From Meditation into Hallucinations
“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.
adversary, the devil,
prowls around like a roaring lion,
seeking someone to
(Emphasis Added, 1 Peter 5:8, NASB)
As borrowed from the eastern
mystical religions, meditative or contemplative spirituality—the operation of
which involves engaging in ascetic practices and retreating into solitude (getting
alone with God) and silence (remaining quiet before God)—has emerged among
evangelical Christians as a popular way to experience God’s love and receive revelations
from Him, for intimacy breeds communication. Interestingly,
this discovery among evangelicals about how to find “spirituality” now parallels
the “mindfulness” revolution taking place in secular society.
By shucking their
ever-present cell phones, tabloids, I-pods and other distractions, increasing
numbers of people from all walks of life—athletes, educators, corporate execs
and workers, politicians, government workers and members of the military—attempt
to “de-stress” their lives by attending “mindfulness” retreats where under the
direction of spiritual tutors, they learn to meditate with the hope that will discover
“a new consciousness” to help them cope with life. To
promote “mindfully” working, playing, parenting, test taking, and even going to
war, the practice of meditation is rising in America. Based on the increase of
its popularity over the last decade, it’s estimated that in the near future more
than 27 million American adults will engage in meditation. To
cope, they contemplate.
But amidst the rising popularity
of this mindfulness revolution, a dark secret lurks in the background. One
advocate of “Christian” contemplation, the Quaker Richard Foster, recommends
meditation as a means for developing a deeper spirituality. But as to its
practice, he also issues a disclaimer (Mark this quotation.):
I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent
contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and
there is such a thing as supernatural guidance that is not divine guidance
. . . there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are
definitely not in cooperation with God and his way!
Though a significant majority
of non-Christian meditators report benefits derived from the activity, some indicate
that the exercise does not invariably promote psychological wellness.
So it would be well for any would-be meditators, Christian or otherwise, to
consider what could happen to their minds if they engage the practice. Meditation
can go mad. Examples where this has happened, both modern and ancient, are
known. We begin with reports from a rehab center which focuses on helping people
restore the soundness of mind they possessed before they began to meditate.
“The Dark Knight” of the
Recently, The Atlantic
reported about a spacious 19th century house owned by a university
professor/researcher. Located in a well established neighborhood in Providence,
Rhode Island, the house’s atmosphere is inviting. All four floors exude a
sanctuary-like atmosphere of welcome, peace and quiet. Organic foods stock the cupboards.
A large dining room and table can accommodate a dozen guests. Decorative plants
are placed throughout the house. Private living quarters in the basement often
host “a rotating cast of yogis and meditation teachers.”
From the description given by The Atlantic, one might get the impression
that the residence, named Cheetah House, provides the ideal environment for seeking
souls to congregate and practice the art of meditation. But surprisingly, notes
reporter Tomas Rocha, the visiting guests are “not there to restore themselves
with meditation—they’re recovering from it.”
Consider a couple of testimonials.
Attracted to meditation by
attending a retreat, one polite and well-spoken guest named David, 27 years old,
relates that though at first he found stress-relief from meditating, his life
changed for the worse. “Everything he had found pleasurable before the retreat”
he says, “‘turned to dirt’.”
The beautiful and delightful plate of spiritual food that served his soul at
first, to repeat his words, “turned to dirt.”
He “started having thoughts
like, ‘Let me take over you,’ combined with confusion and tons of
relates having “had a vision of death with a scythe and a hood.” The thought
‘Kill yourself’ [ran] over and over again [through his mind].”
David described the paranormal world he experienced as “Psychological hell.” He
tells the reporter that these altered states of consciousness “would come and
go in waves. I’d be in the middle of practice” he says, “and what would come to
mind was everything I didn’t want to think about, every feeling I didn’t want
to feel.” His experience
also possessed a physical sensation. “Pebble-sized” spasms would emanate from a
“dense knot” inside his abdomen. Other fantasies would captivate and obsess his
So in 2013, he arrived at the house for treatment.
Another guest, age 25, was a
certified yoga teacher. Michael explains that physically “during the course of
his meditation practice his ‘body stopped digesting food’. I had no idea what
was happening,” he relates. For three years Michael thought “he was ‘permanently
ruined’ by meditation.” The
Atlantic notes that descriptions like “recovery” and “permanently ruined”
are “not words one typically encounters when discussing a contemplative
this is the “dirty laundry”—as some call it—that can result from doing meditation.
These testimonies however, are not alone.
For a time in his life, Bill
Smith, (not his real name) with whom I stayed while ministering in Sydney,
Australia, during late September, 2013, testified that his devotion to eastern meditative
practices induced within him psychological disorder which necessitated he be institutionalized.
In combination with other New Age spiritual practices he engaged, Bill related that
meditation temporarily drove him insane. But by trusting the Gospel, the Lord delivered
Bill, and today in his right mind, he has a wonderful marriage and family,
successfully works for large corporation, and maintains a stable Christian witness
as he pastors a church which regularly meets in his home.
