How Meditation Can Fail

An article I read describing the experiences that long-term practitioners of meditation achieved shocked me! I had to read it several times to be sure I read it correctly. The article reported the results of a study conducted by world-renowned authorities on meditation.

I’m sure the results of this study will shock you as well, as they are the total opposite of what I expected and what I think should be expected from a long-term meditation practice. I have to ask, “What are these advanced meditators doing while they are sitting in meditation presumably for hours every day?” You won’t believe your eyes when you read the quote.

This is the quote from an article in Yoga Journal, May-June, 2001, page 174.

“Boston psychologists Dan Brown and Jack Engler, coauthors with Ken Wilber of Transformations of Consciousness, conducted a fascinating study of yogis at advanced stages of practice. It revealed that, contrary to our mistaken Western assumptions about enlightenment experiences, even very advanced practitioners continue to experience conflict, fear, anxiety, depression, addictive cravings, interpersonal dependency struggles, and so forth.”

“What does change,” the report continues, “is not so much the amount or nature of conflict, but awareness of and reactivity to it…[with practice] there is greater awareness of and openness to conflict but paradoxically less reaction at the same time in an impulsive, identificatory, and therefore painful way…[the practitioner] may note the intense desire until it passes, like every other transient mental state; or he/she may act on it, but with full awareness.”

Why Are they Still Living with the Same Issues?

What does this really tell you about what are being called “enlightenment experiences?” One thing it tells me is they must have a very diminished definition of what enlightenment experiences mean in any practical sense…more on that in a minute.

An additional question is what does this quote really tell you about meditating even at “advanced stages”? I would think that a beginning meditator reading this might think twice before investing thousands of hours in meditation because the results of whatever they are calling meditation appear to be woefully limited.

I can also tell you their observations pretty much describe the direct opposite of my enlightenment and meditation experiences as well the experiences of many of my students I have taught and meditated with during retreats and private phone sessions I’ve done for decades.

Why should our Western assumptions be “mistaken” as the article states? I don’t fault the assumptions, but I have to question the effectiveness of the approach of the “yogis at advanced stages of practice.” They certainly must be achieving some measure of value from their meditations or they wouldn’t be continuing, but I would have to say something is significantly missing from their meditation practice.

I can imagine the authors of the study breathing a sigh of comfort and relief as the results of the study no doubt validate their own meditation experiences and soothes the conscience of those who have meditated for a long time and think they are enlightened (whatever they think that means) and still find themselves living with many of the same issues they had before they meditated for thousands of hours.

Two Things This Study Tells Me

My first conclusion is that the value of meditation will come from the quality of meditation and not just the quantity of meditation. What I mean by this is reflected in the second thing this study tells me, which is that many people who meditate apparently do not have an effective method for clearing the causes of basic mental and emotional issues and probably don’t even know how or if it is possible.

Herein lies a shortcoming in the approach of many meditators. The approach to meditation they practice is that they should not try to do anything about issues that comes up, but they should rather be at peace with them and perhaps be a neutral observer.

This passive approach to meditation emphasizes non-doing and is certainly a wonderful state to meditate in, but the problem with this approach is that while it can lead to sublime states of consciousness during the meditation, it may not clear the patterns very quickly that cause issues in day-to-day life. If it did, the “advanced meditation” practitioners would not have the problems they report.

In their defense, such practitioners might say their meditation practices are not intended to clear issues as much as they are only intended to take a person into states of refined awareness. This is fair enough, but life involves more than living in transcendent consciousness. So this position on meditation would say that this type of meditation is doing what it is intended to. The problem is that it is just not addressing fundamental human challenges. Something else is needed for that.

What “Advanced Meditators” Say

All that I have been telling you doesn’t really surprise me because I have sat before dozens of spiritual teachers and gurus only to find they have the same problems and challenges as the rest of humanity. You may have shaken your head yourself at hearing some of the stories about some teachers.

I’ve heard any number of notable spiritual teachers say, “I’m only human just like everyone else,” as if that explains or justifies their issues and lifestyle. I’ve even heard some give advice to those looking to them for help with problems to “just be patient” or “don’t let your mind go there.” What kind of advice is that? It is advice from someone who doesn’t have answers.

But there are answers and procedures to clearing the most common mental and emotional issues. One problem is that many love the experiences of meditation in peaceful states but they avoid the issues that trouble them in day-to-day life. They do not directly address the issues, and some spiritual teachers think working with issues is not truly pure meditation. They even go so far as to say that working with issues is an unnecessary distraction to spiritual goals and enlightenment.

In some cases teachers have conveyed that “advanced meditation” leads to a karma clearing state in which karma disappears. This is apparently not the case with the “advanced meditators” in the study, however. Some teachers are bound by the long-standing traditions they have practiced and think clearing techniques are unnecessary.

Enlightenment Experiences or Being Enlightened: What’s the Difference?

At a meditation retreat I was facilitating, a person asked me what enlightenment meant. My response was that it is an ongoing process of unfolding our true nature rather than a singular event in which a person can declare he or she is enlightened.

Before people can legitimately think they have shifted their consciousness into an enlightened state (which I would say is a state of complete non-judgment and freedom in all ways and at all levels), they would not only have to experience what Self-realization, God-realization, and nonduality are, but they would also need to be mostly free from the mental and emotional challenges that non-Self-realized people experience.

