Meditation is one of the most functional ways to achieve mental and physical health. Meditation is a rooted practice that anyone can do, and its benefits have been scientifically proven in many studies. It also doesn’t have strict rules. However, there is a fine line when it comes to how much we practice meditation: too much reliance on meditation can even be harmful to us.
Addiction has various forms. We can be addicted to a substance or a certain behavior. A kind of food or even a feeling can be addictive. But being addicted to meditation sounds a little different. Is it possible to be addicted to something that seems healthy to us? And if so, is that a bad thing? Today we’re going to look at this topic with a magnifying glass.
Addiction is the result of a physical reaction: it’s closely related to our dopamine, serotonin and endorphin hormones. These hormones are the reason we can feel deprived of a certain substance or behavior, and why we can try to seek more of it. Scientists say that our genes are another factor in addiction, but having genes that are prone to addiction is not a total explanation by itself. Environmental factors and difficulty in our living conditions are also among the important variables for the roots of addiction. Here we can look to Robin Sharma’s saying in his book, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: “There is a fine line between our individual freedom and being a slave to our instincts.”
Our awareness determines our attitude, and whether we act impulsively or not. We can see the things that incentivize us to act in certain ways when we’re present in the moment and aware. With regular meditation, our awareness within daily life increases, and we can decide whether or not to listen to every voice in us. For example, even if we open the refrigerator door as a reflex, we can be aware of the next action we want to take — reaching for the chocolate. Chocolate may seem innocent, but we need the same attitude when it comes to drug abuse or a gambling addiction: we need to be able to see what our real need is without being a slave to our instincts, and activating our conscious decision-making mechanisms. Meditation alone is not enough, but it is an important form of support for controlling our willpower.
Dr. Andrew Newberg conducted a study with Tibetan Buddhists for his research on the neurology of belief. During his study, he examined the brain activity of Buddhist monks during meditation and found remarkable results in the anterior lobe of the brain. The findings suggest that in deep meditation, the frontal lobe of the brain feels joy and satisfaction as though all its desires were met and fulfilled. Similar intense activity in the same part of the brain is seen in substance addiction, too. When the addict obtains what he or she is deprived of, the frontal lobe of the brain feels satisfied. However, over time, the connection between the frontal lobe and the reward-penalty area of the middle of the brain is disrupted. Hormone receptors wear out over time, and addiction can become inevitable.*
This effect of meditation causes scientists to ask this question: “If one learns to operate that part of the brain on her/his own, would s/he still need to take substances?” The answer may affect all treatment approaches in the coming years. Regardless of the outcome, we know that meditation is a part of many addiction treatment programs today.
The benefits of regular 20-minute meditation every day have been proven by many scientific studies. New neural networks are built in our brains, and our awareness goes beyond 20 minutes of practice, affecting other aspects of our lives as well. Through meditation, we get to examine parts of ourselves we didn’t know before. We see ourselves more clearly, and this leads to transformation. With all these positive effects, meditation draws in many people who practice it.
So, when you look at your daily routine, how often do you meditate? 20 minutes? An hour? Or maybe a couple of times a day… There is no clear limit of course, but there may be the possibility of “overdosing.” If we use meditation as an escape, then we can call it an overdose.
Meditation and the moments of awareness it creates in our daily life are important. However, being obsessed with meditation and continuously implementing meditation practices may not be healthy for us. Also, if we use meditation as a way to run away from the flow of life, it may be time to try to figure out what you’re running away from.
Being passionate about and being addicted to things that make us feel good are two similar attitudes. Addiction is not a healthy state even if what we are addicted to is healthy. But how can this be possible in meditation?
Addiction to Meditation Practices:
The good thing about meditation is that it can make us passionate. But going beyond this can result in addiction. Instead of confronting the problem itself when we are facing troubles, it is possible to escape to meditation as a way to relax and be distracted. Smoking, drinking alcohol, or eating unconsciously when we have problems is an escape. All these behaviors are tendencies to run away from a problem. If we use meditation for this purpose and use it as a tool to relax, things won’t go very well. While we think that we have chosen it as a “useful” method of stress relief, meditation in this state does not bring us many benefits. For example, when you receive bad news, instead of staying with the feeling of the news and digesting what you’re feeling full, sitting in meditation and focusing on your breath may escape from the news itself.
If your emotions are too high, it is advisable to bring your focus to something out of the situation during meditation, but problems may arise if you only choose to meditate over other actions. If you meditate continuously regardless of the intensity of your emotion, and cannot show flexibility in shifting your attention back towards the situation, you may face problems. It may be healthier to choose to stay with the emotions as meditation teaches you, instead of only engaging in meditation practice when you receive the bad news. You’re most likely to begin to see the harm, not the benefit of meditation if you turn to your breathing and turn your back on the rest of the world every time you’re in trouble. Running away from the truth may not always be the best course of action, even if you’re meditating.
Addiction to Awareness Moments:
Our brain has two states: the fast brain and the slow brain. Our fast brain is the one that does our daily work automatically and allows us to act reflexively in case of danger. The slow brain is the attitude we learn through meditation and acting with awareness. The following example can help us clarify the difference: a goalkeeper learns how to respond to an incoming ball first by working with awareness. He repeats these hundreds of times by doing the right move towards the ball. S/he is aware of her/his movement and is even able to make calculations. As s/he repeats this, s/he learns which movements s/he will make according to where the ball is coming from, the average speed, and the kicker’s technique. And during the game, s/he blocks the ball thrown at her/him, not with awareness, but with the reflexes s/he has developed subconsciously.
It is possible to be addicted to meditation moments. If such awareness it too good or fun, it can lead to addiction. Meditation emphasizes the importance of moving by observing the body in an awake state. However, this doesn’t mean we should stay in awareness 24/7 with an obsessive attitude. Here again, we need to focus on the criteria of addition. The dose of the addiction gradually increases with time. The same rule applies to a person who is obsessed with acting with awareness. Awareness is crucial to hear what we are saying in an argument. However, when someone urgently asks for ice from us because they sprained their ankle, if we get into an awareness state and think, “I’m stepping now, now I’m taking the ice cube tray,” the person’s sprained ankle may have already started to swell up in the time it takes us to help them out. Of course, it is possible to go towards the fridge with awareness, if the process doesn’t slow us down. When someone is obsessively observing her/his movements step by step, s/he needs to see if this is slowing them down or not. That’s when awareness will be working for them exactly as expected.
For most of us, an addiction to meditation may not seem possible, but some of us tend more towards addiction. Especially people with an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder can turn meditation or awareness into an addiction. The drive to do things perfectly and repetitively can also make meditation an obsession. The fact that serotonin decreases as a part of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and that meditation is a practice that increases serotonin can be one of the reasons for addiction.
In some blogs, we see people posting that they are constantly meditating, and they even start meditating when the conversation during dinner is meaningless. Even the day I started writing this blog, a friend of mine who didn’t have any idea I was focusing on this topic, told me that she meditates every time she feels bored. In some blogs, people question if this is an addiction or not. Turning towards meditation during a problem can be an escape from or delay from finding a solution, and it can even break the hearts of the people around us. Ignoring them, and turning to meditation obsessively in any way, can indicate a problem. Of course, only a trained professional can give you a clear answer to the question of addiction. But we shouldn’t forget that even a healthy practice like meditation can be unhealthy sometimes. We wanted to shed light on this possibility in today’s blog.