Though admittedly anecdotal, Smith’s
admission bears similarity with the previously cited testimonials from the recovery
center for former meditators run by Brown University neuroscientist and
researcher Dr. Willoughby Britton.
The Doctor and “The Dark”
Britton’s “effort to
document, analyze, and publicize accounts of the adverse effects of
contemplative practices (what elsewhere are called “rockier parts of the
mindfulness path,”) is known
as “The Dark Knight Project.” Because
of what she saw in recovering meditators who visited her research and rehab center,
Dr. Britton (herself a trained and experienced meditator) decided that, like
her patients, she should attend a retreat to experience firsthand what they had
been exposed to—and experience it she did! She described how like those undergoing
treatment at her rehab center, she too fell into “an extreme and distressing
mental state” after meditating .
thought that I had gone crazy. I thought I was having a nervous breakdown . . .
like terror was a big symptom of mine.
These contemporary testimonies
fall in line with accounts of other persons who either sought out or were
forced to experience solitary. Though perhaps not normal—whatever normal is in
a paranormal world—these testimonies indicate the effect which isolation and meditation
can have upon a soul’s sanity. Consider, for example, the effect of solitary
confinement, employed by many penal systems to handle incorrigible prisoners,
can have upon a human soul.
Within the Pennsylvania penal
system at Eastern State Prison around the time of the Civil War (circa
1860), solitary confinement arose as a way, it was hoped, to rehabilitate
prisoners. Inspired by the Quakers, the theory goes that placing criminals alone
would help bring them “closer to God.” As
originally conceived, “solitary” seems to have been used as a method to
rehabilitate prisoners rather than, as is true now-a-days, to punish them. It was
hoped that being placed in isolation would help them to reflect upon their
crimes and restore their “relationship with God” (Ed., that is, if they ever
had a relationship.).
It must be noted that in
denial of the biblical teaching of the universal apartness of the human soul
from God because of “original” or “birth sin” (Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12), Quakerism
assumed that “true religion consisted in ‘the divine light of Christ’ in every
it can be seen how, given Quakerism’s influence upon this theory of criminal
rehabilitation, it was hoped that “solitary confinement” might quicken a
prisoner’s awareness of “the divine light of Christ within” and, in a
rehabilitative way, to fellowship with it. The method of solitary confinement became
popular and crossed over the Atlantic where European prison systems began to employ
it. But news drifted back to America that the method did not work.
“Clinicians in Germany, which
built multiple prisons modeled on Eastern State,” reported Rolling Stone,
“attributed hundreds of cases of psychosis to solitary confinement, concluding
that it caused ‘elementary hallucinations’ and ‘suicidal and maniacal’
psychiatric studies revealed how solitary confinement induced the same affect
upon that nation’s prison population.
It should be noted that the
experiences of prisoners in solitary confinement resemble those of early
Christian monks who in order to draw closer to God and cure their hearts of
idolatry, retreated into the desert to escape society’s worldly influence. They
too, like today’s recovering meditators, experienced altered states of
consciousness resulting from having engaged in ascetic practices and the
discipline of meditation. Basically, this is how Christian monasticism entered
Deserts, Demons and
In early Christian history, devout
men renounced the world and fled to the desert to focus their attention on God
and interact with the supernatural realm, with powers that included angels and
demons. According to Rowan Williams (1950-
), the liberal Archbishop of Canterbury,
desert was seen as a place teeming with hostile spirits, and a major part of
the monk’s vocation was repeated confrontation with the destructive and
deceptive power of demons. Sometimes this might mean spending time in the ruins
of a pagan shrine, exposing oneself to the wiles of the evil spirits who had
served there. More often, though, it was a matter of learning to discern
between authentic and inauthentic ‘religious experiences’—acquiring a degree of
suspicion of vivid or consoling visions and revelations, easily manufactured in
the extreme conditions of hunger and isolation, learning to endure faithfully,
in boredom, depression, frustration, without taking refuge in the devilish lure
of dazzling spiritual dramas (angelic voices and visitations, etc.).
St. Anthony of Egypt
St. Anthony (c. 251-356) was
born into a wealthy and respectable Coptic Christian family. From his youth and
because he was illiterate, Anthony had “little interest in matters of worldly
learning” but was possessed of “deep religious feeling, and a craving after the
intuition of divine things.”
While attending church one day, he heard a sermon on “The Rich Young Ruler”
(Luke 18:18-27). Jesus’ words convicted his soul and he proceeded liquidate his
inherited wealth, give the money to the poor, and move to the desert to
cultivate his devotion and love for God. Though he did not found the monastic
movement (the separatist and isolationist spirit of it was imported into
Christianity from the animists, Eastern religions and Egyptian Therapeutae—i.e.,
Jewish holy men who isolated themselves from society to pursue “the
contemplative way”), St. Antonius (as he’s also known) became known as the father
of monasticism within the Christian tradition.
