The Psychology of Meditation.
West, M. A. (ed.).
Oxford, 1987. [WM]
4 The phenomenology of meditation pp. 59-80.
Ronald J. Pekala
[WM4 59] Meditation is the process of turning consciousness upon itself to develop attentional control of the processes and contents of consciousness. Given that the focus in meditation involves training the mind to become attuned to specific processes or contents of consciousness, the subjective effects associated with meditation assume primary importance. Yet, despite the last two decades of meditation research, the research involving the phenomenological effects of meditation is still in its infancy.
A primary reason for the lack of research into the subjective effects of meditation is the role that subjective data has played in the history of psychology. At the turn of the century structuralists like Wundt (1897) and Titchener (1898) were investigating the structures of subjective experience, while functionalists like James (1890/1950) and Angell (l907) were trying to decipher the operations and functions of consciousness. Introspection was a common psychological tool. But within 20 years classical introspectionism had vanished from psychology textbooks, and was replaced by Watsons (1913) behavioural approach. According to Boring (1953), a historian of psychology, classical introspection became obsolete due to its failure to demonstrate adequate reliability and validity. Classical introspection went out of style after Titcheners death in 1927, because it had demonstrated no functional use, and also because it was unreliable (my italics) (p. 174).
The emergence of cognitive psychology in the 1960s and 70s and a simultaneous renewed interest in consciousness have brought a return of introspection as a quasi-acceptable methodology. However, introspection as currently used in cognitive-behavioural and consciousness research is unlike the self-reflection practised by the turn-of-the-century introspectionists. The new introspection is of the phenomenological variety in that it is a free commentary on whatever cognitive material the subject is aware of (Hilgard 1980, p. 10). Subjects do not have to be extensively trained in the practice of introspection, and neither do they need to be restricted to the rigid criteria used by the classical introspectionists to define and report internal experience. As with descriptive phenomenology (Husserl 1913/77), the new introspection involves a detailed description of [the phenomena of] consciousness as they appear in consciousness (Ashworth 1976, p.364). As such, it has been labelled phenomenological observation or phenomenological assessment.
[WM4 60] As in the past, there is currently much controversy over introspective or phenomenological reports. Nisbett and Wilson have indicated that introspective access of cognitive processes is not sufficient to produce generally correct or reliable reports. Smith and Miller (1978), on the other hand, suggest that cognitive processes may not be as inaccessible as Nisbett and Wilson indicate. Lieberman (1979) has argued for a limited return of introspection, citing the classical and modern literature which has shown that introspective data can be highly reliable and useful, helping not only to predict specific behavior, but to discover fundamental principles of learning and performance. From a somewhat different perspective, Ericsson and Simon have argued that verbal reports (involving introspection) are data just as behavioural observations are data and inaccurate phenomenological reports appear to result from requesting information that was never directly heeded, thus forcing subjects to infer rather than remember (my italics) their mental processes.
The question of reliability suggests that validity may be difficult to confirm. Although the data presented by Ericsson and Simon (1980), Klinger, and Lieberman (19791 indicate that introspective data can be both useful and valid, Rachlin (1974) and Skinner (19741 have strongly questioned the value and validity of introspective reports and have gone so far as to proclaim them superfluous. In relation to this controversy, Klingers (1978) advice is apropos:
In the observation of inner experience, as in such other procedures, the validation process resides in ruling out artifacts, in replications, and ultimately, in the usefulness of data and theory for making possible other forms of prediction and perhaps, control.
Given the various phenomenological processes and contents of consciousness available for self-report (Battista 19781, any significant phenomenological assessment should also attempt to be comprehensive including such contents and processes of consciousness as imagery, internal dialogue, positive and negative affect, memory, volition, attention, rationality, etc.
One artefact that may be detrimental to a comprehensive assessment of the phenomenological effects of meditation is the effect of demand characteristics. First given succinct definition by Orne (1962), demand characteristics refer to the totality of cues which convey an experimental hypothesis to the subject (p.779). The determination of demand characteristics allows for the isolation of the effects of the experimental setting from the effects of the experimental variables. The study of demand characteristics first assumed prominence in hypnosis research.. Given that meditation may be similar to hypnosis (Barmark and Gaunitz 1979), [WM4 61] similar attempts to control for demand characteristics in research on meditation should be made.
Another artefact that may be of crucial important in meditation research involving subjective reports is introspective sensitization. Introspective sensitization, is, to my knowledge, a term that was first used by Hunt and Chefurka (1976) to describe the unusual nature of subjective reports that may occur when a person is asked to introspect into his or her subjective experience. Hunt and Chefurkas thesis is that: describing the bare features of momentary awareness without any reference to the consensual world of objects, persons, and meanings, should itself elicit patterns of anomalous awareness typical of standard altered state settings. (p. 868)
Hence the phenomenological effects of meditation need to be assessed and compared with the phenomenological effects of introspection, possibly by comparing meditation (with eyes closed) with a baseline condition such as introspection during eyes-closed-sitting-quietly.
[WM4 78] ... we do not know the extent to which reported differences between meditation, hypnosis, and imagining or even meditation and sitting quietly may be due to differences inherent in the nature of these procedures, and how much may be due to demand characteristics. In any event, the data suggest that meditation and hypnosis may be much more similar than different in terms of reported phenomenological characteristics.
A critical evaluation of research on the phenomenology of meditation suggests that definitive knowledge is sparse. None of the studies reviewed in this chapter met the five criteria: adequate reliability and validity, a comprehensive phenomenological assessment, and control for introspective sensitization and demand characteristics.
