This book

Part 1 of the book explores meditation as a process informed by cognitive, Buddhist, empirical, and philosophical perspectives. Chapter 2 by Martine Batchelor, who for many years led a life as a Buddhist nun in South Korea and now lives and teaches in France, focuses on what happens when we meditate. She proposes that meditation involves two fundamental processes—concentration and enquiry. Through an exploration of these processes, informed by the insights of Buddhist teachers over the centuries, we can understand how meditation practice changes our experience and our relationship with the world we find ourselves in, both the physical and human environments. The chapter offers profound insights into our condition and how meditation can help us through these twin processes of concentration and enquiry.

Guy Claxton has brought together his long experience as a practitioner of meditation, a writer on Buddhism, and a leading cognitive psychologist in the UK to explore, in Chapter 3, the subtle but powerful processes that occur during meditation. From the perspective of the new science of “embodied cognition," he explores two processes he calls “unfurling” and “welling up" Through the identification of these subtle processes, he explains how meditation comes to offer us more accurate perceptions of our inner and outer worlds, and how we achieve greater congruence of action and experiences, enhanced creativity, and the recovery of core values to guide our living and being.

James Carmody offers another perspective in Chapter 4 on our understanding of meditation in the context of human evolution and development. He provides a clear and parsimonious description of meditation processes and links this to psychological distress. The adaptations for survival and safety that served us well for millennia are no longer appropriate and lead to chronic unease or dissatisfaction. He shows how meditation practice can change this but does so in a way that is demystifying, offering conceptual coherence rather than mystical ambiguity. He concludes by alerting the reader to the potential dangers in the discourse of some meditative traditions in inuring us to our socio-political contexts.

Loriliai Bernacki, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Religious Studies, University of Colorado at Boulder (USA), provides in Chapter 5 a review of the emergence of meditation in Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. The role of meditation becomes clear in these traditions as a fundamental component of the philosophical understanding of the self and of subjectivity. She provides a phenomenological account (an account based on subjective experience) from the perspective of these disciplines. Noting that the interpretations of effects of meditation vary across traditions, she alerts us to the need to be aware of the filters that philosophy and doctrine place on meditation experience. She explores in some depth the sense of wonder evoked by meditation in a Tantric context.

Part 2 explores therapeutic and clinical applications of meditation and mindfulness practice. In Chapter 6, Lynn Waelde, Professor of Psychology at Palo Alto University and Consulting Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, and her colleague Jason Thompson examine the use of meditation and mindfulness with clinical populations. They describe how the rationale for the application of mindfulness in clinical populations has been based on the rationale that the development of cognitive processes of attention and equanimity can have important therapeutic applications. The chapter reviews research on the clinical applications of mindfulness and explains the methodological challenges involved, before identifying the importance of future research to help us identify when to use and when to avoid the use of mindfulness and meditation practices with clinical populations.

Vidyamala Burch has spent 20 years managing her pain through using meditation and mindfulness. She set up Breathworks in 2001 to ensure the learning from research on meditation and pain management and her own experience could be communicated to others. Chapter 7 explores the physiology of pain and the psychological burden before showing how meditation and mind/heart training can help. The chapter reviews relevant research and provides a description of the approach used by Breathworks—Mindfulness Based Pain Management—to manage pain.

The application of meditation in another therapeutic context is addressed in Chapter 8 by Sarah Bowen, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Pacific University, Oregon, and her colleagues. They describe the use of meditation in the “cyclical trappings and anguish caused by addictive behaviors" Their chapter addresses the nature of addiction and the role of mindfulness and meditation in addictive behaviors. They review the use of mindfulness-based relapse prevention, acceptance and commitment therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy, and present encouraging evidence for the effects of these meditation and mindfulness-based approaches in the treatment of drug addiction, eating disorders, and smoking.