By isolating himself in the
desert and engaging in ascetic and meditative disciplines, Anthony sought to purge
his heart from worldly distractions in order to bask in God’s love. In the
desert, Anthony became a counselor, a source of strength (physical as well as
spiritual) and a father figure to other men who moved to the desert to pursue “the
contemplative way.” As a teacher, Anthony instructed monks to keep
diaries of their secret thoughts (i.e., “journaling”) because self-improvement
was the cost of eternal life.
He also taught ecstasy characterizes perfect prayer.
Awful (not Awesome) Asceticism
He, as others who followed
him, retreated into the desert to experience the supernatural, and that they
did. The record of Anthony’s life contains “strange stories of his visions, in
which he describes himself as engaged continually in deadly conflict with evil
spirits manifesting themselves not infrequently in forms more ludicrous than
terrible.” On one
occasion, after having separated himself in a cave away from the village to seek
God, the German theologian and church historian Augustus Neander (1789-1850)
it is probable, by excessive fasting, and by exhaustion from his inward
conflicts in the unnatural place of abode, he brought himself into states of an
over excited imagination and nervous derangement, in which he fancied he had
received bodily harm from the spirits of darkness. He fell at last into a swoon
and was conveyed back to the village in a state of unconsciousness.
Like other modern examples of
meditation gone mad, Neander assessed that, “the extravagances of asceticism .
. . [gave] birth to many wild sallies of the fanatical spirit, and many mental
disorders.” To this
point, it must be noted that one fruit of true spirituality is “self-control”
(Galatians 5:23). What impresses a student of desert spirituality is the common
occurrence of men going “out-of-control”!
These many examples, modern
and ancient, call into question the optimism that, “Meditation causes nothing
but good for those who practice it. It is one of the healthiest things a human
being can do for mind and body.”
Dark Night of the Soul
Interestingly, the research
at Dr. Britton’s Cheetah House is being conducted under the name of “The Dark
Knight Project” (now renamed, “Varieties of Contemplative Experience”). The
project’s name seemingly derives from a mystic experience called “the dark
night of the soul,” when after entering the “zone” of seeing visions, hearing
voices or having visitations, the contemplator reaches a point where experience
exhausts itself. A day
comes when the music dies. As such, the contemplator feels abandoned and alone,
and “No matter what the mystic does—praying, contemplating, meditating—the
sense of God’s presence cannot be regained.” A
“dark night” or a “cloud of unknowing” engulfs their psyche. Buddhists refer to
this as “falling into the Pit of the Void.” To
find comfort in or to explain the soul’s dark night from the Christian
perspective, the feeling of being estranged from God’s love is compared to the
Shulammite Bride who on her “bed night after night . . . sought [her beloved] .
. . but did not find him” (Song of Solomon 3:1); or to Moses’ experience on
Mount Sinai where he ascended “Into cloud and darkness to meet God” (Exodus
19:9, 16; 20:21).
To comprehend the meaning of
darkness in the meditative experience, one must understand the context of “the
mystic way”; that is the stages of “knowing” which meditators go through to
experience the presence of God with the goal of realizing union with Him (i.e.,
unio mystica or theosis). Some view the phases to be as many as
seven while others as few as three. To explain “the mystic way,” we shall view meditative
stages or “zones” to be entered as three—contemplation of the
supernatural, illumination by the supernatural and finally, personal unification
with the supernatural.
Attention has been drawn to
the psychological disorder that can (but not necessarily does)
result from practicing meditation. The occurrence of strange phenomena (i.e.,
altered states of consciousness) most often happens during the illumination
Upon entering this zone, the meditator hears voices, sees visions and
experiences visitations. As such, ecstasies, raptures and dark
nights are to be anticipated. From the meditative perspective, these
paranormal experiences might be called normally abnormal. Nathan Fisher,
manager of Dr. Britton’s “Dark Knight Project” understands this when, in line
with other scholars and students of the mystic way, he explains that negative
experiences from meditation may be accounted of for two reasons. First,
instructions given by an advisor to a novice on how to meditate may have been misguided.
Or second, the meditator may have incorrectly pursued the experience. Yet whatever
the explanation, intimidating psychological/spiritual experiences are
considered “necessary and expected stages” of meditation and as such, “useful signs
of progress in contemplative development.”
This is an essential part of the mystic way.
The Light that’s not Dark
But light needs to be shed
upon this whole business of ascending into and enduring darkness to meet God.
Scripture tells us “God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1
John 1:5); that God “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16); that God
is “the Father of lights” (James 1:17); and that the Lord “appeared to [Moses]
in a blazing fire” (Exodus 3:2-4). Christian believers are declared to be “sons
of light and sons of day” (1 Thessalonians 5:5). And furthermore, Jesus
“transfigured” Himself before three disciples—“His face became like the sun . .
