The potential negative effects of Eastern types of meditation have been known for decades, if not hundreds of years. I applaud psychologists Drs. Farias and Wikholm for taking an objective, balanced view and going against the spin of the “mindfulness” movement. They both have done extensive research and have deep knowledge of the field. Although they take a more secular, spiritually sanitized, approach toward yoga and meditation, I highly recommend their book “The Buddha Pill.” They do an excellent job of summarizing the often poorly controlled research into the effects of mediation as well as sharing several anecdotal cases of some of its disastrous outcomes.
I am very heartened that the authors have chosen to go against the grain as the mindfulness movement picks up steam as a therapeutic alternative to other forms of therapy. One of the most important subtleties that the authors raise is whether this Buddhist approach of “mindfulness” meditation is short-circuiting a deeper, more thorough approach toward healing.
Dealing with memories and thoughts in Buddhist approaches often involves taking a non-judgmental stance toward often emotionally charged thoughts and memories by accepting them nominally as just “mental events.” The issue is that this approach just seeks to decondition the emotional charge of the thought or memory and does not deal with the holistic reality of why the memory still maintains an emotional charge or irrational belief.
Since “mindfulness” is often about neutralizing beliefs about the moral nature or importance of past actions held in memories, it is indeed entering the spiritual realm and is not spiritually neutral. Given its spiritual nature, it would be beneficial to measure the effectiveness “mindfulness” compared to Christian approaches to healing prayer. Christian prayer ministry approaches such as “Theophostic Prayer” seek to have God by His Holy Spirit bring truth to the memories and seek to dismantle the lies or irrational beliefs that the person holds about the memory or thought.
Since much of Dr. Farias and Wikholm’s research was directed to the efficacy of using “mindfulness” meditation and yoga to potentially address inherently spiritual issues in prison populations, other spiritually rooted interventions should be compared as well. However, given the secular bias towards Eastern interventions that can supposedly be more easily separated from spiritual beliefs, I don’t see this happening anytime soon. What we see happening in the “mindfulness” movement is just a replay of Transcendental Meditation movement trying to market TM as a purely physiological process in the 1970’s.