In Chapter 9, Linda Carlson, Enbridge Research Chair in Psychosocial Oncology at the University of Calgary, Canada, provides a review of research on meditation training for people living with a variety of chronic medical conditions, including cancer, chronic pain conditions, fibromyalgia, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, and organ transplant. The chapter describes the challenges of living with chronic or life-threatening illnesses and explores why meditation and mindfulness-based interventions might help. The chapter then reviews key research studies and concludes that mindfulness-based interventions hold real promise for relieving suffering amongst those with chronic diseases.

The final chapter in Part 2, by Antonino Raffone, offers a neuroscience perspective on meditation. Antonino is Associate Professor of Psychology at the Sapienza University of Rome and, in Chapter 10, he provides an overview of the neural correlates of meditation. He shows how emerging research on neuroplasticity (the hitherto ill-understood capacity of the brain to continually adapt over the life-span) helps us to understand how meditation practice changes brain functioning, consciousness, and awareness. This reinforces research findings suggesting structural changes in human experience as a result of meditation practice. He distinguishes between focused attention types of meditation and “opening up” meditation and shows that there are distinct neurophysiological processes associated with each, with consequent implications for our understanding of the effects of these different styles of meditation.

Part 3 explores the application of meditation in the workplace and in school. Bond and colleagues in Chapter 11 discuss how acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) conceptualizes mindfulness and show how ACT can be used to promote mental health and behavioral effectiveness at work. They focus on the key construct in ACT of psychological flexibility, which results from mindfulness. The chapter reviews research on the influence of ACT on employee mental health, innovativeness, emotional burnout, and attitudes toward client groups. The chapter describes in detail the approach the authors use to enhance wellbeing at work using ACT and, in particular, mindfulness.

Chapter 12 by Katherine Weare, Emeritus Professor at the School of Education, University of Southampton in the UK, describes how meditation and mindfulness are being deployed in school settings. In this chapter, she explains the major growth of interest in the use of mindfulness for children and young people and explores ways in which mindfulness is developing in interventions for children and adults in education in the UK and internationally. The chapter assesses the evidence base for mindfulness practice in schools and describes associated impacts and outcomes in relation to mental health problems, wellbeing, and learning. The chapter suggests a long-term vision of mindfulness at the heart of a whole school approach to the education of both the hearts and minds of young people.

Part 4 offers two sets of conclusions. In Chapter 13, Peter Sedlmeier and colleagues from the Technische Universitat of Chemnitz, Germany, review research on the psychology of meditation. They conclude that though great progress has been made and results in many domains are very positive in indicating beneficial effects of meditation practice, future research must offer more powerful insights. They propose that research should be more comprehensive in approach rather than narrow and fractionated; that there is great value in adopting Eastern philosophical and spiritual perspectives to guide research designs; and that there is great value in researchers co-designing research with those people who have considerable experience of practicing meditation and of using single case study designs to study such people. Finally, in Chapter 14, I offer insights based on a synthesis of the core messages to emerge from this volume and assess the extent to which we, as contributors, have answered these questions:

  • ? What is meditation and how can we understand this practice or experience from a psychological perspective?
  • ? What are the key psychological processes involved in shaping experience and outcomes from meditation practice?
  • ? What does the research evidence tell us are the potential therapeutic/clinical applications of meditation?
  • ? How might meditation be more broadly applied in society to the benefit of human communities?
  • ? What can we conclude overall in terms of our understanding of meditation from research and practice to date?
  • ? And where next for those seeking to understand meditation and mindfulness?

Before we begin the journey of discovery in relation to these questions, one other aspect of the book is worthy of the reader’s attention. All of the contributors have practiced meditation—some of them for more than 40 years—and they offer a considerable amount of experience of practice of many different methods and traditions. Each has written a brief account of their own experience with meditation, offering a fascinating glimpse of the range of experiences and meanings they have derived. This book therefore contains the main content of chapters on meditation research and practice, an account of the contributors’ own experience, and an implicit body of knowledge based on the many years of practice in aggregate of those who have contributed to the book.

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