Failure of studies to meet the above criteria is also compounded by the fact that different meditation techniques may produce or be associated with different phenomenological effects, and the studies reviewed here have assessed meditation techniques ranging from concentrative to insight-oriented approaches. Meditation studies involving naïve to enlightened practitioners, and utilizing formats from several minutes to many hours per day over periods from 1 day to several months would also be expected to produce very different subjective effects.
[WM4 79] In summary, the data to date, when controlling for expectancy, introspective sensitization, demand characteristics, and related variables do not support the statement that meditation induces or is associated with a unique altered state of consciousness significantly different from hypnosis or even sitting quietly with eyes closed. That that may indeed be the case, at least for some people, is suggested by the evidence, but tighter and more comprehensive research is needed to definitively assess and document that. The data, however, do suggest specific issues that will need to be addressed if the phenomenological effects of meditation are to be understood by behavioural scientists.
5 The influence of meditation versus rest on physiological arousal: a second examination pp. 81-103
David S. Holmes
[WM5 81] Over the past 20 years there has been widespread interest in the use of meditation, with the most publicized and popular technique being TM (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi 1963). It appears that many persons use meditation to reduce physiological arousal, and because of its purported effects on arousal, meditation is used to treat numerous disorders which stem from or involve hyperarousal. For example, meditation has been used to treat hypertension (Benson and Wallace 1972a; Benson et al. 1973; Blackwell et al. 1975; Michaels et al. 1976; Simon et al. 1977), asthma (Wilson et al. 1975), inflammation of the gums (Klemons 1977); drug abuse (Benson and Wallace 1972b; Shafii et al. 1974), alcohol abuse (Shafii et al. 1975), insomnia (Miskiman 1977a, b), stuttering (McIntyre et al. 1974), and a variety of psychiatric disorders (Bloomfield et al. 1975; Glucck and Stroebel 1975). Furthermore, meditation has been suggested as an alternative to progressive muscle relaxation training (Boudreau 1972).
Because of the potential importance of meditation as a technique for reducing physiological arousal, in 1983 three of my students and I conducted a simple experiment in which we compared the arousal-reducing effects of meditation and rest (Holmes et al. 1983). In that experiment, 10 experienced meditators and 10 other persons who had no experience with meditation came to my laboratory for individual appointments on each of 4 days. Each subject was first asked simply to sit quietly for 5 minutes. Meditators were then asked to meditate for 20 minutes, whereas non-meditators were asked to rest for 20 minutes. Following the meditation/relaxation period, all of the subjects were again asked to simply sit quietly for another 5-minute period. The results of that experiment were very striking: meditation and rest resulted in decreases in arousal, but, contrary to what is generally expected, meditation did not result in greater reductions in arousal than did the rest. In considering these results it is important to recognize that the meditators were highly trained (certified teachers of TM and/or trained in the Sidhi type), and thus the findings could not be attributed to lack of skill on the part of the meditators. These findings raised serious questions about the effects and value of meditation.
As it turned out, we were not the first investigators to compare directly the effectiveness of meditation and rest for reducing physiological arousal. In fact, an initial examination of the literature revealed a variety [WM5 82] of similar experiments, and those experiments failed to provide any reliable evidence that meditation was more effective than simply resting for reducing physiological arousal! I was intrigued by the sharp contrast between the widely held view of the effects of meditation and the fact that there was a substantial body of evidence that meditation was not more effective than rest for reducing physiological arousal. An examination of the research that was cited by the advocates of meditation quickly revealed the basis for the widely held but apparently erroneous conclusion concerning the effects of meditation on arousal. The findings cited by the proponents of meditation were based on uncontrolled investigations in which the investigators simply compared the arousal levels of subjects before they meditated with their arousal levels during meditation. They found (as did I and my colleagues) that arousal decreased when the subjects began meditating. The problem with those investigations is that they did not include a condition in which nonmeditators simply rested, and therefore the investigators could not determine whether meditation was more effective than rest. It is of interest to know that meditation reduces arousal, but it is of more interest and importance to know whether meditation is more effective than simple rest for reducing arousal. Indeed, it is meditations alleged incremental value that is its raison dêtre.
[WM5 90] Comments and conclusions
A number of comments should be made concerning the results of the experiments in which the levels of arousal of meditating subjects were compared with the levels of arousal of resting subjects. Firstly, from Table 5.1 and the accompanying discussion, it is clear that across experiments there is not a measure of arousal on which the meditating subjects were consistently found to have reliably lower arousal than resting subjects. Indeed, the most consistent finding was that there were not reliable differences between meditating and resting subjects. Furthermore, there appear to be about as many instances in which the meditating subjects showed reliably higher arousal as there are instances in which they showed reliably lower arousal than their resting counterparts.
Secondly, it is clear that within any one experiment there is no consistent evidence across measures that meditating subjects have reliably lower arousal than resting subjects. In fact, of the 23 experiments that involved more than one measure of arousal, only two experiments revealed reliably lower arousal of meditating subjects on more than one of the measures which were considered (Dhanaraj and Singh 1977; Elson et al. 1977), and in the latter of those two experiments the meditating subjects evidenced reliably higher arousal on one of the other measures obtained.
Thirdly, it is very important to recognize that the results of one well-done experiment can outweigh the results of numerous less well-done experiments, and thus, in addition to simply counting findings, the quality of the research must be considered. With the present set of experiments, considering those with more or fewer problems does not change the patterning of results. Furthermore, as noted in the preceding paragraph, there is not one experiment that provided consistent evidence that meditating subjects were less aroused than resting subjects, and thus the possibility that there is one good experiment confirming the utility of meditation for reducing arousal is precluded. Indeed, there does not even appear to be one bad experiment which offers consistent evidence that meditating reduces arousal more than resting.
