Most articles expound on the benefits of meditation, promoting it as a panacea for the majority of humanity’s mind-made ills.
Like any activity, however, even apparently healthy behaviours can sometimes be used as a psychological crutch.
Meditation is just one such example, a practice that has been co-opted by a new generation seeking to assuage their mental suffering and in many cases, simply boost their levels of productivity.
In this article, we look at why meditation is so addictive and if it’s an issue.
Why is meditation so addictive?
Perhaps you feel like you’re a slave to your thoughts and feelings, pushed and pulled unwillingly into various states of emotion, a pattern representative of the human condition.
Then you discover meditation, eager to test the practice for its purported benefits and possible liberation from your inner demons. A mental reprieve of you like.
For those who’ve never experienced the sensation of stepping back from their thoughts and observing the machinations of the mind, it can be an intoxicating feeling.
Often the inner peace generated by the practice is enough incentive to continue. And although the positive effects of the practice can be subtle at first, they can become more pronounced with deeper practice, birthing many lifelong meditators.
But are there any issues with excessive meditation?
Is excessive meditation an issue? 4 warning signs
Sometimes and sometimes not. Buddhist monks meditate for multiple hours a day under supervision, forming a devout and culturally accepted practice.
For the layperson, however, it largely depends on the reasons for meditating.
1. Results-based mindset
What was the preserve of monks on a journey toward enlightenment has transcended borders through technology and is now available to the masses.
Meaning that the reason for people meditating has also shifted.
Meditation seems to be increasingly sold to corporate America as a way to improve mental health (and implied productivity) of its employees.
So too, employees themselves have bought into the concept and meditate for the expected rewards – greater happiness, concentration and output.
However, in seeking to attain specific results from their practice, meditating more becomes an act of seeking rather than finding.
The desire to attain a specific result is always just outside of reach, the answer to which is always (frustratingly), more meditation.
Meditation, when over-used, can easily become a form of escapism as we seek temporary refuge from a chaotic, uncertain world.
The simple stillness and peace we encounter during sitting can become its own craving in disguise, a way of imposing order on outer uncertainty.
There’s a certain feeling that if life seems intolerable, then the antidote is more mind training in the form of meditation.
So we retreat into the safety of our meditation room and perfect practice, an artificial buffer from the dirty business of living.
3. Exclusion of unwanted emotions
The above is a retreat from the world of externals, but so too, some types of focussed mediation unwittingly seek to dismiss certain emotions by fixating single-mindedly on the object of concentration, such as the breath.
Unobserved and unprocessed thoughts and feelings soon build, and can easily express themselves elsewhere when overlooked.
By focussing too much on an object of meditation rather than stepping back and observing all mental phenomena, good or bad, it’s easy to repress certain thoughts and emotions that arise in other areas of life.
4. Falling into the ‘spiritual trap’
Finally, some meditators may fall into the trap of remaking themselves as a ‘spiritual person’, essentially another ego-driven expression of identity and self-perception.
In this way, the act of meditation becomes more an act of image crafting and gaining social kudos from engaging in the practice.
The emergence of an increasing number of meditation communities may foster such hidden elements of competition as and the scoring of social points through dedicated practice.
What happens when you meditate too much?
There are studies that demonstrate unwanted events or adverse effects during meditation.
Additionally – these adverse effects can be more prevalent in longer-term meditators (although note that this study only included 27 participants). This finding also replicates Otis’s earlier finding that the adverse-effects of meditation (Transcendental Meditation) were stronger in 18-month meditators than in 3-6 month meditators, and even teacher trainers of TM with an average of 46.7 months practice, continued to report the same adverse effects. In this study, 75% of subjects with 105 months meditation experience reported adverse effects, compared to 40% of those with 16.7 months experience.
Further, rather than adverse effects decreasing based on length of practice, there is an increase in the percentage of those who reported adverse effects based on the length of practice.
Although these results aren’t purported to be time-frame specific, it’s clear that meditation isn’t always appropriate in every situation.
Anyone experiencing these unwanted events should therefore seek qualified assistance before meditating more.
From an anectodal perspective, excessive meditation (using certain techniques) may result in avoidance behaviours, serving to prolong the inevitable confrontation of painful or upsetting decisions and experiences.
It’s also easy to become frustrated by a seeming lack of progress. If you’re meditating for particular benefits or results and the evidence of improvement isn’t forthcoming, practitioners often feel they’re not ‘trying’ hard enough.
The tendency is, therefore, to meditate more and meditate harder, leading to a vicious cycle of anxiety and self-recrimination.
How much should you meditate?
The million-dollar question.
If you’re new to meditation, like any new exercise, you should allow yourself to accommodate to the practice, rather than spending 8 hours in constant self-reflection.
Even 5 minutes will be enough to familiarise yourself with the practice and experiment with various techniques.
As long as you don’t experience any adverse reactions, you can increase your exposure to meditation and mindfulness.
A sweet spot for many meditators tends to be 30 minutes of formal sitting, which can be practiced once or twice a day, time permitting.
Ensure, as part of this, you’re experiencing different types of meditation techniques, from breath meditation to body scans and non-dual meditation to loving-kindness.
Observe all the phenomena which arise, whether subjectively good or bad.
Finally, try not to limit yourself to sitting practice. Meditation and mindfulness are not meant to be isolated practices, so try to actually include them in your life.
Regularly weave mini-moments of mindfulness throughout your day.
- Rather than seeking a specific result, focus on the process instead.
- Screen for any adverse effects or unwanted events – and seek professional guidance if needed.
- Like any new exercise, start small and build up.
- Make meditation and mindfulness a way of life rather than a compartmentalized practice, using mini moments of self-reflection.