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Lost in Thought

Against a one-size-fits-all approach to meditation and mental health

As work subsumes leisure time, worldwide anxieties mount, and a pandemic reshapes comfort and togetherness, meditation has been touted as a panacea. People who are stressed out (are there any other kind?) can take a meditation course, read an article, go on a retreat, or use an app; the hope is to gain from meditation peace, health, productivity, focus, or a good night’s sleep. It comes almost universally recommended and has precious few public detractors.

David Kortava’s article “Lost in Thought,” from the April issue of Harper’s Magazine, is an investigation into the possible negative side effects of meditation. Kortava reports on a practitioner’s bout with psychosis during an extended stay at a vipassana meditation center that had her wishing for death. Kortava presents evidence of meditation’s potential to distress and harm. In this episode of the podcast, Harper’s web editor Violet Lucca speaks with Kortava about the experiential gap filled by meditation, the perils of a one-size-fits-all approach, and the gulf between the origins of meditative practice and its modern-day deployment.

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April 2021

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