Fourthly, in this review we are able to draw conclusions only from published research, and, given the differential difficulty associated with [WM5 91] publishing confirming results vs. null results, the incidence of null results summarized here is probably an underestimate of those which have actually been found.
Fifthly, it should be mentioned that, although in the majority of experiments the meditating subjects use the TM technique, there are experiments in which other techniques were used but they did not yield appreciably different results (Elson et al. 1977; Bahrke and Morgan 1978). Although it is possible that other meditation techniques might be more effective for reducing somatic arousal than those which were reviewed here, at the present time there are no data to support that speculation.
Sixth and finally, it is worth noting that, although the investigations in which the experimental-control procedure was used did not provide evidence for the arousal-reducing function of meditation, the investigations in which the own-control procedure was used did provide such evidence (see earlier citations). As noted earlier, however, the own-control procedure does not permit the appropriate comparison. With regard to the difference in conclusions drawn from investigations which employed the own-control comparison versus the experimental-control comparison, it might be noted that in one investigation the data were analyzed both ways and thus a direct comparison of the two approaches was provided (Holmes et al. 1983). The own-control comparison indicated that meditation reduced arousal from the premeditation level, but the experimental-control comparison indicated that meditation did not reduce arousal more than did resting. The sharp difference in findings illustrates the importance of the methodological issue and the distinction between the types of research should be kept in mind when evaluating the research findings and the conclusions of authors.
Overall then, it appears that there is no measure which across experiments reflects lower arousal in meditating than resting subjects, and that there is no experiment which across measures reflects lower arousal in meditating than resting subjects. In view of those results we must conclude that at the present time there is no evidence that meditation is more effective for reducing somatic arousal than is simple rest.
Meditation and control of somatic arousal in threatening situations
In this section, attention will be focused on the question of whether subjects who practise meditation are better able to control their arousal in threatening situations than are subjects who do not practise meditation. There are three reasons why it is important to answer that question. Firstly, it is practically important. Indeed, one of the reasons why meditation is often used as a psychotherapeutic technique is that it is widely believed that meditation will facilitate the control of arousal in threatening situations.
[WM5 96] Summary and conclusions
The results of the seven experiments in which meditators were compared with non-meditators during stress consistently indicated that the meditators did not show lessened physiological responses to stress than did non-meditators. In so far as differences were found, they suggested that meditators might be more responsive to stress than nonmeditators, and there was no evidence that the hyper-sensitivity on the part of the meditators was in any way adaptive. Overall then, these results provide no evidence whatsoever that training in meditation facilitates the physiological response to stress.
Concerns, comments, and replies
Having reviewed the evidence concerning the differential effectiveness of meditation and rest for reducing physiological arousal, and having concluded that meditation is not more effective than rest for reducing physiological arousal, we can now consider the concerns that have been raised regarding the review and the conclusion. These concerns were originally raised in response to my earlier review and conclusion (Holmes 1984), but because there is little difference between the two reviews and conclusions the concerns are relevant here.
1. Meditation does reduce arousal
A number of critics expressed concern about my original conclusions and asserted that meditation does reduce physiological arousal. Yes meditation does reduce [WM5 97] arousal, and I never meant to suggest that it did not. Indeed, even my own data demonstrate that meditation reduces arousal (Holmes et al. 1983)! The important point to recognize, however, is that the question is not whether meditation reduces arousal, but whether meditation reduces arousal more than does rest. Meditation reduces arousal, but there is no evidence that meditation reduces arousal more than does rest.
2. Meditation reduces arousal more than rest, but the effects of meditation have been obscured in the research
One commentator suggested that we should also consider other important psychophysiological phenomena that may complicate or obscure the effect of meditation such as autonomic response specificity and directional fractionation. The argument the commentator made was that although the data do not show any differences between the effects of meditation and rest, the effects of meditation may be obscured or reduced by processes that are not influencing the effects of rest. Unfortunately, the commentator: (a) did not offer any suggestions as to how such processes might obscure the effects of meditation, (b) did not indicate why those processes would not also influence the effects of rest, (c) and did not offer any data to support his speculation. There is always the possibility that some time in the future some additional effects will be found that will lead us to conclude that meditation is more effective than rest for reducing arousal, but at the present time it does not seem appropriate to imply that the effects are there but are hidden by some unspecified process that only affects the responses of meditators.
3. Meditation is not adequately defined
When the results of an investigation fail to confirm a hypothesis, one strategy for saving the hypothesis is to assert that the variable in question (in this case, meditation) was not properly defined. If that is the case, the variable of interest may not actually have been studied and thus the results may be irrelevant. This has been suggested as one explanation for why meditation was not found to be more effective than rest for reducing arousal.
In my original empirical research (Holmes et al. 1983), I did not attempt to define meditation conceptually. Instead, I defined meditation operationally: meditation was what meditators did, and meditators were persons who were adequately trained in TM. No one had seriously questioned whether TM was meditation (the authorities always referred to the practice as meditation), and therefore it seemed appropriate to define the practice of TM as meditation.
