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By now, almost everyone is familiar with the purported benefits of meditation.

What was once a fringe spiritual practice in the West has, within the space of decades, transformed into a mainstay of modern culture and wellness advice.

Over the past few years, science has increasingly started to back popular claims about the effects of mindfulness and contemplation.


And studiesnowlink regular attempts to focus our minds and calm our bodies via breathing exercises, chanting, or other meditative techniques to a host of benefits—everything from decreased stress and blood pressure, to increased cognitive abilities, to fundamental shifts in the way we process the world. Last January, Time even ran a cover story on America’s meditative “Mindful Revolution.”

Yet this rush to validate, package, and promote meditation as a universal good may actually come with unforeseen risks.

Although sitting and thinking may seem like an innocuous process, the fact remains that meditation is an altered state that we use as a tool to transform our bodies and minds.

And like any tool, although intended for good things—like introspectively confronting our thoughts and feelings and coming to terms with troubling realities—it can wind up causing harm when set towards tasks that it just isn’t meant for (like acting as a quick-fix concentration booster or anesthesia for emotional strife). In the case of meditation, as the practice proliferates in the West, we’ve become increasingly aware that for some people, especially those with mental or personality conditions, mindfulness can trigger anxiety, depressive episodes, or flashbacks to past traumas.

“Because meditation cultivates a type of witness awareness (I’m witnessing my thoughts, I am not my thoughts),” wrote Andrew Holecek, Buddhist spiritualist and teacher, “which if done properly can help us distance ourselves safely and beneficially from the contents of our mind, it can also exacerbate certain kinds of dissociative and depersonalization disorders.”

The Buddhist teachers and scriptures from which many Western teachers draw in creating their local adaptations of meditation regimens have long recognized these risks, with some texts describing anxiety and emotional pain as typical stages in one’s progress through meditative studies.

Some even describe these stresses as the mirror state to enlightenment, the confrontation of which is vital.

“There is a sutta [Buddhist scriptural verse]” where monks go crazy and commit suicide after doing contemplation on death,” writes Chris Kaplan of the Mind and Life Institute.

Photo by MeditationMusic.net via Flickr.

Most Buddhist teachers believe that, through the idiosyncratic personal guidance of a spiritual teacher and the supportive structure of institutions that have dealt with similar cases in years past, we can move past or benefit from confrontations with these troubling experiences.

But extracting good from the bad takes time, guidance, and patience that many of us in the meditative hoi polloi just don’t have access to or the inclination to use.  

Western practitioners have not completely ignored the risks that meditation poses. Groups like the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine have long included disclaimers in their descriptions of meditation and its benefits, pointing towards its potential dark side:

“Meditation is considered safe for healthy people. There have been rare reports that meditation could cause or worsen symptoms in people who have certain psychiatric problems, but this question has not been fully researched.”

Western practitioners have not completely ignored the risks that meditation poses. Groups like the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine have long included disclaimers in their descriptions of meditation and its benefits, pointing towards its potential dark side:

“Meditation is considered safe for healthy people. There have been rare reports that meditation could cause or worsen symptoms in people who have certain psychiatric problems, but this question has not been fully researched.”

Even this disclaimer (as is the wont of disclaimer style) makes the problem seem miniscule.

And it’s true that we don’t have a real sense of the scale of the problem in terms of the number of people it effects or the impact of negative meditative states. But the lack of research the NCCAM points to is now being filled by studies like Willoughby Britton’s Dark Night Project—a combination psychological study and recovery home for those damaged by meditation.

Britton was inspired to launch the project by two encounters during her psychiatry residency, when patients claimed severe emotional trauma caused by meditation.

These incidents were swiftly followed by her own personal case of meditative malaise that hit the problem home to the young psychiatrist and meditator.

“I thought that I had gone crazy,” recalls Britton of the experience. “I thought I was having a nervous breakdown. I mean I had no idea why I was suddenly having all these… like terror was a big symptom of [my own negative meditative episode].”

As of now, the Dark Night Project has catalogued several dozen cases of negative meditative experiences so powerful they resulted in months to years of psychological incapacitation; this is why Britton established a recovery center alongside the study.

It will be years until this data is actually compiled into a meaningful body of information. But even these initial anecdotes—along with other lurid and haphazard accounts of “spiritual sickness” and erratic, dangerous behavior brought on by extreme meditative retreats and practices—seem to suggest that the perils of meditation, even if niche, are worth popular consideration and address.  

