The Darkside of Meditation?

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Contemplative Scientist Willoughby Britton, PhD in a presentation at the Buddhist Geeks Conference makes an interesting point regarding the research that has been done on the positive results of meditation. Dr. Britton urges researchers to take into account the quality of meditation; rather than simply equate the amount of time meditating with a person being identified as an “experienced meditator.”

While I don’t believe it is necessary to know the Buddhist principles of Vipassanā or Samatha, to experience a “quality meditation.” It is critical to understand however that mindfulness meditation is a mental awareness training.

Dr. Britton’s presentation at the Buddhist Geeks Conference:

Being able to train the mind to become aware of our focus, redirect it, and maintain it, is indispensable for positive neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to change structurally and functionally for the better—to take place.

And as I’ve mentioned before the wonderful effects of positive neuroplasticity through adopting a mindfulness lifestyle practice can include: eliminating mind chatter and its associated emotional reactivityreversing age-related brain atrophyboosting creativity; developing both emotional intelligence and reliable intuitive intelligence; managing (without medication) depressionhigh blood pressurechronic pain, and anxiety; and so much more!!!

The Quality of Meditation Matters

Erika_LiconI have worked with a few people (not too many) that claimed to meditate on a regular basis, yet, they still experienced an inability to stay focused, redirect their attention, had an inability to perform goal directed action, were generally stressed, and continuously beat themselves up for what they did and didn’t do.

When we explored the purpose(s)-goal(s)-style(s) of their meditations, we found out that their meditations were not directed in any way to address the problematic issues they were experiencing. Worse, their meditative practice lacked an attempt to train their minds and awareness.

A mindfulness lifestyle, whether it is being mindful while you are exercising, cooking, cleaning, eating, walking, object watching, etc… is a mental awareness training. And this mental training requires us to learn how to become aware of us and our attention, redirect our focus, and maintain a focus.

“Through mental training you can alter your patterns of brain activity in the very structure of your brain in a way that will change your Emotional Style and improve your life.” (Davidson and Begley 2012: 11). Adopting a mindfulness lifestyle is a great way to facilitate this mental training, as well as gracefully move us towards listening and becoming more aware of us and what we need.

In this article, I offer a visual exercise that promotes a mental awareness training. I should note first that neuroscience researchers such as Jeffrey M. Schwartz, MD, Richard J. Davidson, PhD, and Sara Lazar, PhD, along with many others I have cited, do take into consideration and often explain the training and quality of practice of their studied meditators. I listed a few recommended readings at the end, or you could simply sign up for my newsletter and read the articles that often incorporate their work.

Mindfulness Visualizations, Let Go of Stress

endMost Westerners are very visual people; vision is one of our strongest memory systems (Gordon and Berger 2003: 97). Because we are generally visually-oriented peoples, visually-oriented meditative practices seem to be the most effective and enjoyable for most people. Any meditative practice should be relaxing and enjoyable.

An example of a visually-oriented meditative practice is visually scanning your day. Taking a mindfulness visual scan of your day can be a great of becoming more aware of yourself, and letting go of stressful events in a healthy manner.

The mental training of this exercise is being able to redirect and maintain your attention to your breathing patterns and viewing the events of the day in a detached manner. Whether you are doing this in the shower, cooking, eating, cleaning or are able to set aside 20 minutes to sit and train your mind, the results can be the same.

But the training and redirecting of the mind back to the breath, and being able to scan your day in a detached manner, are key.

Becoming More Aware and Letting Go of Stress Exercise


To help to view the day in a detached manner, I like to call in the part of you or all of you that loves yourself enough to be interested in something that can improve your health and life, “Mini-You.”

This exercise is intended for the evening, but of course it can be modified to fit your lifestyle.

Mini-You starts by observing your breath, and together you begin to focus on your breath for a few minutes. Then, redirect your focus to your morning events (whatever you may identify as being your morning events). Visualize-scan the morning events for a few events minutes in an objective detached manner. If anything stressful or less than pleasant comes up, allow Mini-You to throw this away in your magical recycling bin, discard it.

After visualizing-scanning the morning, redirect your attention to your breathing for a few minutes. Then, redirect your focus to your afternoon (whatever you may identify as your afternoon events), and visualize-scan your afternoon for a few minutes in an objective detached manner. If anything stressful or less than pleasant comes up, allow Mini-You to throw this away in your magical recycling bin, discard it.

After visualizing-scanning the afternoon, redirect your attention to your breathing for a few minutes. Then redirect your focus to your evening (whatever you may identify as your evening events) and visualize-scan your evening for a few minutes in an objective detached manner. If anything stressful or less than pleasant comes up, allow Mini-You to throw this away in your magical recycling bin, discard it.

