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date: 18 March 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Challenging meditation experiences have been documented in Buddhist literature, in psychological research, and in a recent qualitative study by the authors. Some of the central questions in the investigation of this topic are: How are meditation-related challenges to be interpreted or appraised? Through which processes are experiences determined to be expected or “normative” aspects of contemplative development versus undesirable “adverse effects” or psychopathology? And is it possible to differentiate or disambiguate the two? A review of available research suggests that distinguishing between experiences that are religious or mystical and those that indicate psychopathology depends on detailed knowledge of the specific contexts in which these experiences occur. Furthermore, research that specifically examines meditation-related challenges shows that interpretations, causal explanations, and recommended responses are often negotiated between practitioners and other people in their practice settings and larger social communities. This chapter considers some of the social dynamics of these appraisal processes and explores some of the consequences of adopting different appraisals. However, because there can be a lack of consensus around how experiences should be interpreted or appraised, a more useful question may be: What type of support does this particular experience require? Systematic attention to social context can both inform research on meditation-related challenges and provide guidance on the issues surrounding their appraisal and management in both clinical and non-clinical contexts.

Keywords: meditation experiences, meditation-related challenges, adverse effects, person-centered approach

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