Photo by Ruth Hartnup via Flickr.

As we await definitive studies, one of the best ways to resolve the issue may be to appeal to older meditative traditions that already recognize and cope with the downsides of meditation.

Some meditation researchers, like Pacific University’s Sarah Bowen, suggest that trauma may arise because Western meditative traditions bypass the rigorous practices and intensive guidance of older meditation cultures.

By treating meditation like a spiritual smoothie rather than an intense and complex practice, we run the risk of confronting meditation’s dark sides, or at least sinking into them more easily than those who have a framework of coping and recovery in place.

There may, then, be some benefit, even if only prophylactic, in seeking out meditation traditions that privilege structure. Promoting this style of meditative practice may help to deter those who don’t want to take meditation seriously from pursuing the practice too far down risky, fast track paths. Yet encouraging this type of moderation will be difficult, as humanity loves a simple, silver bullet solution (as so many believe meditation to be).

It seems likely that people will continue to suffer under the dark side of meditation until high profile cases reach a critical capacity or—as the pendulum of pop obsession starts to swing in the other direction—the meditative trend begins to regulate itself. Until then, if your post-yoga om session has your mind turning to anxious or disturbing thoughts that you just can’t process or move past, it might be a good idea to just get up and walk away, rather than pushing yourself into the void. Or if you’re dead set on meditating, at least find yourself a therapist or spiritual guide familiar with the practice who can help you work through the dark states you’re coming up against.

This article originally appeared on GOOD.

Joy

Nurse turns inappropriate things men say in the delivery room into ‘inspirational’ art

"Can you move to the birthing ball so I can sleep in the bed?"

Holly the delivery nurse.

After working six years as a labor and delivery nurse Holly, 30, has heard a lot of inappropriate remarks made by men while their partners are in labor. “Sometimes the moms think it’s funny—and if they think it’s funny, then I’ll laugh with them,” Holly told TODAY Parents. “But if they get upset, I’ll try to be the buffer. I’ll change the subject.”

Some of the comments are so wrong that she did something creative with them by turning them into “inspirational” quotes and setting them to “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton on TikTok.

“Some partners are hard to live up to!” she jokingly captioned the video.

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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

True

Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

The mesmerizing lost art of darning knit fabric.

For most of human history, people had to make their own clothing by hand, and sewing skills were subsequently passed down from generation to generation. Because clothing was so time-consuming and labor-intensive to make, people also had to know how to repair clothing items that got torn or damaged in some way.

The invention of sewing and knitting machines changed the way we acquire clothing, and the skills people used to possess have largely gone by the wayside. If we get a hole in a sock nowadays, we toss it and replace it. Most of us have no idea how to darn a sock or fix a hole in any knit fabric. It's far easier for us to replace than to repair.

But there are still some among us who do have the skills to repair clothing in a way that makes it look like the rip, tear or hole never happened, and to watch them do it is mesmerizing.

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Pop Culture

Artist uses AI to create ultra realistic portraits of celebrities who left us too soon

What would certain icons look like if nothing had happened to them?

Mercury would be 76 today.

Some icons have truly left this world too early. It’s a tragedy when anyone doesn’t make it to see old age, but when it happens to a well-known public figure, it’s like a bit of their art and legacy dies with them. What might Freddie Mercury have created if he were granted the gift of long life? Bruce Lee? Princess Diana?

Their futures might be mere musings of our imagination, but thanks to a lot of creativity (and a little tech) we can now get a glimpse into what these celebrities might have looked like when they were older.

Alper Yesiltas, an Istanbul-based lawyer and photographer, created a photography series titled “As If Nothing Happened,” which features eerily realistic portraits of long gone celebrities in their golden years. To make the images as real looking as possible, Yesiltas incorporated various photo editing programs such as Adobe Lightroom and VSCO, as well as the AI photo-enhancing software Remini.

“The hardest part of the creative process for me is making the image feel ‘real’ to me,” Yesiltas wrote about his passion project. “The moment I like the most is when I think the image in front of me looks as if it was taken by a photographer.”

Yesiltas’ meticulousness paid off, because the results are uncanny.

Along with each photo, Yesiltas writes a bittersweet message “wishing” how things might have gone differently … as if nothing happened.
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