. His garments became white as light” (Matthew 17:2, NASB). The experience of
spiritual darkness belongs to those who are running away from, not to, Jesus
the Light (John 3:19-21). Also, in the present reality Satan and his cohorts
are known as, “the world forces of this darkness” (Ephesians 6:12). Scripture
also describes God’s salvation as being “rescued us from the domain of darkness”
(Colossians 1:13). So when set against the backdrop of Scripture, the soul’s
enduring of darkness becomes difficult to understand. What if in reality the
expressions “the dark night of the soul” or “cloud of unknowing”—and I only
pose the question—are descriptions of a state experienced by meditators which
indicate they have moved away from, not nearer to, the heart of God?
The Promise of the
Jesus also promised that He
would not desert His disciples but would send “another” Comforter (i.e., the
Holy Spirit) to be with them (John 14:16-18). So all these feelings of being
forsaken by God must find comfort in the Divine promise where the Lord has
said: “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Amidst all this Scripture, it becomes difficult to understand how the
“darkness” or “cloud” metaphors can provide comfort to persons who on their mystic
journeys encounter a dead end of darkness or a depressing cloud of unknowing.
The Bible describes the Christian journey is that of walking in and drawing
closer to the Light! Experiences of forsakenness are not of the Comforter. In
fact, if Jesus’ promises mean anything at all, such experiences are quite the
contrary (See Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always”; Hebrews 13:5, “I will
never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you. . . . The Lord is my helper, I
will not be afraid . . .”). The Lord’s children never have to be afraid of the
dark because they live with and in the Light!
But not only did the
contemplative life foster a continuing spiritual tradition within Christianity,
but several hundred years later proved to be a breeding ground for the religion
of Islam. Interestingly, the story of Mohammed bears similarity to that of St. Anthony—i.e.,
their youthful inclination toward the contemplative life, their relative illiteracy,
their advantage of possessing wealth, their pursuit of the isolated life to
experience God, and respectively, their seeing, hearing and experiencing supernatural
visions, voices, and visitations.
The historian Robert Payne
(1911-1983) noted that by the age of eight, Mohammed’s pattern of life “was
being determined—long days of contemplation, swift journeys, the sense of being
abandoned, visitation of spirits, and always the dream of Paradise . . .”
When he was about 25 years
old, Mohammad attracted the attention of a wealthy and beautiful twice-widowed
woman who was 15 years his elder. They married, and together Mohammed and
Khadija had six children. Because of Khadija’s wealth, for ten years Mohammed’s
life was secure and comfortable. During this time, he lived in contact and
exchanged religious ideas with other spiritual men, whether they were animists,
Jews or Christians. One such man was his wife’s cousin, a man named Waraqa,
with whom Mohammed experienced deep spiritual kinship. But Waraqa was a
spiritually restless man who though he translated both the Old and New
Testaments into Arabic, returned later in life to the primitive faith he held
in earlier years. Despite his illiteracy, Mohammed remembered everything others
taught him, and perhaps because of Waraqa’s counsel, also refined the practice of
meditation, the disposition toward which he had possessed since he was a young
boy. But as Payne points out, the early years of his comfortable life with Khadija
and his four daughters (their two sons died prematurely) “was the quiet before
the storm.” Allow the historian to describe what Mohammed experienced.
storm came suddenly one night, at the hottest time of the year, after a long
period of meditating alone in a cave outside of Mecca. No one knows what
brought him to the cave. It may have been the memory of ascetic monks in the
Syrian desert who also worshipped their God in caves, alone with the Alone. Or
perhaps he was influenced by the wandering hermits called Hanifs, meaning
“those who have turned away from idol worship,” who emerged . . . to proclaim
the virtues of solitude and the worship of the One God. It may have been the
seed of restlessness communicated to him by the visionary Waraqa which sent him
out into the desert to live for weeks on end in silent contemplation. What is
certain is that the storm broke over his head, and the world was never to be
the same again.
Wrapped in his coat, lying
alone in a cave in the dark, whether asleep or in a trance is not known, the
illiterate prophet heard a voice which told him to read the first great
visionary revelation of what would become a part of The Koran. The point
is: Communications can be received, in fact are to be anticipated, when the meditative
state is entered. Visitations will occur. Voices will speak. Visions will be
seen. The deception that continued in the desert began in the garden! After
all, Eve was alone when the tempter approached her in the garden. Perhaps she
was practicing the spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence when she
received an added revelation, when a voice told her not even to “touch” the
forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:3).
The Mind Possessed
As we can see from this
survey of the last 2,000 years, retreating into solitude and silence to meditate
can become a breeding place for experiencing psychological derangement and/or altered
states of consciousnesses which meditators interpret to be encounters with God
or other divine beings—perhaps angels or worse, demons. So the question becomes,
what relation does contemplative spirituality have to the Christian life? Is it
a benefit or a detriment? Can the contemplative life become a dangerous pursuit
that might pave the way to encounter unfriendly powers or entities? To deal
with these questions, the Scriptures need to be consulted.
