Research for the book Living Deeply


Research for the book Living Deeply

Project | Background | Narrative Analysis | Focus Groups | Transformation Interview Study | Transformation Survey Study


Let's take a closer look at the science behind the book, Living Deeply. This is the gift that good science can bestow upon us.

The material on these pages is a relatively abbreviated description of our methods of investigation. For some of you it may be too much, for others not enough. For the “too much” crowd, don't get bogged down in it. For the “not enough crowd,” please feel free to contact us for more detailed information or make use of the resource list at the end of the book.

Narrative Analysis

The IONS Transformation Research Program

In the fall of 1997, our team of researchers initiated a study focused on the process of transformation, inviting the 40,000 readers of IONS publications and the IONS Web site to participate in a collaborative research study. We asked members of IONS to send us descriptions of any experience that had changed their lives by any degree, especially if the experience had a lasting effect. We received 126 narrative essays that detailed moving transpersonal and life-altering incidents. In addition, we created an online forum for people to share their stories. We received approximately 1000 responses. From mundane to life-threatening, these incidents led our respondents to experience fundamental shifts in their sense of self and their way of being in the world.

Analyzing these stories, our team began to explore how it is that people come to change their lives forever. As we combed the essays for their narrative structure, we found that people described their transformation as a kind of hero's journey. Described by anthropologist Joseph Campbell in his classic book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1972), the hero's journey is a fundamental pattern of the human psyche that appears repeatedly in cultural stories, myths, and religious parables. According to Campbell, important stages in the hero's journey include overcoming obstacles, encountering helpers, braving the unknown, and undergoing a process of metamorphosis.

Similarly, we found that each of our participants experienced their own sort of hero's journey. For one person it came during his time as a conscientious objector in Vietnam. Through a specific prayer, in a specific moment, he found inner peace even as he saw his colleagues being shot down. For a mother and daughter it came when the mother used energy healing to help her distraught daughter find balance during a life transition, leading to profound transformative shifts for both.

We were intrigued by the fact that while the experiences people shared with us differed widely, a golden thread of commonality shone through them all. Some experiences occurred in extraordinary situations; others in ordinary, everyday situations. Some were initiated by experiences of great suffering; others by experiences of awe and wonder. In each a radical broadening of worldview and redefinition of identity, meaning, and purpose took place. Despite differences in content and context, the process of transformation was described very similarly – often even with the very same words! Whether told by a seasoned meditator or a mother of three who had never meditated at all, these stories hinted at a jewel-like tapestry of human experience that transcends cultural differences.

As we analyzed the stories for patterns that would shed light on the inner workings of transformation, we found ourselves filled with more and more questions: What constitutes a transformation of consciousness? What triggers transformation? How can we sustain the moments that move us beyond ourselves? And what impact do transformational experiences have on how we live our lives?

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