Friday, April 13, 2007

Depersonalization and Meditation

In "Psychiatry," Vol, 53, May 1990,
" Deikman and Kennedy reported cases in which depersonalization and derealization occured in individuals practicing meditative techniques designed to alter consciousness. Deikman's cases reported depersonalization and derealization during meditation practice. Kennedy's cases reported these conditions in waking consciousness. In order to determine whether experiences of depersonalization and derealization were occuring in the waking consciousness of meditators, six practioners of Transcendental Meditation (TM) were engaged in daily activity. All of the persons interviewed reported having at least one experience of what could be classified as depersonalization.
DSM -II-R (APA 1087) defones depersonalization as ; "(1) an experience of being a if detatched from and an outside observer of one's mental processes of body; of (2) an experience of feeling like an automaton or as if in a dream." (p.276) Typically, depersonalizatrion is a state in which an individual experiences a "split" in consciousness between a "participating self" and and "observing self." The participating self is composed of body, thoughts, feelings, memories, and emotions. The observing self is experienced as a separate, uninvolved "witness" of the participating self, with the perception that all of the normal aspects of personality are somehow unreal and do not belong to the observing self. There is the experience of being split off from one's participating self and "watching' that self behave.
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There are also secondary characteristics fo depersonalization, which may include; feelings of dizziness, floating, of giddiness, a feeling of the participating self being "dead," a loss of affective responsiveness, and a feeling of calm detatchment."
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As a past heavy meditaor and teacher of TM, I will say that these descriptions of depersonalization were regarded as desirable and a positive result of meditation. In fact the very term "witnessing" is used to describe what is regarded as an advanced level of meditative practice, and the meaning of this word is identical to what the researchers say it is: a kind of observing oneself in action rather than feeling completely involved or completely engaged in what you are doing.
I personally never experienced feelings of dizziness. I had lots of giddiness at the end of the days on teacher training courses; I thought this was like the joy that monastic nuns feel at the end of their quiet days of prayer, and actually enjoyed these times of laughing with at least one friend I had on a course; Pam Brudo. We had fun laughing and joking in her room often at the end of the day; she was a friend of mine there. But in reflecting on my behaviour after coming home at the time, when I practiced just twice a day (TM)meditation, I would say that I was much less responsive to human acts of kindess or humor than I am now. I laugh all the time now, unless I am feeling depressed. If I feel disconnected nowadays, I am aware of it, and I don't like it.

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