as far as I know, meditation patterns in the TM community haven’t changed much in teh past 38 years (that being when the TM-Sidhis were introduced, effectively increasing everyone’s meditation time by a factor of 2 or even 16).
    What DID change in 2007 was the impending death of TM-founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who became more and more obviously frail until his last public appearance:

    People who want to portray TM as bad will say “suicide increased for ‘unknown reasons'” and imply that TM is the culprit, but as I said, meditation-length hasn’t changed dramatically for the average TMer in Fairfield, IA since 1976, but the evidence that Maharishi wouldn’t live forever even though he implied by his rhetoric about fully enlightened individuals (which he never claimed even for his guru, BTW) that a fully enlightened person WOULD be effectively immortal.
    The only way to determine what percentage of people who practice TM might become unstable is to conduct controlled studies. TM researchers generally don’t go looking for such negative issues, but administrators of public schools do when they evaluate whether or not to continue the extremely-controversial TM program in their schools and the David Lynch Quiet TIme schools appear to be ongoing, even 8 years later, as this NBC report shows:
    And the Buddhist nuns who run this Buddhist boarding school have absolutely no reason to teach TM, a Hindu-derived practice, except it helps the kids:

  38. Spirit has no empirical proof! It’s an experience which can’t be shared. Yogananda stated “science will prove religion (Creator). Doubting Thomas’s are predisposed to be content with the world, albeit one can be so heavenly minded that they are no worldly good. I recommend “Confessions of Saint Augustine” for any seeker or any disenchanted previous seeker.

  39. @David: If nothing can be proof of Spirit or God, then neither can it be said that God exists or that he is Spirit. So I don’t get persuaded by your comments.