Research Gatherings


Research Gatherings

Meeting 1: May 26 – 31, 2013

The purpose of our first meeting was to review the state of the art of modern meditation science, explore less well-studied aspects of meditation, and evaluate how we might foster a science that remains rigorous but includes a broader perspective on meditation and its potential for advancing human development.

The meeting was featured on Learnist.

Present at the meeting: Jan Chozen Bays, Willoughby Britton, Rael Cahn, Arnaud Delorme, Elissa Epel, Mica Estrada, Bruce Fetzer, Zoran Josipovic, Al Kaszniak, Edward Kelly, Jared Lindahl, Katherine MacLean, Paul Mills, Michael Murphy, Dean Radin, David Presti, Michael Sapiro, Marilyn Schlitz, Shauna Shapiro, Fred Travis, Fadel Zeidan, Cassandra Vieten.

The goals of the meeting were to:

  1. Evaluate the current state of the field, in terms of content (what we can say we know about meditation based on the evidence) and methods (how we know it);
  2. Assess essential types of meditation, and types and aspects of meditation that have been under-studied or excluded from contemporary scientific dialogue;
  3. Explore the contexts within which meditation is taught, as well as the intentions and goals of practitioners;
  4. Explore how our worldviews can limit the questions being asked, and therefore the knowledge that can or cannot be gained;
  5. Review the relationships between extraordinary experiences and abilities, and how they are favored, neglected, or suppressed by cultural, religious, and moral attitudes toward them;
  6. Create a common list of measures that researchers may employ in their future research, and share what they find in follow-up meetings;
  7. Envision what a future, more inclusive, science of meditation would look like.

At the end of the meeting, the group agreed to pursue three follow-up projects aimed at broadening the field of meditation research to include more expanded domains of human experience:

1) Create an online survey to investigate the nature and prevalence of  experiences that are not often investigated in meditation research; 2) write a collectively authored academic paper targeted toward a high-profile journal presenting the case for, and recommendations and tools for, expanding the topics and measures used in meditation research; and 3) build a web-based resource of measures and protocols that can be downloaded or accessed by researchers who wish to broaden their research to include constructs that are understudied.

Meeting 2: November 14-16, 2013

A follow up meeting was held at the Institute of Noetic Sciences’ EarthRise retreat center. Attendees continued to work on the projects listed above. Expanded research domain categories were further discussed along with possible outcome measures for each category and potential survey questions. The goals of the meeting were to discuss format and content for the 1) online survey; 2) an academic paper and 3) a web-based resource.

Present at the meeting: Katherine MacLean, Elissa Epel, Fadel Zeidan, Helene Wahbeh, Bruce Fetzer, Dean Radin, Marilyn Schlitz, Michael Sapiro, Cassandra Vieten, Mica Estrada, Rael Cahn, Cliff Saron, Fred Travis, Zoran Josipovic, Michael Murphy, Paull Mills, Jan Chozen Bays.

The first goal was to create a survey to investigate the prevalence and distribution of experiences rarely measured in studies of meditation. This would include such things as experiences of oneness or interconnectedness; samadhis and siddhis; shakti and kundalini energies; karma, past-life recall, reincarnation experiences; visions, synchronicities, precognition, extra-sensory perception; experiences of God, deities, or other non-physical entities; difficult stages of meditation, periods of disorientation and depersonalization, and dissolution of ego. To our knowledge no validated survey exists to assess these expanded domains of meditative experience.

The survey will also ask participants to describe reactions of their meditation teachers, or from mental health professionals, when they shared these experiences; and if they did not share them with others, why not. This survey will be hosted by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and facilitated by Katherine MacLean, who will request approval from Roland Griffiths. We will request that the members of our research group widely publicize the survey through their associated organizations and their social media networks.

In terms of specific content, the proposed expanded set of survey domains fall into two broad areas: Awareness and Body. Within these areas, we will include survey-based assessments for categories such as: transpersonal, relational, environmental, psi, social, subtle energies, alternate states, biomarkers, etc. More specific measures within these areas may include testing outcomes for a variety of ESP phenomena like telepathy or precognition, other forms of bodily and/or perceptual sensitivity, mystical experiences, group meditation effects (i.e. on individual physiology, field effects, etc.), past lives or karmic experiences, and more. The group will design both a short survey and a longer survey. A sample of a possible short survey developed during our group discussions is included in the Appendix.

Meeting 3: November 21-22, 2014

Based on the survey designed at the second meeting and the data collected on more than 1000 participants, our task will at this meeting was to write a collaborative scholarly article targeted for publication in a mainstream academic peer-reviewed journal and co-authored by most of our group and advisory council. This paper will propose that an expanded set of concepts should be measured in meditation research, it will present results of the survey to support this claim, and it will link directly to this website containing the recommended measures.

Present at the meeting: Fred Travis, Arnaud Delorme, Rael Cahn, Fadel Zeidan, Michael Sapiro, Cassandra Vieten, Dean Radin, David Presti, Alan Pierce, Katherine MacClean, Mica Estrada, Helane Wahbeh.

This project is innovative because it will directly recommend inclusion of under-studied aspects of meditation, and it will also provide a clear and easy way to do so (which many “review and recommendation” papers fail to do). In addition, the prestige of leaders in the field collectively recommending that research include topics that many had previously considered taboo will strategically expand the field.

The range of expertise and experience of the authors will strengthen the depth and scope of the paper. For example, most participants are expert in behavioral or neuroimaging studies of meditation. All participants have their own area of expertise linked with meditation research and the pool of potential co-authors includes individuals with compelling credentials.

The content of the article will focus on presenting the results of the survey and outlining promising directions to follow in future meditation research. It will also propose useful research methods with a discussion of why each method might be of interest.