[WM5 98] In my review of the research (Holmes 1984), I did not limit myself to investigations that were based on TM, but instead considered any practice that was labelled as meditation. It was necessary to include all forms of meditation so as not to limit the findings artificially. It is always possible that a predetermined conceptual definition will preclude the consideration of a very effective technique. Most of the research I reviewed was based on the practice of TM, but the findings based on TM were not noticeably different from those based on other techniques, and none of the other techniques that were defined as meditation proved to be more effective than rest for reducing physiological arousal. It appears then that the definition of meditation has not limited or biased the investigation of the process.
Finally, if what I and others studied was not meditation, then it is the critics responsibility to tell us what meditation is and to demonstrate that it (whatever they define meditation to be) is more effective than rest for reducing arousal. In this case, the burden of proof is clearly on the critics, and their argument collapses under that burden.
4. We must not ignore the fact that meditation has been practised for centuries
A question I have encountered many times since publishing my review is that meditation has been practised for centuries, and who am I to question it? For example, one author wrote:
Meditation is an ancient therapeutic technique that has been studied and practised by many individuals of far-reaching intellect and insight. It has endured the rise and fall of civilizations, and predates both science and psychology by many centuries. As scientists who sometimes do not bother climbing onto the shoulders of our predecessors, let us carefully examine any conclusions about its ineffectiveness: (Suler 1985).
In response to this criticism I must point out three things. Firstly, the history of therapeutics is riddled with treatments that were used for many years before adequate research proved them to be useless (blood letting, for example), and the fact that a treatment was used for many years is not evidence that it was effective. Secondly, I am not arguing that meditation is ineffective, only that it is not more effective than rest. Thirdly, I must suggest that if the individuals of far-reaching intellect and insight had had the experimental evidence that we now have, they might have given up the practice of meditation more readily than some of its current proponents.
5. We should not throw the psychological effects out with the physiological effects
Numerous persons have cautioned that even if we conclude (reluctantly) that meditation is not more effective than rest for reducing physiological [WM5 99] arousal, we should not then conclude that meditation does not have other benefits. For example, one author wrote: If it is indeed true that meditation does not affect somatic activity [more than rest], let us be careful to avoid conclusions that its effectiveness in other realms must therefore be restricted [Suler 19851.
My review of the evidence concerning the effects of meditation was limited to its effects on physiological arousal, but the findings revealed by my review do have important implications for other realms. That is the case because many of the other effects that are attributed to meditation by its advocates are predicated upon or mediated by the reduction of physiological arousal. It is also important to note that, although those other effects are beyond the scope of this review, a variety of research has indicated, for example, that the psychotherapeutic effects of meditation can be attributed to the placebo effect (Smith 1975, 1976). Indeed, it has been found that when an antimeditation technique (pacing and focusing on problems) was presented to subjects as meditation it was effective in reducing the subjects self-reports of anxiety. From those results it was concluded that the crucial therapeutic component of TM is not the TM exercise (Smith 1976, p. 630). Unfortunately, a thorough examination of these effects is beyond the scope of this chapter.
6. There may be differences between persons who elect to learn meditation and those who do not, and those differences may have influenced the results of the investigations of meditation
Many of the investigations in which the responses of meditators were compared with the responses of non-meditators are in fact only quasi-experiments because subjects were not randomly assigned to the meditation and rest conditions. Instead, years before the various investigations were conducted the subjects self-determined whether or not they would learn to meditate, and that decision determined the group in which they would serve later. Therefore, it is possible that the subjects in the meditation and rest conditions differed on some factor other than meditation and that factor may have influenced the results (West 1985). Consistent with that possibility, there are reports indicating that persons who elect to learn to meditate are more neurotic and anxious than the general population (Williams et al. 1976; Fehr 1977; Rogers and Livingston 1977). If such differences are pervasive, they could pose a problem. However, their potential effects have not been demonstrated, and the true experiments that were reported (those in which random assignment was used) did not generate results that were different from the quasi-experiments.
[WM5 100] 7. Resting is actually a self-regulation strategy, and therefore it does not provide an appropriate control against which to compare the effects of meditation
It has been asserted that a condition in which subjects simply rest is not an appropriate control condition with which to compare the responses of subjects in a meditation condition (Shapiro 19851. Instead of being a control procedure, simply resting may be a self-regulation strategy through which one can access a relaxation response, similar to what occurs during meditation (Shapiro 1985, p. 7). That being the case, it is the critics position that in comparing meditating subjects to resting subjects we are not comparing meditation with a control and finding no difference, but rather we are comparing two treatments to one another and finding that they are both effective for reducing arousal. Voila! The sows ear has just been turned into a silk purse!
I disagree with that analysis of the situation, and I think that the problem can be approached and solved on two levels. On one level, in the true experimental sense resting does serve as an excellent control in experiments on meditation because resting involves everything that meditation does except the act of meditating (the use of a mantra, etc.). The fact that resting and meditating have the same physiological effects indicates that meditation adds nothing.
On another level, I agree that resting does reduce physiological arousal, and that as such it can be an effective means of temporarily reducing physiological arousal. I think that calling resting a self-regulatory strategy is stretching the usual use of the term a bit, but, as Humpty Dumpty has pointed out, our words can mean what we want them to mean (Carroll 1960). Therefore, for now I will accede to the critics position and call resting a self-regulatory strategy. The question then arises, are resting and meditation both effective self-regulatory strategies? I have acknowledged that resting is, and the answer concerning meditation is both yes and no. Yes, meditation is an effective strategy if by meditation you mean the whole treatment package which includes resting. However, the answer is no, meditation is not an effective strategy if by meditation you mean the meditation component (mantra, etc.) of the treatment package because it has been consistently demonstrated that the meditation component adds nothing to the effects achieved by the other components of the package (i.e. resting). Indeed, meditation does not even appear to have a placebo effect for physiological responses. One might argue that the meditation component cannot be meaningfully removed from the treatment package and that it is the total package that must be evaluated, but that argument misses the point. The point is that the effects of the package do not change regardless of whether the meditation component is included or not, and therefore the meditation component is superfluous. I may be convinced [WM5 101] to call resting a self-regulatory strategy (it does reduce arousal), but then I can not be convinced to call meditation a self-regulatory strategy because the meditation component of the package clearly does not contribute to the reduction of arousal.
