There are benefits and drawbacks to this. Secularizing these practices allows for much larger dissemination of them, as well as practices unburdened by dogmas that may or may not be supported by evidence. The field of meditation studies is likely to benefit from assessing even in a rudimentary way some of these contextual elements of meditation practice, and how they might impact outcomes. For example, researchers could randomly assign participants to different contextual environments for practice and then collect subjective and objective measurements.
One test might include having persons meditate in a room with an object randomly selected as one that is regarded to deepen practice versus a control object. Alternatively, repeated measures designs could also be used in which the same person meditates in various environments, and differences in neurophysiological correlates are measured.
One of the most dramatic findings of developmental psychology and neurobiology is that, contrary to previous beliefs, development can continue throughout much of adulthood [ , ]. There are now more than models of advanced or postconventional [ ] stages of adult psychological development [ , ]. Preliminary maps have been offered over the centuries by contemplatives, but a growing body of empirical research suggests that for moral, cognitive, and many other capacities such as wisdom and self-transcendence, development can continue well into the elder years [ — ].
As the scope of meditation research is broadened, and extraordinary experiences are the increasingly the focus of studies, it will be important to identify and address ethical issues that may arise. Indeed, a barrier to including these experiences and topics in the field of meditation research may have been a concern that too much emphasis on these experiences could encourage people to become distracted from the primary goals of meditation, foster experiences in meditation that could be iatrogenic for patients and clients, or bring to light experiences that clinicians were unequipped to address.
However, simply ignoring such experiences does not make them go away, does not preserve the ethical foundations of meditation practice, nor is it an effective clinical approach [ ]. Instead, we must create a set of clinical and ethical guidelines for helping clients, students and patients navigate and integrate these experiences to enhance, rather than detract from, their well-being.
Educating clinicians and researchers about the potential for these experiences to occur, including questions to screen for distress, depersonalization, or changes in functioning related to meditation practice in assessments, and identifying a clinician with expertise in treating such issues for referrals or consultation are all possible components of an ethical approach. The goal of this paper and the accompanying online materials is to share the findings and conclusions reached by the Future of Meditation Research working group.
These include the findings of a survey investigating the prevalence of extraordinary meditative experiences and recommendations for expanding future research on meditation. One theoretical trajectory of psychological and spiritual development through meditation practice could be described in broad strokes as 1 participant comes in with distress or a desire for greater understanding or contentment, 2 through beginning mindfulness practices, the participant learns to stabilize attention, 3 the participant learns to de-center and observe the contents of their awareness or experience rather than being completely fused with their experiences, 4 the participant learns to volitionally make choices about how they wish to approach experiences e.
The premise of this paper is that in addition to experiences recognized in the contemplative literature as signs of spiritual progress, such as decentering from individual ego-based concerns, the kinds of extra-ordinary experiences we have entertained in this paper may also be important parts of this process. We propose that these experiences are important to study. They hold the potential not only to shed light on effects of meditation in those who practice it, but may also illuminate new understandings about human potential and the nature of reality.
Some of these experiences may be purely subjective or even illusory, but if this is the case, they remain worth investigating to learn more about their functional utility and transformative or disruptive potential. In addition, as meditation practice continues to increase in health care settings, it will be important for clinicians to be aware of potentially important, distressing or overwhelming experiences patients may have.
Researchers wishing to explore some of these domains may encounter reluctance, resistance or even ridicule from the scientific and academic community. Many aspects of meditation have been excluded from scientific dialogue to allow contemplative science to mature and be accepted as a field with scientific rigor.
The field has understandably de-emphasized what may be essential aspects of meditation by focusing on component parts that are easier to operationalize and more palatable to scientists. But as shown by our survey results, there are deeper and more mysterious aspects of meditation practice that are worth exploring. Our premise is that these important aspects of meditation are within the bounds of scientific investigation, can and should be studied with scientific rigor, and that their exclusion from scientific dialogue unnecessarily limits our knowledge.
Our experience thus far, presenting this research to students and at professional meetings is that 1 researchers are fascinated by these topics, 2 that emerging findings often map on to their personal experiences and observations of students and research participants as well as the spiritual traditions from which many of these practices emerged, and 3 they are gratified to hear that there are intelligent, rigorous, and empirically sound methods to study them. Students and researchers who are interested in investigating these domains of meditation may find it useful to visit the Future of Meditation Research website to find a wealth of references and recommendations, an online course expanding on the topics reviewed in this paper, and a community of researchers who are pursuing these domains of inquiry.
The aim of this paper was to bring attention to some of the more controversial and less studied domains of meditation. These arenas represent largely uncharted scientific terrain and provide excellent opportunities for new and experienced researchers.
