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Navigating Meditation Challenges: Resources for Meditators and Teachers

Residential Program
Dates: Feb 04, 2022 - Feb 07, 2022
Days: Friday - Monday
Number of Nights: 3 nights

Instructor(s): Willoughby Britton, Jared Lindahl

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Course Description:

The practice of meditation can lead to psychological and spiritual benefits; it can also produce a variety of unexpected outcomes—not all of them positive. Meditation can lead to experiences that are challenging, distressing, destabilizing, functionally impairing, or make someone not want to continue meditating. Some meditation-related challenges are well known across Buddhist meditation traditions. However, no source catalogs the full range of potential challenges, how to interpret them, and how best to respond to them. Meditators who experience challenges often find themselves with inadequate support, and the presence of challenges often raises difficult decisions in interpretation and response that are particularly complicated in the contemporary West given the dual location of meditation as a religious practice on the one hand, and meditation as a physical and mental health practice on the other.

Through research-summary lectures, group discussions, and experiential activities, this workshop will explore the instructors’ research about meditation-related challenges that they have been conducting for the past decade. Participants will learn about the range of experiences that meditators report as challenging, distressing, and or functionally impairing, the risk factors associated with challenges, and the remedies prescribed by meditators, meditation teachers, and mental health professionals. The workshop will also introduce the range of competencies one needs to work skillfully with meditation-related challenges, whether as a meditator or as a meditation teacher. Integrating contemporary research with experiential practices, this workshop will address: identification of the range of meditation-related challenges; risk factors and remedies; informed consent; monitoring for meditation-related challenges; the relationship between meditation and trauma; identifying and managing signs of nervous system dysregulation; neurobiological mechanisms for select meditation-related challenges; criteria used for differentiating normative meditation experiences from psychopathology; and person-centered approaches to the teaching and practice of meditation.

This program is designed to equip meditation practitioners, meditation teachers, and clinicians who use mindfulness in their work with the knowledge and tools to practice and teach meditation in safe, supportive ways.

Learning Intentions:

• Recognize and identify the range of experiences that can come up in the context of meditation and how different types of “influencing factors” can influence the presence, duration, and impact of a specific meditation experience

• Describe standards of practice and teacher competencies, with particular emphasis on four competency domains: 1) informed consent; 2) screening and monitoring; 3) mechanisms; and 4) trauma-informed, person-centered approaches

• Consider and reflect upon how different experiences are understood from the perspective of different traditions

• Outline and discuss the responsibilities of meditation instructors to assess their own scope of competence, provide adequate mental-health referrals, and commit to ongoing personal development

• Learn how to recognize symptoms of dysregulated arousal, including dissociation, and respond to them utilizing specific trauma-informed modifications, and develop curricula and interventions that actively prevent re-traumatization

• Identify indicators of hyper- and hypo-arousal in one’s own and others’ nervous systems, and an optimal zone of arousal which can support safety and stability for those practicing meditation

• Practice experiential strategies to promote nervous system regulation

• Integrate contemporary research regarding the self-regulatory benefits of meditation practice with the physiological mechanisms of post-traumatic stress

• Consider and reflect upon the criteria used by meditation teachers, clinicians and other medical professionals to assess, interpret, and manage meditation-related challenges

Experience Level:
Suitable for beginning and experienced practitioners.
    About the Instructor(s):
  • Willoughby Britton,  Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University Medical School, and the Director of Brown’s Clinical and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory. Her clinical neuroscience research investigates the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and body in the treatment of mood disorders, trauma and other emotional disturbances. She is an instructor in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and has taught mindfulness to both clinical and non-clinical populations.

  • Jared Lindahl, Ph.D is Visiting Assistant Professor in Brown University’s Department of Religious Studies and director of the humanities research track in the Clinical and Affective Neuroscience Lab. Jared holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. His ongoing research attempts to integrate historical and textual studies of contemplative traditions with phenomenological and neurobiological approaches in order to investigate the relationship between contemplative practices, resultant experiences, and culturally situated appraisals of meaning and value.