[WM5 101] Overall conclusions and implications
This revised review of the published experimental research on the influence of meditation on physiological arousal did not reveal any consistent evidence that meditating subjects attained lower levels of physiological arousal than did resting subjects. Furthermore, the review did not reveal any consistent evidence that subjects who had meditated had a lessened physiological response to stressful situations than did subjects who had not meditated. These conclusions are in sharp contrast to the widely held beliefs about the effects of meditation.
The conclusions generated by this review of the experimental research have implications for the personal and professional use of meditation as an antidote for high physiological arousal. Clearly, such use is not justified by the existing research. This is not to say that the practice of meditation might not have other effects, but any such potential effects could not be due to the usually assumed effect of meditation on physiological arousal. Obviously, that limitation greatly limits the range of potential effects of meditation.
The review also illustrated the need for careful attention to methodological issues and problems when considering research in this area. [WM5 102] Indeed, the original conclusion that meditation resulted in a unique reduction of physiological arousal was undoubtedly based on the uncritical acceptance of conclusions from own-control comparisons rather than from experimental tests involving appropriate control conditions.
If professionals interested in controlling physiological arousal are to be effective and maintain professional and public credibility, it is essential that they do not promise more than the data permit. There can be no doubt that the claims made for meditation have far exceeded the existing data, and it is time to bring our promises and practices into line with the evidence. It is also time for the proponents of meditation to develop the methodological sophistication that is required for the production, evaluation, and presentation of research so that readers will not be misled by their reports. For my part, since completing my research programme on meditation I have turned my attention to studying the effects of physical (aerobic) fitness on physiological arousal in stressful and non-stressful situations. That line of research has produced some exceptionally strong findings (heart rate response to stress can be reduced by as much as 29 b.p.m.!). In view of that, I can strongly recommend that persons who are interested in reducing arousal spend their time exercising rather than meditating or resting.
6 Meditation and the EEG pp. 104-117
[WM6 105] In the 1950s, it was hoped that the EEG would be the open sesame to an understanding of brain function, personality, and mental illness. It was thus not surprising that as EEG machines became smaller, and almost portable, those scientists interested in consciousness, meditation, and the esoteric should apply this new measurement method to genuine yogis fresh down from the Himalayas. Das and Gastaut (1955), Bagchi and Wenger (1957a, b), Anand et al. (1961), and Kasamatsu et al. (1957) were the first workers in this field.
Das and Gastaut examined seven Indian meditation experts, and demonstrated a decrease in alpha amplitude and an increase in alpha frequency during meditation, and suggested that meditation was an alerting procedure. They also detected generalized bursts of spindles [WM6 106] of fast activity at the time that their practitioners claimed to be entering samadhi (the ultimate goal of meditation). This early view of meditation as an alerting phenomenon is now thought to be incorrect, and it is possible that the fast activity they detected was due to interference from the scalp muscles. However, the paper describing their results was not sufficiently detailed to indicate whether this was in fact so. Several subsequent papers, reviewed below, have mentioned the appearance of fast activity in the ultimate state of meditation.
Bagchi and Wenger (1957b) lugged their EEG machines and portable generators up into the mountain caves of several genuine Indian yogis, whose EEG they recorded during the meditation sessions, while banging cymbals behind them, flashing lights in their eyes, and plunging their feet into baths of cold water. They report that in some cases the alpha rhythm was unresponsive to this maltreatment. Thus, the second important concept arose, that of sensory withdrawal during the meditation period. These two ideas, fast rhythms during Samadhi and sensory withdrawal during meditation, are the foundation concepts of work on the EEG features of meditation.
[WM6 108] TM meditators were the subjects in several EEG studies of meditation conducted by Wallace (1970), Wallace et al. (1971), Banquet (1972, 1973; Banquet and Sailhan 1974), and Fenwick et al. (1977), all of whom came to essentially the same conclusion. At the beginning of meditation the alpha rhythm increases in amplitude and then generally slows in frequency by 1-3 Hz before spreading forwards into the frontal channels. In some meditators, bursts of theta activity are seen bitemporally, which may alternate with a recurrence of the alpha rhythm. In some studies only, bursts of beta spindling, mainly frontally, are seen in the deeper stages of meditation, and it has been suggested that these are concurrent with transcendence. All these changes are suggestive of lowered cortical arousal. Beta spindling is frequently seen in non-meditators who have become drowsy and passed into stage 1 sleep. Thus, the EEG changes point towards a behavioural state which is on the dimension of alertness to drowsiness. However, it must be remembered that EEG changes are non-specific, and it is not possible to argue from them to mental state. But physiologically this pattern of changes is not unique to meditation alone. Thus we cannot conclude on the basis of these findings that the meditation state is physiologically unique, but neither [WM6 109] can we infer that the mental state of meditation is not distinct from low arousal states of drowsiness and light sleep.