We hope this paper provided a foundation from which future research can expand. The intention of this paper is to invite all of us to step into a new paradigm from which to explore one of the greatest of human quests—the understanding, healing, and enhancement of the human mind. Thanks also to Learnist. The funders had no role in study design, data collection, and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. PLoS One. Published online Nov 7.
Rael Cahn. David E.
Cosimo Urgesi, Editor. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
Received Jan 9; Accepted Oct 1. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. S2 File: Meditation experiences survey codebook.
Brain Funct. Guerin B. Those who meditate regularly not only increase their ability to concentrate, but also boost their attention to detail and level of accuracy. Among researchers who are enthusiastic about the benefits of meditation being discovered in contemplative science, there may be hesitance to examine adverse events or negative side effects of meditation, for fear that this will engender fear, restrict research, or lessen enthusiasm for the practice. Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres". However further analysis revealed it played no significant role in reducing aggression or prejudice or improving how socially-connected someone was.
Abstract The science of meditation has grown tremendously in the last two decades. Introduction The field of meditation research has grown exponentially in the past two decades. Materials and methods Participants Participants were recruited through social media and email distribution, academic list-servs, and online directories of meditation teachers and practitioners.
Online survey Development of the online survey occurred during the third of four 2—3 day working group meetings. Extraordinary experiences To assess the prevalence of and response to other extraordinary experiences, the survey asked about other domains of interest that emerged during the working meetings. Statistical analysis Data were retrieved from SurveyMonkey and each entry checked for appropriate values. Results Demographics 1, participants began the survey. Table 1 Childhood and current spiritual or religious affiliations.
Open in a separate window. Meditation practice The average number of years participants engaged in regular at least once per week meditation practice was Fig 1. Frequencies of Mystical Experience Questionnaire items.
Extraordinary experiences Extraordinary experiences were measured by items newly developed for this study by the working group, arranged into categories including 1 extraordinary physical experiences, 2 spatial-temporal, 3 cognitive-psychological, 4 relational, and 5 extended phenomena.
Table 3 Percentage of participants reporting extraordinary experiences. Salience and valence of experiences To control the length of the survey, and because these experiences have been often pointed to as distractions or non-meaningful side effects, we asked follow-up questions regarding valence and salience of only the two extended perception items data not shown in table.
Context of extraordinary experiences For each extraordinary experience, participants were asked in what setting the experience occurred.
Table 4 Percentage of participants reporting mystical and extraordinary experiences by setting. Relationship of experiences to length of meditation practice To explore whether length of meditation experience was related to the frequency with which respondents endorsed items, we conducted Pearson correlations between the self-reported number of months of lifetime meditation practice and reported frequency of mystical and extraordinary experiences.
Discussion The results of this survey indicate that mystical and extraordinary experiences are prevalent enough among meditators, and salient enough to those who have them, to warrant further scientific inquiry.
Mystical and transcendent experiences in meditation Experiences that transcend ordinary perception are a common component of religious and spiritual traditions across human history. Social and relational aspects of meditation To date, most experimental studies of meditation have focused on cognitive, emotional, and physical correlates of meditation practice within individual subjects. Physical and perceptual phenomena Body-based meditation practices are some of the most commonly disseminated techniques in the West.
Extended perception Extended perception refers to perceptions people may have naturally, or develop over the lifespan, that go beyond traditionally understood notions of how information can be perceived. Other recommendations Difficult experiences in meditation Meditation is usually considered a low risk intervention and adverse events are relatively rare. As one American Buddhist teacher, Shinzen Young [ ] puts it: It is certainly the case that almost everyone who gets anywhere with meditation will pass through periods of negative emotion, confusion, disorientation, and heightened sensitivity… for some duration of time, things may get worse before they get better….
Context Though not included explicitly in our survey, we recommend that investigation of the role of the environmental context in which meditation practice occurs represents another essentially wide-open field for future researchers. Psychological development One of the most dramatic findings of developmental psychology and neurobiology is that, contrary to previous beliefs, development can continue throughout much of adulthood [ , ]. Ethical issues As the scope of meditation research is broadened, and extraordinary experiences are the increasingly the focus of studies, it will be important to identify and address ethical issues that may arise.
Conclusions The goal of this paper and the accompanying online materials is to share the findings and conclusions reached by the Future of Meditation Research working group.
Supporting information S1 File Meditation experiences survey. PDF Click here for additional data file. S2 File Meditation experiences survey codebook. References 1. Effects of Mindfulness-based interventions on salivary cortisol in healthy adults: a meta-analytical review. Frontiers in physiology.
Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials.