Under IONS leadership, we conducted a series of five working meetings with 29 leading meditation researchers and scholars to discuss how to expand the constructs being investigated in meditation research. This group ultimately identified seven domains that could be fruitfully pursued by future researchers. Before moving forward to recommend these domains, we wanted to make sure that the experiences associated with them were prevalent enough among meditation practitioners to provide meaningful lines of inquiry. We conducted a survey of meditation practitioners that was a convenience sample, but did not reveal the content of the questions in recruitment materials to avoid biased sampling. Results were used to guide the recommendations presented in a scientific paper for ways to expand the science of meditation while maintaining rigorous standards of scientific inquiry.
Researchers involved in these meetings were 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, Helane Wahbeh.
Below is an excerpt from the result of the survey on 1120 individual participants who were or had been meditators in the past. Questions in the table below are ordered by the sum of the first two responses “This almost always happens” or “This has happened many times”. People predominantly reported feeling a sense of peace and tranquility, and a variety of sensations and mental experiences. Interestingly, even for the most dramatic experiences, “loss of awareness of where you are,” “experience unity with ultimate reality,” “ecstasy,” less than 20% of participants report never having such experiences.
In this survey, as shown in the figure below, we also assessed more specific types of unusual experiences. Sensations such as altered breathing or altered sense of awareness were most prominent. However, more than half of participants reported experiences of clairvoyance or telepathy, experiencing nonphysical entities in their awareness, vision or hearing, and feeling a sense of collective energy from a group.
The two figures above are only a small part of all the results we collected. The full methodological approach and results will be available in a scientific paper that is currently being finalized for submission for publication. A link to the paper will be posted here once it is accepted for publication.