After you are done scanning your day, give yourself a big hug (you and Mini-You) for letting go of anything unpleasant. While scanning your day if you did not eat well, got upset, or whatever you could be critical yourself for, let these critiques of yourself go.

The more you engage in healthy mental training activities, the more you will become aware and gravitate towards what YOU need to sustain great health and happiness. If you are constantly around toxic-stressful environments or people, your incorporation of, or return to a mindfulness lifestyle will inspire you to creatively shift out of these unnecessary stressors.At Peace


Davidson, Richard J., and Begley, Sharon. The Emotional Life of Your Brain. New York, New York, Penguin Group: 2012.

Gordon, Barry and Berger, Lisa. Intelligent Memory: Improve The Memory That Makes You Smarter. New York, New York, Penguin Group: 2003.

Recommended Readings On Neuroplasticity  

Arden, John B. Rewire Your Brain. Think Your Way to A Better Life. Hoboken, New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: 2010.

Arrowsmith-Young, Barbara. The Woman Who Changed Her Brain And Other Inspiring Stories of Pioneering Brain Transformation. New York, New York, Penguin Group: 2012.

Begley, Sharon. Train Your Mind Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential To Transform Ourselves. Paperback ed. New York, New York: Ballantine Books, 2008.

Buonomano, Dean. Brain Bugs. How The Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives. New York, New York, W.W. Norton & Company: 2011.

Davidson, Richard J., and Begley, Sharon. The Emotional Life of Your Brain. New York, New York, Penguin Group: 2012.

Doidge, Norman. The Brain That Changes Itself. Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. New York, New York, Penguin Group: 2007.

Robertson, Ian H. Mind Sculpture. Unlocking Your Brain’s Untapped Potential. New York, New York, Fromm International: 2000.

Schwartz, Jeffrey M. and Gladding, Rebecca. You Are Not Your Brain. The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life. New York, New York, Penguin Group: 2011.

Schwartz, Jeffrey M. and Begley, Sharon. The Mind & The Brain. Neuroplasticity and The Power of Mental Force. New York, New York, Regan Books: 2002.

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Posted in Emotional Intelligence, Intuitive Intelligence, Mindfulness Meditation, Neuroplasticity, Neuroscience
7 comments on “The Darkside of Meditation?
  1. John Cameron says:

    Well written post with lots of good information.
    I haven’t heard of visual scanning before and I look forward to trying it tonight.

  2. Kay Newton says:

    Thank you for the post. I am now looking forward to getting to know my mini-me. I also have a small blue book I carry around with me to stop through the day and check out my thoughts. So many of my thoughts are the same. It takes time to change these. Thank goodness I have my lifetime!

  3. Erika,

    I always look forward to your wisdom on meditation. I will try this visual-scanning later tonight.

    I love that you call in the part of you that is interested in what happens – “mini-you”

    I could see that part of me balling up the event and trashing it.

    Thank you again for another way to help make meditation interesting.

    Blessings and happy meditating,

    Dawn Weaver

  4. I have always thought meditation to be very helpful to self and you just pointed out all the facts…love it! I haven’t meditated in awhile, but after reading this, I am getting ready to get back in the habit.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Bridget ‘Luvinmesuhme’
    ME3 Motivate Encourage Empower Embrace


  5. Excellent post Erika with great insight and helpful information regarding meditation and getting to where we need to be. Reminding us that meditation has a purpose and should not be done willy-nilly.

    Scanning is a great tool to use with intent to assess the body, review experiences, etc. We become the observer of our lives … real cool with enormous benefits!

    All the best!

  6. Great article Erika. Mindfulness – mental awareness training is a technique that definitely takes practice. In my work, I find that many people have trouble slowing down with their thoughts or sitting in silence. If people can carve out a small amount of time (5-10 minutes) to focus on their breathing or what they are actually focusing their attention on gradually what they are doing – life would be less stressful and they may even develop more clarity.

    I like the idea of visual scanning. It really helps people become more connected with who they are. Thank you for sharing!

  7. I love the idea of reframing your day like this! They say that you can not change the past, but you can definitely change the way you look at the past, and choose to bring with you only what uplifts you and helps in your positive regard for yourself and others.

    I find reframing in the moment, and asking yourself whether you are approaching the situation with love and compassion is helpful as well…meditation helps to ground me so that I can be more present in each moment.

    It is also amazing how just taking those centring breaths throughout the day can allow you to approach anything the day brings you with a sense of peace and clarity.

    Thanks Erika!

    Ang :-)

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