Category: New Age Religion

Recovering From Meditation

disassociation disorder
Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

After meditation retreat, Cleménce had a psychotic breakdown. Her panic attacks, her loss of self, were finally, through medicine, brought back to the real world.

Here is her story, reprinted with her permission1.

It’s taking me some courage to write you my story but I need to, so here we go:

My name is Cleménce. I am age 28 and a former yoga instructor originally from Paris.

In 2014, I attended a 10 day Vipassana retreat. Before the retreat I was a lively, dynamic, New Age kind-of girl. I would trip on the present moment, “connect” to my higher self, read minds, “manifest” stuff– and well, imagine things a great deal.

After my retreat, I had a psychotic breakdown. I became filled with fear, anxiety, and terror. My panic attacks were filled with a horrendous realization that I was nothing, empty, just a ghost with no heart, no personality, no feelings, no tastes–I became a no-self that I had not been warned of. My retreat instructor, when I reached out to him about my panic attacks, said to keep on meditating. I completed the retreat. When I returned home I was a psychological zombie.

Soon after, I reached out to the “spiritual community” who told me “it’s all a dream”. Hearing that made me lose my shit and my mind. My family (and I) freaked out about my zombie state and panic attacks. I saw doctors and went in to the hospital. Months later, gradually I was able to function again in the real world.

I’m now stabilizing on medications and looking for a job in my old profession, editing and communications. I had to stop all kinds of spiritual practices, including yoga and meditation. I try now to only believe in things I can actually see and touch–to keep me grounded in reality. I don’t even worship the clichéd “present moment” anymore. Ekhart Tolle makes me want to throw up.

I suffer a great deal from hatred and anger towards buddhism, mindfulness, and New Age. Even taking a deep breath reminds me of new age crap and triggers anxiety.

I wanted to reach out, say hey I’m here! And let you know that I have a project to start a website to collect stories of people who had meditation and spiritual problems–and who now tend to live a more grounded life–to connect and share resources for recovery.

Scott: I’m so glad you contacted me, Cleménce. We need more people to come out like you. People who meditate(d) that have the courage to speak of the entire range of experiences–not just the bliss-bunny, feel-good experiences–but also the unwholesome side-effects of meditation and the often accompanying supernatural belief systems steeped in delusions.

While I was an ordained Hindu-yoga monk for 14 years, I too had a nervous breakdown and panic attack while I was living in the ashram. I’ve not yet written or spoken to people about my psychotic episode in the monastery. Your sharing of your recent psychotic episode reminded me. Eventually, what caused my psychotic breakdown also led me to question the entire premises and postulations of the ashram, of god(s)), which led me towards skepticism and nonbelief in any so-called supernaturalism. I’m not angry about what happened to me. My only regret now was that I was so gullible and that I didn’t find my way out sooner.

I’m wondering if you would allow me to reprint your email “anonymously” in a blog post for interested readers.

Cleménce: Yes, I’m totally cool with being quoted anonymously.

Scott: Perhaps your story will encourage others to come out, to comment, to share with others about the full-range of personal experiences from meditation and mindfulness practice–not just sugar-coat meditation like a bunch of bliss bunnies.

Recovering from Religion I strongly recommend that persons who experience negative side-effects of meditation and/or religion seek professional medical help. Support groups, such as Recovering from Religion, may augment professional help. Please first seek the help of qualified, certified medical and psychological professionals.

1 Reprinted with permission from Cleménce. Her real name and particular details were changed so her identity remains anonymous.

Mindfulness is American Religion

buddhist americanThe mindfulness movement is an American religion, argue historians and scholars of religion.

In A Republic of Mind and Spirit, Catherine Albanese asserts that American metaphysical religion has four characteristics:

  1. a focus on the mind and its powers;
  2. concern with correspondence between the inner and the outer spheres of existence or the macrocosm and microcosm;
  3. a preference for metaphors and concepts of movement and energy;
  4. a therapeutic orientation that conceives of salvation in terms of healing.1

The mindfulness movement relates itself to all of the above metaphysical and religious concepts.

