The Dark Side Of Meditation

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I’ve never been much of a meditator. It has always been far too intense for me.

Not all experience this, but certainly some of us do. Have you ever gone to a conference or attended a group meditation only to feel like it was all a little much? Like you wanted to run away? Like it was too intense, or too deep, and you needed to get out of there as fast as you could? Have you ever felt anxious or queasy in meditation? Or like you entered unfamiliar territory that scared the daylights out of you? If you haven’t experienced this feeling, great! If it works for you, it works for you. But if it doesn’t, that’s fine too.

Meditation can be intense.

Meditation is an act of being closer to God. The very idea of it is that if we sit in stillness we can experience Him in a way we forget about in our ordinary lives. Whether that’s through a chakra cleansing, an out of body experience, a brief moment to sit in silence, or merely counting breaths, there’s a reason people enjoy meditation—whatever they’re doing or however they’re doing it, they’re experiencing the Divine.

But just as there is light, there is dark. Just as there are good spirits, there are bad spirits. For this reason, sometimes opening those spiritual gates can feel like opening the doors to a beautiful cathedral: when you let everyone in, you get a lot of homeless people on the front steps. And sometimes that can get a little intense.

I’ve been there. I’ve meditated so intensely that scary things started to happen. As my meditation practice kicked up a notch, so did the creepiness factor. Shadows would hover over my bed when I tried to sleep at night (I wound up sleeping with a light on to try to avoid it) and I once felt as though a passed friend was lingering in my office (which totally gave me the heebie-jeebies).

For this reason I gave up meditation all together, at least in the traditional sense of the word. Through meditation we have the opportunity to “enter into the mystery of God,” something that can absolutely feel beautiful; but also something that has long been associated with dangerous territory.

Just ask the Israelites.

To the ancient Israelites, coming too close to God was considered a death sentence. Only the high priest was allowed into the “Holy of Holies”, the innermost sanctum of the temple in which it was said that God resided. Even then, he could only enter once a year, and with several safety measures in place. The priest was expected to wear bells on his feet and to be attached to a rope so that were he to lose consciousness, he could be pulled back out to safety again.

This is also why giving birth was traditionally seen as dangerous. In doing so, mothers walked perilously close to realm of life and death and often died during labor—a result, it was thought, of having stepped too far into the realm of God. For those who remembered their humanity and returned to life safely, purification was needed.

According to Jewish custom, an Israelite woman would spend 40 days in purification after the birth of a son, and 80 days in purification after the birth of a daughter. Not because she needed to be cleansed from a “dirty act” but because she needed to come back to her humanity after walking too close to the Divine. Because daughters would one day give birth, and in so doing enter into the mystery of life and death themselves, women needed far more time to purify after the birth of a daughter.

Or a priest.

For this reason, meditation isn’t for everyone. As one of my teachers, a priest, once said, “God created us as humans to protect us from the spiritual world.” There are crazy things out in the realm of the Divine. Yes there is good, and light, and love; but there is also darkness, and bad, and evil. Humanity wasn’t equipped or even meant to deal with that. We were created as humans because God lovingly wanted to spare us.

Though, in the modern world, meditation has become a primary vehicle for spiritual transformation—and many find solace in it—for those of us more sensitive to the spiritual world, that same solace may be found in our humanity. In enjoying the way we were designed for this earth, and leaving the spiritual world for the life after this one.

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