The Bible and Meditation
Aided by their profiteering
publicists and publishers, Christian celebrity-gurus (i.e., Richard Foster,
Beth Moore, Sarah Young, et. al.) advocate meditation as a “spiritual
discipline” by which to “draw near to God,” “experience His Presence,” and
“hear Him speak” because intimacy breeds revelation.
They do so based upon their interpretive abuse of Psalm 46:10 (the “poster
verse” for advocating Christian meditation, “Be still, and know that I am God .
. .,” KJV, NKJV, ESV, NRSV) as well as other scriptures in which they grope to
find biblical precedent and support (this is called “proof texting”) for
recommending mystical meditation (Psalm 46:10; 1
Habakkuk 2:20; Psalm
But as we have seen, meditation in isolation does not invariably benefit the
Solitude’s Slippery Slope
Gargoyles in Gadara
Madness is what characterized
the man from Gadara possessed by demons named “Legion.” He lived in isolation from
society on the cliffs and in caves overlooking the Sea of Galilee’s on the
lake’s east shore (Mark 5:1-20). The application to be taken from the man’s
example is not that demons possessed him because he was an ascetic and a
mediator, a Therapeutae—he might have been—but that he lived in a sort of “solitary
confinement” like a hermit-monk, and in his isolation, Legion attacked,
tormented, and possessed him. Though in comparison his experience appears to
have been far more extreme—“on steroids” as it were—his recorded behavior (“And
always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and
cutting himself with stones,” Mark 5:5, KJV) indicates severe psychological
derangement, not unlike what some of today’s recovering meditators say they
have gone through.
But Jesus healed the man from
the presence of demons who had possessed, afflicted and terrorized his soul and
body. Knowing him only as “a crazy caveman,” his neighbors were astounded when,
after Jesus healed him, they observed him “sitting, and clothed, and in his
right mind” (Emphasis added, Mark 5:15).
This man represents the spiritual danger of what might happen to the human soul
when a person retreats into solitude. In such a state, he/she becomes prey to
the influence of, even possession by, evil entities. This brings us to consider
the temptation of the Christ (Matthew 4:1-11.)
Wiles in the Wilderness
After His birth, boyhood and
baptism when “a voice out of heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I
am well pleased’,” the Spirit led Jesus “into the wilderness to be tempted by
the devil” (Matthew 3:17-4:1, NASB). Jesus followed the Spirit’s leading away
into the silence and solitude of the desert where after being deprived of food
for forty days, Satan directly attacked the Son of God. The tempter’s approach
to Jesus involved two strategies. First, he tried to make Jesus doubt that He
was God’s Son. In two of the temptations, Satan challenged Jesus, “If You are
the Son of God, command . . . throw Yourself down” (Matthew 4:3, 6). The
tempter tried to destroy the relationship between the Father and the Son.
Second, the devil attempted to make the Father displeased (contra the voice from
heaven who said, “I am well pleased”) with the Son. He tried to ruin the fellowship
between the Son and the Father. Both satanic strategies attacked the Divine
Trinity. In the third strategy, the tempter tried to seduce Jesus to take power
over the nations from him, not God. To this point, the Father had already
promised to give to the Son the nations as His inheritance so the promise was
not Satan’s to fulfill! (See Psalm 2:8).
One aspect about the devil’s
temptation of Jesus was the consciousness or visionary aspect of it. The
question must be asked, given that physically Jesus was located in “the
wilderness,” how was it that “the devil took Him into the holy city and
had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple,” and that, “Again, the devil
took Him to a very high mountain”? (See Matthew4:5, 8.) Of these phases of
His temptation, it is evident Jesus experienced a visitation, heard a voice and
saw visions. Did Jesus experience altered states of consciousness, even an OBE
(an out-of-the-body experience)? Given Jesus’ location where the Spirit led
Him, and where the devil “took” Him, the question can only be asked, not
answered. But if the preceding might have been the case, then Satan inspired
these paranormal experiences! Oh, by the way, Jesus did not thwart the devil’s
deception by practicing silence in order to hear an inner voice speak to Him,
but in all three instances, He quoted Scriptures, the Word of God, that were a
witness external to Him. It was then, after being thwarted by Scripture, that
the devil left Him alone. As such, the Lord’s example warns any believer of the
temptation that can invade the soul when solitude and silence are aesthetically
Sound Minds and Sober Souls
Both the Apostles Peter and
Paul in their epistles, both of whom were most likely aware of the
contemplative life (i.e., De vita contemplativa) practiced by Jewish
mystics (called Therapeutae) throughout the Hellenistic world of the
dispersion, advised believers on how to care for their minds, and their
recommendations did not include soliciting solitude and silence in order to
meditate. Rather, Peter told believers that because “the end of all things
[was] near,” that they were to “be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the
purpose of prayer” (1 Peter 4:7, NASB; Compare 1 Peter 1:13.). Peter calls upon
believers to be sober, not silent!
