The Hidden Risks of Meditation — Dr. Willoughby Britton | The Tim Ferriss Show


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Willoughby Britton, PhD is a clinical psychologist, an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University Medical School, and the director of Brown’s Clinical and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory.

Her clinical neuroscience research investigates the effects of contemplative practices (meditation) on the brain and body in the treatment of mood disorders, trauma, and other conditions. She is especially interested in which practices are best- or worst-suited for which types of people or conditions and why. She is probably best known for her research on adverse effects—why they happen and how to mitigate them.

Dr. Britton is the founder of Cheetah House, a nonprofit organization that provides evidence-based information and support for meditators in distress as well as meditation safety trainings to providers and organizations.

Please enjoy!

[00:00] Intro
[02:37] Where did Willoughby’s interest in meditation begin?
[05:45] Discovering a link between meditation and insomnia.
[08:02] Challenging assumptions about meditation as a purely beneficent practice.
[12:00] Awakening is not a metaphor.
[14:19] Can mindfulness be too much of a good thing?
[16:44] My personal experience with meditation defying positive expectations.
[25:35] Undesirable consequences of meditation are more common than you probably think.
[27:41] What makes some people more vulnerable to the potential dangers of meditation than others?
[34:44] Mitigating risk of adverse effects
[43:39] Altered states as a deviation from baseline.
[44:26] The impact of diet on meditation.
[46:16] The neuroscience behind psychedelics and meditation.
[51:15] The dangers of combining psychedelics and meditation.
[53:09] Choosing and vetting the ideal meditation retreat.
[58:48] When being a high achiever is a risk factor.
[1:03:49] Does Willoughby currently practice any forms of meditation?
[1:06:41] When meditation compromises cognition.
[1:10:36] Duration of symptoms and duration of impairment.
[1:11:44] Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD).
[1:12:53] Differences between meditation-related and psychedelic-related adverse events.
[1:15:44] The origin of Cheetah House.
[1:18:12] Ideological power and scaffolding.
[1:26:59] Willoughby’s self-care.
[1:31:07] Resources for people seeking relief from meditation-related adverse effects.
[1:36:35] Institutional betrayal and the empathy that comes from being humbled.
[1:39:03] Advice for aspiring psychedelic healers.
[1:41:38] Near-death experiences (NDEs).
[1:53:00] Parting thoughts, and the Dalai Lama’s response to Willoughby’s meditation research.

Tim Ferriss is one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Business People” and an early-stage tech investor/advisor in Uber, Facebook, Twitter, Shopify, Duolingo, Alibaba, and 50+ other companies. He is also the author of five #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers: The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, The 4-Hour Chef, Tools of Titans and Tribe of Mentors. The Observer and other media have named him “the Oprah of audio” due to the influence of his podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, which has exceeded 900 million downloads and been selected for “Best of Apple Podcasts” three years running.

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