Is Meditation Safe?

By Tergar Community Team • 8 min read

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As meditation increases in popularity, you might hear reports that there is a “dark side” to meditation. How can we answer the question, is meditation safe?

A metaphor depicting the safety of meditation

Safe meditation begins with the instructions

The essence of meditation is beautifully simple. However, there are people teaching meditation who have a mistaken understanding of the practice. And there are certainly ample opportunities these days to take workshops, watch videos, read books, or even go on retreats led by such people. Probably they mean well, but if you follow their incorrect instructions, then yes, there could be some unhealthy side effects to practicing meditation.

The big red flag

The main point to understand is that meditation is not about clearing your mind of thoughts or feelings. It has nothing to do with having a mind that is still or empty. Any meditation that aspires to that goal is completely misguided . . . and yes, it can be dangerous.

Mental afflictions are not enemies. They are our friends.”

– Mingyur Rinpoche –

Stopping the river

This is because it is literally impossible to block thoughts and emotions. The mind is like a river, always moving, constantly changing. If meditation instructions aren’t teaching you how to embrace that natural flow, then they are turning the flow into your enemy. Noise, distractions, restlessness, ideas, worries, daydreams — attempting to resist these natural events in the mind will transform them into adversaries. The result? Instead of becoming calmer, your mind will become more sensitive. You will become agitated. If you were feeling unsettled to begin with, this can be really distressing. For this reason, it is crucial that meditation instructions teach you how to be present with whatever arises in your mind, without judgment or suppression.

“Blissing out” is . . . out

Meditation is not intended to produce a feeling of bliss, peace, calm, or joy. Of course, those experiences are lovely when they happen. And they are perfectly valid experiences — but they’re only experiences, no better or worse than any other. They’re not intended to be the goals. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. That’s because if you are chasing after a particular experience, you are in a state of craving. And when you come to the cushion with craving or expectations, your mind will have a tendency to pull in the opposite direction.

Don’t make me laugh!

We have all tried to not feel a certain way, or not get the giggles, or not cry, or not think of a certain thing by telling ourselves we must not. Perfect results every time, right? Similarly, we know it’s possible to study hard for an exam, and then suddenly blank out on the answers on exam day. It’s just the way the human mind operates. This is sometimes referred to as an “unpliable” or “unworkable” mind. Meditation should help your mind to become gradually more workable and pliable over time. It should never involve pushing or pulling.

The ocean, not the waves

The essence of meditation is awareness. That means that if you have thoughts in meditation, no big deal. If you don’t have thoughts, that’s alright too. Should you have feelings, no problem; if you don’t, also no problem. Making a mistake? That’s okay. Doing it perfectly? Also okay. Right or wrong, happy or sad, up or down — all are equally okay, because awareness is the ocean on which waves rise and fall. Meditation is about the ocean of awareness, not the waves of passing experience. Ultimately, correct meditation instructions should unite us with the fundamental nature of the mind, which is awareness, love, compassion, and wisdom.

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More Resources

Can Meditation be Dangerous?

Here is a video to help you deepen this teaching

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Theory and practice of meditation, step-by-step.

Learn meditation under the skillful guidance of world-renowned teacher Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche at your own pace.

About the Author

By Tergar Meditation Community Team

Tergar Meditation Community supports individuals, practice groups, and meditation communities around the world in learning to live with awareness, compassion, and wisdom. Grounded in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage of our guiding teacher, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, our online and in-person programs are accessible to people of all cultures and faiths, and support a lifelong path toward the application of these principles in everyday life.

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