[WM6 111] Much the most interesting question is whether the neurophysiological processes underlying meditation are in some respects similar to those of sleep. As has already been pointed out, it is never possible to argue back from an EEG picture to a mental state. There is a difference in mental state between meditation and sleep. However, if the same constellation of factors is found in both meditation and sleep, then it is possible that the same neurophysiological mechanisms are involved in both processes. As already described, the slowing and spreading forward of the alpha rhythm, intermittent bursts of theta activity, intermixed with alpha, and the occurrence of slow, rolling eyeball movements with the additional reported occurrence of myoclonic jerks during meditation (Banquet 1973; Fenwick 1974; Fenwick et al. 1977) all suggest that cortical arousal is decreased along the dimension of relaxed alertness to stage 1 sleep. Most of the phenomena indicate stage onset (not stage 1, but drowsiness) sleep. Stigsby et al. (1981), in an excellent study, carried out a computer analysis of EEGs during meditation, drowsiness, and sleep. They found that meditation was similar, in its spectral profile, to waking and drowsiness, but was quite different from stage 1 and 2 sleep, thus confirming the findings of Fenwick et al. (1977). There are other crucial differences between meditation and sleep. Firstly, an average subject not practising a technique of meditation cannot hold himself in the deepest stages of drowsiness, just before the onset of sleep, without rapidly falling through it into stage 1 sleep. Secondly, some features of the meditation experience are alien to those of deep drowsiness. For example both the subjective experience during meditation and the changes in rate and rhythm of breathing are atypical of stage 1 sleep or deep drowsiness. Thus one is forced to conclude that although the meditating state is in the direction of lowered cortical arousal it is different from that of deep drowsiness and stage 1 sleep in several significant respects.
7 Personality and meditation pp. 118-132
Michael M. Delmonte
[WM7 118] Few would contest that external environmental factors play a role in personality development. However, little consideration has been given to various internal techniques such as meditation and the extent to which they influence the expression of personality. Meditation is a selfgenerated experience, or an autogenic technique, which modifies our internal environment temporarily and it may be that this deliberate interference with subjective experiences is associated with measurable personality change. Are the effects of meditation limited to subjective experiences during practice, or are there also more long-term changes such as those reflected in personality scores? The response to this question is of interest for both theoretical and clinical reasons. If the answer is affirmative, and if observed changes are in the direction of improved psychological health, then this would provide important evidence that individuals can actively engage in covert health-promoting experiences.
Most studies investigating the effects of meditation on personality have focused on neuroticism and anxiety. This allows the relationship between practice and psychological health to be investigated in the context of an extensive corpus of theory and scientific evidence. This chapter therefore begins with an examination of the effects of meditation on psychometric measures of anxiety and neuroticism. Then the effects of meditation on other corroboratory (but non-psychometric) measures of anxiety are reviewed. These include biochemical, motoric, and physiological indices of anxiety and arousal. The influence of meditation on self-esteem, depression, psychosomatic symptomatology, selfactualization, locus of control, and introversion is also reviewed and discussed.
Shapiro (1982) described three broad groupings of attentional strategies in meditation: a focus on the whole field (wide-angle-lens attention) as in mindfulness meditation, a focus on a specific object within a field (zoom-lens attention) as in concentrative meditation, and a shifting back and forth between the two as in integrated meditation. Of these, concentrative meditation is the most widely practised in the West. Thus those forms of meditation in which focused attention plays a large role (such as TM, Zen meditation [But Zen is, as far as I know, a wide-angle-lens meditation] and their non-cultic or clinically adapted derivatives) will form the basis of the review. It may be that the various [WM7 119] meditation techniques are associated with different outcomes. However, the limited number of comparative studies in which the effects of different techniques are contrasted makes definitive comment on this issue difficult.
[WM7 123] The clinical evidence ... suggests that meditation practice is associated with anxiety reduction though the research designs are inadequate to allow for more definitive conclusions. To what extent can one attribute the decreases in anxiety to regular meditation practice? Even if frequency of practice is related to such decrements, is it meditation per se that is the critical agent or must we look more carefully at non-specific effects associated with practice?
Decreases in anxiety have been found to be positively related to frequency of practice by some authors (Tjoa 1975b; Williams et al. 1976; Fling et al. 1981) and not by others (Zuroff and Schwarz 1978). Delmonte (1981a) found that both decrements in anxiety and improved present-self images were correlated with frequency of practice. It is possible that, although practice frequency is in general related to the benefits claimed, there may be a ceiling effect above which little further improvement is reported. For example, Peters et al. (1977a) found that less than three practice periods per week produced little change, whereas two daily sessions appeared to be more practice than was necessary for many individuals to achieve positive change. Similarly, Carrington et al. ( 1980) reported that frequent and occasional practitioners did not differ in terms of improvement.
Smith (1978) found that those who maintain meditation practice and who display the greatest reduction in trait anxiety score high on the 16PF factors of sizothymia and autia. Sizothymic individuals tend to be reserved, detached, and aloof whereas autia describes a tendency to be imaginatively enthralled by inner action, charmed by works of the imagination, completely absorbed, and to demonstrate a capacity to dissociate and engage in autonomous, self-absorbed relaxation. This [WM7 124] report is consistent with findings that subjects high on hypnotic responsivity are more likely to show substantial decrements in anxiety consequent upon learning and regularly practising meditation (Benson et al. 1978b; Heide et al. 1980). It is also relevant to note that suggestibility increases during the practice of meditation per se (Delmonte 1981b).