For mindfulness advocates “sin” is failure to operate in the proper mental sphere, that is to be unmindful. In Mindful America, Jeff Wilson argues that from the mindfulness advocates point of view, the evil confronting Americans is distracting devices and dangerous methods (sex, food, alcohol, and work). These temptations that we surround and surrender ourselves to result in ill-health in our bodies, relationships, institutions, and environment. The antidote, the solution to all our problems, is getting in tune with the infinitude of the present moment, being in the now, in the non-judgmental flow of the experience itself.2 In traditional Buddhism this mental state is called nirvana, and believed to be the end of suffering and beginning of salvation.

Despite the claims made by mindfulness advocates that there is no religion involved, the mindfulness movement is an expression of both Buddhism and American metaphysical religion: “it is an American Buddhist metaphysical religion”.3 Wilson argues, in Mindful America, that there is overwhelming evidence that the mindfulness movement as a whole is part of American metaphysical religion, even in its most secular and medical forms.


1 Jeff Wilson, Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture, Oxford University Press. 2014. Hardcover. p190
2 ibid p191
3 ibid p192

Top-Gro$$ing Movies Embrace Hinduism

may the force be with you
Jedi Master Yoda advertising on the London Imax Cinema, Richard Croft, CC BY-SA 2.0

Interstellar, Matrix, and Star Wars are just a few of the top-grossing blockbuster movies with Hinduism as the driving philosophy (probably without you even noticing). Why?

Interstellar’s box office total is $622,932,412 and counting. It is the eighth highest-grossing film of the year and has spawned an endless raft of thinkpieces testing the validity of its science and applauding the innovation of its philosophy. But it is not so new. The idea that propels the plot – there is a universal super-consciousness that transcends time and space, and in which all human life is connected – has been around for about 3,000 years. It is Vedic [of the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism].

Original article appeared in The Guardian

Of course, Hollywood’s eager embrace of Buddhism, yoga and other esoteric Indian systems is not new. David Lynch is an outspoken exponent of transcendental meditation, Richard Gere follows the Dalai Lama and Julia Roberts affirmed her Hinduism in the wake of Eat, Pray, Love – a movie that tells the tale of a modern American woman’s journey towards peace through Indian spiritual practises that grossed over $200m (£128.6m). Hinduism can get the tills ringing even when it urges parsimony.

“Look at the first Matrix movie,” says producer Peter Rader… “Neo achieves the abilities of the advanced yogis [Paramahansa] Yogananda described, who can defy the laws of normal reality.

“Rader’s latest movie, a documentary about Yogananda, who was among the first gurus to bring Indian mysticism to North America in the 1920s, has been a sleeper hit in the US… ‘There’s a big pent-up demand,’ thinks Rader. ‘There are a lot of closet spiritualists who are meditating, doing yoga, reading books and thinking about a bigger reality. And now they can come out and say, ‘Yes, I’m into this.’

“Spirituality is the open-secret,” says Rader. “A lot of people know that if we quieten down we can tap into a deeper power. And the movies that tap into that, like Star Wars and Interstellar, are hugely popular.”

A philosophy to which many are keen to subscribe is what makes religions successful. Movies, too.

Read the full article How movies embraced Hinduism (without you even noticing) | Film | The Guardian

Read my posts Everywhere Religion and “Lived” Religion: See “unnoticed” New Age spiritual- and religious-themes in the popular media and across global society

By examining religion everywhere we see New Age spiritualities as part of the whole “space” of religion in contemporary society. In the last 20 years, the internet and digital technology have accelerated religion “everywhere”–in the mediatized space of religion and New Age spiritualities.

Question for readers: Anything else in popular media or blockbu$ter movies that embraced Hindu themes?

New Age Spirituality

New Age Religion & Western Culture

NA Religion HanegraaffBelow is the index for my posts inspired by this excellent book:

New Age Religion and Western Culture
Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought

by Wouter J. Hanegraaff
State University of New York Press, 1998

This book is the first comprehensive analysis of New Age Religion and its historical backgrounds. The author examines New Age beliefs from the perspective of the original sources and his study of religions. He convincingly argues that the movement’s foundations were laid by western esoteric traditions during the Renaissance. Hanegraaff shows how the modern New Age movement emerged from the secularization of esoteric traditions during the nineteenth century.

s200_wouter.hanegraaffWouter Jacobus Hanegraaff (born 1961) is professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands. He served as the first President of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism from 2005 to 2013. Hanegraaff has authored 12 books and 46 academic papers on Western esotericism.

Here are my posts inspired by New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought–

Read my review and others on Amazon