Paul too taught Christians to
ponder whatever is “true . . . honorable . . . right . . . pure . . .
lovely . . . of good repute” (Philippians 4:8-9). On this basis, meditation,
which has a possibility of inducing insanity, runs counter to the counsel of
the apostles and one fruit the Spirit works in the Christian, “self-control”! (See
Resist the Devil
Furthermore James advises
believers, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7b, NASB).
Paul tells the Ephesians, “Neither give place [i.e., an opportunity] to the
devil” (Ephesians 4:27). Apparently, Richard Foster is aware of the danger of
the examples of eastern gurus, the desert fathers and monastery monks, he is
aware of the trauma and disorientation, even insanity, that deprivation and
meditation can work in the souls and minds of contemplators. He knows that the
practice can lead to encounters with not-so-benevolent-spiritual beings who
“want to take a person over” (See footnote #9). Incidents of such “takeovers”
litter the history of contemplative spirituality.
Yet despite offering a
“tongue-in-cheek” caution against it, Foster, perhaps disingenuously,
recommends the practice anyway! That’s like a state trooper parked alongside an
Interstate highway with his lights flashing and screeching blow horn warning
drivers of an obstacle on the road ahead, but telling them to continue to drive
70-80 miles per hour anyway. So it must be asked, in light Scripture’s
admonition to “resist the devil” (James 4:7), why should Christians flirt with
any spiritual practice that might expose them to see, hear or experience an
evil entity? In
light of Scripture’s admonition to “submit to God” (James 4:7a), why should
Christians engage in any practice that might expose them to hear the
unsubmissive voice of Satan or a demon speak to them?
Because of the negative
consequences which might happen when someone pursues meditation, in the
Christian DVD Be Still, there is a segment rightfully called “Fear of
Silence” because as stated in the presentation, “intimacy automatically breeds
revelation.” So who
might give the revelation? What might be the origin of the speaking voice, appearing
vision or materializing visitation? Richard Foster offers advice about how to
discern who might communicate in the stillness. He said:
to distinguish the voice of God . . . from just human voices within us . . .
comes in much the same way that we learn any other voice. Satan pushes and
condemns. God draws and encourages. And we can know the difference.
Though there could be others,
Richard Foster admits to a cacophony of voices that might speak: first, human
voices within and without (that would involve listening to oneself or others speak);
second, Satan’s or a demon’s voice; or third, God’s voice (which raises the
issue of continuing revelation). As regards Foster’s characterizing Satan’s
voice as one which invariably “pushes and condemns,” what if the tempter, given
his wily nature (“the schemes of the devil,” Ephesians 6:11) and as with Eve
(“You surely will not die!” Genesis 3:4) and with Jesus (“All these things I
will give you,” Matthew 4:9), “draws and encourages”? Foster’s categories for discerning
Satan’s as opposed to God’s voice do not always fit the way Bible describes that
the devil communicates. At times, the evil one can be quite positive!
Doctrines of Demons
The Apostle Paul warned of
the devil’s deceptions. He wrote that “the Spirit [The Holy Trinity sounded the
alarm about spiritual deception!] explicitly says that in later times some will
fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of
demons” (1 Timothy 4:1, NASB). One aspect of the deception involves a practice that
is integral to mystical meditation—asceticism (i.e., “men who forbid marriage
and advocate abstaining from foods,” 1 Timothy 4:3). Thus John the Apostle warned:
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether are
from God” (1 John 4:1a).
From Scripture’s perspective,
what if what recovering meditators are recovering from involves psychological
derangement instigated by and affected upon the soul by a demon or the devil?
In His controversy with the Jews, Jesus declared that not only is Satan a destroyer,
but he is also a master deceiver. “He” Jesus said, “was a murderer from
the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in
him” (John 8:44). As well as being a murderer (a destroyer of the body),
he is a manipulator (a destroyer of the truth). “Whenever he speaks a
lie,” Jesus said “he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the
father of lies” (John 8:44b). Sure, for most people meditating can produce
psychological wellbeing in their mind/souls. This is why meditation can be so
wrong when it feels so right. But anytime people isolate themselves in solitude
and silence to contemplate, they also open their consciousness to be victimized
from within (the arousal of repressed memories of past traumatic experiences)
or from without (psychological devastation instigated by “the ultimate murderer
Causes of Trauma
The Bible describes human reality
to be one that involves warfare with unseen “powers . . . world forces of this
darkness . . . [and] spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places”
(Ephesians 6:12, NASB). Recovering meditators and those who, laudably, are
trying to help them may dismiss the psychological insanity being a result
(Whether in part or the whole, who knows?) of the soul’s ongoing warfare with
unseen powers as too unworldly an explanation, choosing rather to attribute the
derangement suffered to a more this-worldly “scientific,” “researched” and
“diagnosed” complex which involves physical deprivation, disease or sexual,
alcohol and drug abuse, etc., all of which and more do affect the wellness of
the human soul. But what cannot be denied is the resemblance between the symptoms
of the devil’s work recorded in Holy Scripture and the derangements of soul
reported by recovering meditators.