Both credibility of intervention and expectancy of benefit are positively related to improved self-reports. Highly credible control procedures have been found to be as effective as meditation in reducing anxiety (Smith 19761. In a very careful study, Smith randomly assigned subjects to meditation or to a placebo condition which was designed to match the form, complexity, and expectation-fostering aspects of TM and involved simply sitting quietly twice daily. Both interventions were equally effective in reducing trait anxiety, striated muscle tension and skin conductance reactivity. However, it could be argued that just sitting is also a standard form of meditation (see Watts 1957). Smith also compared two other groups exposed to similar fostering of expectation. Again, he found no significant differences between the groups on the outcome measures even though one group practised a TM-like meditation exercise and the other an exercise designed to be the near antithesis of meditation. The latter exercise involved deliberate cognitive activity such as fantasy, day dreaming, storytelling and listening. Delmonte (1981a) found that expectancy of benefit from meditation practice assessed prior to initiation is related both to the frequency of practice and to the reported benefits of such practice. Similarly, Kirsch and Henry (1979) reported that high credibility of rationale for meditation was significantly related to reduced anxiety. It could, therefore, be argued that the reductions in anxiety associated with meditation practice simply reflect a quasi-placebo effect. Only Zuroff and Schwarz (1978) found that expectations of benefit were not significantly correlated with such reductions (though this finding could be explained by the relatively broad assessment of expectancy employed). In conclusion, a strong case can be made for taking nonspecific factors into account in any conceptualization of the effects of meditation on personality.
[WM7 125] These ... studies demonstrate that meditators readily show decreases on self-report measures of anxiety but that these decrements may not be validated by concurrent reductions on more objective indices. If the effects of meditation are mode specific, as the multiprocess model of anxiety (Schwarz et al. 1978) would predict, then it may be that the effects of meditation are more readily apparent with self-report (predominantly cognitive) than with behavioural or physiological measures. The outcomes of these studies appear to be consistent with the multiprocess model which predicts some desynchrony between and within physiological, cognitive, behavioural, and biochemical indices of anxiety and arousal. The more parsimonious interpretation is that it is easier to fake good with self-report than with behavioural, biochemical, or physiological markers of anxiety. However, the outcome of the Zuroff and Schwarz study, in which only the meditation group reported significant reductions in both self-report and behavioural measures of anxiety, is not consistent with this interpretation.
[WM7 131] Overall, there is little compelling evidence to date that meditation practice actually produces change in this [introversion-extraversion] dimension of personality. Rather, it appears that those attracted to meditation are relatively introverted. In other words, extraverts may be less inclined to either take up or maintain practice. Those introverts who do take up meditation may, with practice, become somewhat less introverted.
It is noteworthy that negative self-concepts and high levels of reported symptomatology predict attrition from meditation practice. This trend is consistent with reports that high levels of anxiety, neuroticism, and psychological malaise also predict a tendency to drop out of practice (Delmonte 1980, 1981a, 1985b). It appears that those with profiles from the psychological distress end of the continuum tend to respond poorly to meditation and that practice appears to be more rewarding for those who appear to need it least in terms of psychological profile. However, there is evidence that meditation practice increases reported levels of self-actualization and reduces anxiety and depression.
[WM7 132] In conclusion, meditation practice appears to be beneficial in reducing anxiety and depression and in increasing self-actualization. This is particularly so for those individuals who take up meditation for intrinsic reasons, that is, those who are psychologically relatively healthy and are not using meditation to solve serious problems of living. The latter could still benefit from carefully supervised meditation provided the supervisor is familiar with both meditation and clinical practice. This review therefore suggests that researchers and clinicians alike could profitably direct energies into further exploring the value of meditation, in all its forms, in daily living.
Although practice has been found to be associated with personality changes in the direction of psychological well-being, it may be incorrect to conclude that meditation techniques produce these changes independently of the practitioners wishes and desires. Meditation is a self-directed and active process in which a technique is used by a person (not on a person) in the context of particular subjective expectations and objectives. For this reason meditation may not be readily dispensed, like medication, to anxious or depressed patients if they show little motivation to practice. The value of meditation may be greater for those who wish to be involved in directing their own development than for those wanting to be cured passively.
8 Meditation as psychotherapy: a new look at the evidence pp. 136-149
Jonathan C. Smith
[WM8 138] Clinical process researchers (Orlinsky and Howard 1978; Parloff et al. 1978) have devoted 20 years to looking at two skills that contribute to change in therapytherapist empathy and client experiential insight (or experiencing level). We can learn much from the direction this work has taken. Put simply, empathy can be seen as the ability to detect and reflect what another is feeling whereas experiencing is the ability to become aware of and share ones own feelings. One line of investigation has examined whether client growth is associated with his or her level of experiential insight as well as the level of therapist empathy. Evidence appears to strongly support both notions. Another path has considered the conditions necessary for the development of insight and empathy. Of particular interest to us is that both lines of research have emphasized skills over techniques. Unlike meditation researchers, those studying empathy and experiential insight have shown little interest in teaching therapists a specific empathy technique or clients a specific insight technique. Empathy and insight are complex skills that call for sophisticated strategies of investigation.
[WM8 139] In two recent books (Smith 1985, 1986) I propose three meditative skills: focusing, letting be, and receptivity. Focusing is the ability to attend to a restricted stimulus for an extended period. Letting be is the ability to put aside unnecessary goal-directed and analytic activity. And receptivity is the willingness to tolerate and accept meditation experiences that may be uncertain, unfamiliar, and paradoxical. These skills may well be displayed in a meditation session. One diverts attention from hectic everyday concerns to, say, the simple flow of breath. One focuses. One puts aside attempts to force a particular pattern of breathing or analyse the breathing process, and so on. One maintains a stance of letting be. And one dispassionately accepts whatever changes may transpire such as images, unexpected feeling states, and the like. One remains receptive.
