A recent article in a prominent online news source posits the question: Can You Be Enlightened and Neurotic at the Same Time? This begs the question, though the authors may not have considered it, of whether there is a dark side to meditation. Some western researchers as long ago as the seventies, when there was not much research out about meditation, noted what they considered negative side effects of meditation practice. The first to consider the effects of meditation were scientists, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists. The psychotherapists and psychiatrists were looking at it as an adjunct to their traditional mental health interventions. The scientists were just stepping into the new world of the mind-body connection and yogis with consummate control over their autonomic nervous system were making themselves available for study.
The author of Meditation: Self-regulation strategy and altered state of consciousness discusses some of the concerns that the psychotherapists and psychiatrists had in those early days of western consideration. Some of their observations about meditation are still relevant today. Concerning the question of whether enlightenment and neurosis can coexist, those early researchers listed some possible effects and contraindications for meditation such as:
• Feelings of dizziness
• Feelings of disassociation,
• Adverse feelings produced by the release of images and thoughts that the person was not previously aware of.
Contrary to the experiencing of lights and ecstasies that many people expect in meditation, one researcher felt that the longer an individual meditated the more likely adverse effects were to occur. These adverse effects consisted of increased anxiety, boredom, confusion, depression, and restlessness. Now these early researchers may have been being overly cautious but they concluded that a certain percentage of people would experience negative side effects from meditation, especially if they were not properly trained. For certain getting good training in meditation in Indianapolis or elsewhere should always be a primary consideration. I witnessed my own teacher, a physician and yogi trained in the ancient ways of meditation, steer a schizophrenic student away from certain types of meditation practices until they had worked extensively with the breath.
The implication being that if the person worked with their autonomic nervous system, via the gateway of the breath, bringing it into awareness, stabilizing it, then the person could move on to deeper aspects of meditation practice. The further implication of this was that working with the breath could produce a more emotionally balanced person.
Discussions on meditation in texts like the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali back up this perspective relating that not only the state of a balanced mind, but the state an imbalanced mind or disturbed mind, a neurotic mind, is reflected in the breath. In the words of the psychiatrist, and notable disciple of Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm Reich, “There is no neurotic individual who is capable of exhaling in one breath, deeply and evenly [my emphasis]. The patients have developed all conceivable practices which prevent deep expiration.”
All in all the truth might just be that an emotionally stable person cannot be neurotic, therefore a person cannot truly be neurotic and enlightened. These two things, neuroses and enlightenment, would seem to be mutually exclusive, based on the findings of one premiere way of reaching enlightenment - meditation. Having said that, and given the example of meditation teachers and hatha yogis we have seen here in the west, we should always keep considering the question of whether one can be neurotic and enlightened.