A word of caution: I am not
of the persuasion (like many TV evangelists, exorcist priests or witch
doctors), “When in doubt cast it out!” But I am persuaded that Satan is real
and his reality is, like the archangel Michael, to be respected (Jude 9).
Martin Luther one said that he believed in the devil’s reality for two reasons:
the Bible told him so and he’d been troubled by him. What may be at work in the
souls of recovering meditators is a complex of various factors. But to get to
the root of the matter, we must recognize too the reality of Satan and demonic
hosts because the Scriptures tell us so, and because people today, perhaps
including ourselves, are suffering from doing business with them.
During His wilderness
experience, Jesus neither sought nor received “personal” or “internal”
revelations from His Father. The delusional personal voice which addressed the
Lord was that of Satan! Rather, Jesus quoted the Law which was “external” to
Him! (See Jesus quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 in Matthew 4:4, quoting Deuteronomy
6:16 in Matthew 4:7, and Deuteronomy 6:13 in Matthew 4:10.) Though He was in
solitude, Jesus did not enter the silence. His meditation was not vacuous or
empty, but on Scripture, and according to His example, so should ours.
The Psalmist tells of the
“blessedness” (the inner sense of well being which can belong to the human soul)
of a person who does not walk in the ways of rebellion against God, choosing
rather to “delight” and “meditate” in “the law of the Lord” (Psalm 1:1-2). The latter
affecting the abandonment of the former. As has been reviewed and shown,
psychological maladjustment and affliction can result from meditation into a
mental vacuum. One never knows what or who might be around to fill it. That’s
why the psalmist says that beneficial meditation involves cognitive cogitation
upon the law or word of God. Matthew Poole (1624-1679) comments that, “The word
meditate implies a deep, and serious, and affectionate thoughtfulness about
God’s thoughts contained in
God’s words therefore serve to counteract and insulate us from ideas, hunches,
impressions, nudges, whispers or revelations the devil might instigate within
our hearts. Poole noted that,
of God may be understood as the whole doctrine delivered by God to the the
church, consisting of doctrines, precepts, promises, and threatenings . . . ;
and so it is noted as the peculiar character of a good man, that he delighteth
himself not only in the promises, which a bad man may do . . . but even in the
commands of God . . . which are unwelcome and burdensome to a wicked man.
God’s law, as it did for Jesus, exposes the
fraudulent voices, visions or visitations experienced in the onslaught of the
soul to be what they really are, attacks of Satan. As with the Lord Jesus, meditation
on God’s Law counters these attacks and promotes wellness in the human soul.
“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of
the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the
scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he
meditate day and night.”
Psalm 1:1-2, KJV
 Emphasis added. Richard J. Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s
True Home (San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco, 1992): 157.
 For example, it has been reported that Aaron Alexis,
the middle-aged man accused of shooting-killing 12 people at the Washington
Navy Yard regularly practiced meditation. See Maia Szalavitz, “Aaron Alexis and
the Dark Side of Meditation,” Time, September 27, 2013 (http://healthland.time.com/2013/09/17/aaron-alexis-and-the-dark-side-of-meditation/).
Reporter Maia Szalavitz, a health reporter, was roundly accused of journalistic
malpractice for associating murder with meditation.
In itself it should not be construed
that Alexis’ meditation instigated the murders. He was an alcoholic and
possessed of other mental problems. Yet from a biblical perspective it should
be asked, “Did his meditating put his mind in contact with “dark forces” that
lowered any inhibitions he might have possessed against committing murder?”
Jesus after all warned that “the devil . . . was a murderer from the beginning”
(John 8:44, NASB). He also warned that the ought of murder begins in the
emotions (Matthew 5:21-22). If there is a connection between meditation and
violence, it is esoteric and, other than Scripture, lies beyond objective
 Rocha, “Dark Knight.”
 Rocha, “Dark Knight.” All the following quotes in this
section have been extracted from this article from The Atlantic.
 Ibid. Emphasis added. Of course, the question becomes,
“Who or what wanted to take over David?” Was this a request for “possession” by
an outside entity of some kind? I only pose the question about possession, but
something transcendental is going on here.
 Dr. Britton’s academic credentials can be found on the
Internet at Researchers BROWN (https://vivo.brown.edu/display/wbritton).
Interestingly, it is stated of Dr. Britton that, “She spent several years in
Asia studying meditative techniques and received her mindfulness instructor
certification training at the Center for Mindfulness at the UMASS Medical
School.” Emphasis added.
 Szalavitz, “Dark Side of Meditation.”
 Rocha, “Dark Knight.”
 Szalavitz, “Dark Side of Meditation.”