[WM8 141] Absorption refers to the disposition to display episodes of total attention during which the available representational apparatus seems to be entirely dedicated to experiencing and modeling the attentional object, be it a landscape, a human being, a sound, a remembered incident, or an aspect of ones self (Tellegen and Atkinson 1974, p. 274). Inspection of the Tellegen Absorption Scale reveals many items that appear to call for specific meditative skills, particularly focusing (example: When I listen to music I can get so caught up in it that I dont notice anything else) and receptivity (I sometimes step outside my usual self and experience an entirely different state of being.)
[WM8 141] The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (Cattell, R.B., Eber, H.W. and M.M. Tatsuoka, Handbook for the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire. Champaign, Ill.,1970 ) is a popular omnibus inventory of personality. Two of its scales are of particular interest to us: factors A and M. Those scoring high in factor A, or sizothymia, are reserved, detached, critical, cool, aloof, and stiff. Emotionally they are flat or cautious. They tend to be critical, precise, and sceptical, and like working alone with things or words rather than with people. In interpreting this factor, Cattell (19571 hypothesizes it reflects a steadiness in purpose and a high level of interest in symbolic and subjective activity . . . a secondary result of blocking of easy interaction with the changing external world. Factor A could be argued to reflect a type of focusing ability (steadiness in purpose, blocking easy interaction with external change).
[WM8 142] Those scoring high in factor M, or autia, tend to be unconventional and interested in art, theory, basic beliefs and spiritual matters. However, their most important characteristic is what Cattell variously describes as a tendency to be imaginatively enthralled by inner creations, charmed by works of the imagination, and completely absorbed in the momentum of their own thoughts, following them wherever they lead, for their intrinsic attractiveness and with neglect of realistic considerations. Cattell has speculated that fundamental to autia may be a capacity to dissociate and engage in autonomous, selfabsorbed relaxation. In sum, factor M contains many characteristics one might associate with focusing (a tendency to be enthralled, absorbed, etc.), letting be (following the momentum of ones own thoughts), and receptivity (neglecting realistic considerations).
[WM8 142] The Fitzgerald (1966) Experience Inquiry is described as a measure of openness to inner and outer experience. Those who score high are claimed to be not bound by the conventional modes of thought, memory and perception; they are sensitive to the possibilities and subtle nuances of experience which elude others; they are at home in the midst of conceptual disorder and complexity and they seek change and novelty. The test is made up of items derived from the following categories: tolerance for regressive experience, tolerance for logical inconsistencies, constructive use of regression, capacity for regressive experiences, altered states, peak experiences, and tolerance for the irrational. It is a test that appears to reflect meditative receptivity.
In a study involving teaching 4 weeks of Zen breath-counting meditation to 16 Masters level students in counselling, Lesh (1970b) found that subjects scoring highest at pretest on the Experience Inquiry are most likely to report experiences of calm, concentration, alertness, satisfaction, and emotional insight while meditating.
[WM8 144] A number of studies have found that students who drop out of TM tend to appear highly defensive on the Tennessee Self Concept Scale (Smith 1978) and other measures (Otis 1974a). They also score higher on measures of psychoticism (Smith 1978), have serious problems (Otis 1974a), and are emotionally disturbed (Kanas and Horowitz 1977). Although a variety of interpretations are possible for this pattern, one can speculate that highly disturbed individuals may simply find it difficult to focus, maintain a stance of passivity, or receptively tolerate unusual experiences. They may also experience distracting adverse effects (Davidson and Goleman 1977; Otis 1984).
[WM8 146] Many chronically tense individuals find devoting 15 to 20 minutes to a single set of relaxing images an unfamiliar and even discomforting task. Imagery requires a moderate level of receptivity.
11 Meditation: magic, myth, and mystery pp. 192-210
Michael A. West
[WM11 198] Guy Claxton (1986) has explored the parallels between meditation and psychotherapy in his book Beyond therapy. He argues that clients come to therapy seeking greater happiness or less pain and that there are limits to the purposes of such therapy. For example, dealing with a specific phobia of public speaking would usually not involve exploration of the clients spiritual poverty. Such areas of experience are likely to be out of bounds in the therapeutic relationship. On the spiritual path however there are no such limits:
The quest is for Truth not Happiness, and if happiness or security or social acceptability must be sacrificed in the pursuit of this ruthless enquiry then so be it. The spiritual seekers task is not problem-solving but problem-seeking. Whatever experiences are upsetting must be mounted and ridden in any direction they choose to go, so that the fear that underlies them can be confronted and scrutinised. No thought or feeling or behaviour is righter than any other. It is all grist to the millthe mill that puts experience to the test, and that relentlessly separates out and discards any beliefs, however cherished, that turn out to be unjustified. (Claxton 1986) (pp. 316-17).
Claxton goes on to warn that meditation practice may stimulate dangerous or bad feelings into consciousness which the person in therapy is happier to keep buried since their defences have worked well in the past in keeping them at bay. Meditation would then involve risk for many clients because it will tend to push them further than they are ready to go. Claxton challenges therapists themselves to begin the path of exploration of the boundaries of self through meditation, as a necessary part of their training in order to appraise their value to their clients in terms of qualities of being, rather than the skills and techniques of doing or the conceptual understanding of knowing.