Otherwise they are deluding themselves and maybe others that they are enlightened simply because they have had some expanded states of consciousness in meditation.

There is a big difference between having an enlightening experience in meditation and living in an enlightened state all the time.

Because of misunderstandings on this basic truth, many who have thought themselves to be enlightened because they experienced an enlightening meditation were appalled to find out that days, weeks or months later they somehow lost their enlightenment. No, they didn’t. They can’t lose what they never had.

They had some beautiful and enlightening meditations, but they apparently did not achieve a permanent shift in awareness or a clearing of all the lower states of consciousness and patterning that are carried in their consciousness and numerous ways humans carry consciousness patterns from one lifetime to another. These very patterns pull them back to where their everyday consciousness actually lives.

I am not attacking meditation practices in its many forms because meditation is surely the best way to attain spiritual realizations, but I am pointing out the fact that most meditation practices do not address the issues causing day-to-day problems that really need to be addressed for at least two major reasons. One, they cause distraction or distress in this life, and secondly, the karmic consequences are likely to perpetuate the issues for lifetimes to come.

Who Am I to Be Making Such Comments?

I’ve been a full-time spiritual teacher now for over 40 years, and I have found ways to move through and beyond the “boxes” that most have locked themselves into, and I’ve taught others to do the same. I have facilitated hundreds of classes, workshops and retreats and done more than 40,000 individual sessions with people.

I have found ways that lead to transformations of consciousness that actually change a people’s experience with mental and emotional challenges which then frees them to enter beautiful states of consciousness in meditation as well as raise their everyday living experience to one which integrates the beauty of the meditative states they reach. Living in integrity, unconditional love, happiness, peace and enlightened states then becomes natural and automatic.

To give you a small taste of what some have experienced at my retreats I am including some testimonials. The following are letters I have received from people who have attended my workshops and retreats. They describe their experiences far better than I ever could and help you better understand some of what I am talking about.


“The inner joy, the heightened senses, the clarity of purpose and the intense love are all experienced in this workshop. Could any amount of money have bought that? I received love and more love, and a direct knowing of my own purpose in this lifetime and what direction to go in order to honor that purpose. I’m happy, pure and simple, and it feels good–And I’m sharing that happiness with others. Thank you for sharing your lives with all of us.” –Frances L., California


“I would not have missed your workshop for the world. The transformations in mind and body as a result of the thorough mental clearing processes are dramatic. The way you have lead us through the many guided meditations is unmatched by any other teacher I have come across.” –Dr. Andre P. M.D., Australia


“Words cannot express how much you have helped me pierce many of my illusions. Your words spoken with obvious love in your heart for all others, have enabled me to rise above some personal obstacles in my relationships. Through this workshop I feel I shall approach the rest of my life with a perspective as seen from my heart. I will never forget this experience.” –Eileen C., La Mesa, California


“It takes time for introspection reflection, and assimilation to realize the richness and the fullness of the experience of your workshops. This is to express appreciation for the many years, and multiple contributions that you have made to our betterment and growing enlightenment. It is a unique experience to share a worship, and the products of those experiences never end.” –Dr. George G., M.D., Atlanta, Georgia


“You have changed my life in ways I could never have imagined. You have opened the gate to self-discovery and spiritual awareness that can never be taken away. What I have benefited from you is priceless to me. I feel so blessed to be able to reach the spiritual heights I have so far. Your life’s work is very special and I’m sure many have been touched the way I have.” -Lisa S., Beverly Hills, California


“This workshop was the most transformational experience of my life. The energy from this workshop and Jonathan’s love has brought me to much higher levels of love and knowing much sooner than I would have been capable of on my own. So much more is experienced in the workshops than tapes. There is a wonderful joy and love. The realization and mind expansion is beyond words.” –Kelso C., Fort Smith, Arkansas


“Well the world feels anew again; your class was one of the most profound shifts that have ever happened to me. I really have nothing to compare it against. As I have worked with you through these classes from the beginning I have felt a constant movement toward a higher vibration with each successive class.”

“In the first day, I felt a tremendous lifting of all things that were holding me back; they just vanished and I felt the ease of relief as they floated off to be transmuted. I was then shifted to a new state of awareness in which I could feel new energy being poured into me on all levels with a spectacularly brilliant white light and a feeling of bliss that accompanied the experience. We resided in the presence of the light and Love which poured over and through us for the next few hours.”

“The constant streaming of thoughts that always inundated me on a daily basis just stopped. All of a sudden there was nothing! It is just a blissful place to escape from the everyday madness. Since I have been back home for two months now, the thoughts have all gone away. Also, I now know what it feels like when the soul is one in and with the physical body, the sensation of feeling it is wondrous and lets me know when I am fully anchored. This was just another of the many amazing things that happened to me. I will forever be grateful for all of the ways you have helped me positively change my life. With Love and Gratitude.” —Shawn M., Santa Barbara, CA

”Tonight I have been sitting in what has been revealed as a “clear stream of consciousness.” The purity and fine energetic quality is breath taking, purifying and life altering. It is nothing short of extraordinary. It is nothing. It is everything. I am humbled by my awareness and connection to this new stream of consciousness. Beyond words. –Rita H., Iowa


I invite you to discover the True Self and I assure you it is quite possible to live significantly beyond what was reported in the quote from the article at the beginning of this essay.

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