Transcendent States Across Meditation and Contemplative Traditions

February 27, 2018
Helané Wahbeh, Science

Through my research on meditation and contemplative practices, I always noticed that what seemed like a very similar transcendent state was given different names like samadhi, oneness, non-dual, conscious awareness, etc. I also learned that transcendent states achieved through meditative practices have been reported across cultures and throughout history. The exact practices people used to achieve the transcendent states vary quite a bit from transcendental meditation to yoga to contemplative prayer, to other various forms of sitting meditation. Despite the different terms, those who experience them describe a similar unitive, ineffable state of consciousness. I also noticed that no one had systematically examined or synthesized transcendent states during meditation to look at the similarities and differences.

Because of the prolific reports of people experiencing transcendent states, my own included, I was inspired to look at these reports more closely in order to: 1) characterize studies evaluating transcendent states associated with meditation in any tradition; 2) qualitatively describe physiological and phenomenological outcomes collected during transcendent states and; 3) evaluate the quality of these studies using the Quality Assessment Tool.

What I found was that transcendent states of consciousness were most consistently associated with respiratory suspension, slowed breathing, and reduced muscle activity. The most consistent result was increased alpha power during transcendence. In contrast to other meditative states, transcendent experiences are further associated with increased functional connectivity, coherence, periods of desynchronization during transitions between states, and whole brain activity. These are experienced as states of relaxed wakefulness in a phenomenologically different space-time.

To learn more about transcendent states during meditation I invite you to read the full paper available in Explore – The Journal of Science and Healing.

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