 “Solitary Confinement,” Wikipedia: the Free
Encyclopedia, quoting the separate research of Bruce Arrigo and Jennifer
Leslie Bullock then Stephanie Elizondo Griest (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solitary_confinement).
 Eamon Duff, “Quaker Spirituality,” The Westminster
Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, Gordon S. Wakefield, Editor
(Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1983): 327.
 Ibid. Wikipedia documents source in footnote #6.
 "There is a sutta," a canonical discourse
attributed to the Buddha or one of his close disciples, "where monks go
crazy and commit suicide after doing contemplation on death," says Chris
Kaplan, a visiting scholar at the Mind & Life Institute who also works with
Britton on the Dark Night Project. Rocha, “Dark Knight.”
 Rowan Williams, “Desert, Desert Fathers,” Dictionary
of Christian Spirituality, 110.
 Augustus Neander, General History of the Christian
Religion and Church, Volume II, Joseph Torrey, Translator (Boston, MA:
Crocker & Brewster, 1849): 229-230.
 Isaac Gregory Smith, “ANTONIUS, St.,” A Dictionary
of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrine, Volume I A-D,
(Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1877): 126.
 Isaac Gregory Smith, “ANTONIUS, St.,” A Dictionary
of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrine, Volume I A-D,
(Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1877): 126.
 Neander, General History of the Christian Religion,
 Neander, General History of the Christian Religion,
238. Milman also notes that, “The indolence and prostration of the body produce
a kind of activity in the mind, if that may properly be called activity, which
is merely giving loose to the imagination and the emotions, as they follow out
a wild train of incoherent thought, or are agitated by impulses of spontaneous
and ungoverned feeling. Ascetic Christianity ministered new aliment to this
common propensity; it gave an object both vague and determinate enough to
stimulate, yet never to satisfy or exhaust.” Henry Hart Milman, The History
of Christianity: From the Birth of Christ to the Abolition of Paganism in the
Roman Empire, Volume III (London: John Murray, 1903): 198-199.
 See comment by Therapist60, September 21, 2013, in
response to Szalavitz, “Dark Side of Meditation.”
 Saint John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul and
Other Great Works (Orlando, FL: Bridge-Logos, 2007). Through meditation
“the soul becomes detached . . . as the soul experiences the Crucifixion of
Christ” (p.24). During this spiritual journey “the soul leaves its bodily home
in order to find union with God. This happens during the darkness of night, and
the soul encounters numerous challenges, conflicts, hardships, and difficulties
that must be faced and overcome in order to become detached from the world and
gain union with God” (p.21). Within the mystical tradition, the “dark night”
describes “an individual's spiritual crisis in the course of their union with
God. . . . In a sense, it’s Enlightenment’s Evil Twin.” See Rocha, “Dark
 Leonard George, Ph. D., Alternative Realities: The
Paranormal, the Mystic and the Transcendent in Human Experience (New York,
NY: Facts On File, Inc., 1995): 63.
 Rocha, “Dark Knight.”
 William Johnson, Editor, The Cloud of Unknowing and
The Book of Privy Counseling, Foreword by Huston Smith (New York, NY:
Image, Doubleday: 1973). Like “the cloud of unknowing,” the English author is
unknown. Elizabeth Dreyer summarizes the theme of the writing: “The
transcendence of God makes it difficult to know him by way of reason. The
superior way to God is the way of mystical or hidden knowledge which is
intuitive and ineffable. God lies beyond the cloud of darkness and unknowing
and the will alone can attempt to pierce it with its naked impulse of love.” See
Elizabeth Dreyer, “Cloud of Unknowing, The,” Dictionary of Christian
Spirituality, 91. The means for piercing the cloud surrounding God and
experiencing God’s love is negation (entering the cloud of forgetting by
meditating on one’s sins and the Cross) and working-up the love necessary to
penetrate the cloud of unknowing.
 Ray C. Petry, Editor, Late Medieval Mysticism
(Louisville, KY: Westminster John Know Press, 1957): 21. This volume is part of
The Library of Christian Classics.
 Rocha, “Dark Knight.”
 Robert Payne, The History of Islam (New York,
NY: Dorset Press, 1959): 11.
 Right mind translates the singular Greek verb sōphroneō
in its present active participle form (sōphronounta). Though previously
characterized by insanity, the man came to be of “sound mind.” By Jesus’
healing, he experienced psychological wellness. But meditation, as has been
testified to by those rehabbing from it, can induce within seeking souls a
“wrong mind” and a “sick mind.” As to the question of the relationship of
demons to insanity, only God knows. I am not of the persuasion, “When in doubt,
cast it out.” However, the influence upon a person’s consciousness on the part
of malignant spirits cannot be summarily dismissed. The desert fathers believed
in those spirits, even sought them out, and experienced doing battle with them,
even to the point of going insane, if only a short period of time.
 Be Still (DVD © 2006 Twentieth Fox Home
 Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible,
Volume 2, Psalms—Malachi (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1962): 1.