Challenges and benefits of a long-term meditation practice

Shaner, L., Kelly, L., Rockwell, D., & Curtis, D. (2015). Calm Abiding The Lived Experience of the Practice of Long-Term Meditation. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 0022167815594556.

Abstract. Various aspects of meditation have been studied for more than 50 years, but little research has explored the lived experience of meditation in long-term meditators and examined what meaning this practice holds for the meditators. This interpretative phenomenological study examined the lived experience of the practice of meditation in the lives of six women who have practiced meditation daily for more than 10 years.

This study addressed the questions of how the long-term practice of meditation is experienced and adhered to, how long-term meditators are motivated, what benefits practitioners receive, and what meaning they attribute to their practice. Data were gathered using telephone interviews and analyzed using the interpretative phenomenological process.

Eight superordinate themes arose including (a) consistent and mindful adherence to ritual and technique; (b) role of a teacher/mentor; (c) cultivation of self-awareness; (d) increased equanimity, compassion, and acceptance of self and others; (e) transcendent, peak experiences; (f) cultivation and deepening of personal spirituality; (g) life purpose and meaning; and (h) challenges and barriers to meditation.

This study provides descriptions of the challenges and benefits of maintaining a long-term meditation practice. It points toward the potential of regular, long-term meditation to serve as a complementary healing modality.

Mindfulness as an essential element of law school curriculum

George, S. (2015). The Cure for the Distracted Mind: Why Law Schools Should Teach Mindfulness. Duquesne University Law Review, 53, 14-23. Full text (click on Download This Paper).

Abstract. Building on scientific evidence that mindfulness meditation can improve attention, learning, working memory capacity, academic achievement, empathy, self-compassion, and creativity, and that it can reduce stress and anxiety, this article proposes that mindfulness should be an essential element in law school curriculum.

Part I discusses how distractedness has impacted attention and learning. Part II describes the last decade of research showing the cognitive and physical benefits of mindfulness. Part III discusses the critique of the traditional law school format and advocates that law schools should follow medicine and industry in using mindfulness training to address these issues.

Can lead to sustainable behavior and greater wellbeing

Ericson, T., Kjønstad, B. G., & Barstad, A. (2014). Mindfulness and sustainability.Ecological Economics, 104, 73-79.

Highlights: • Mindfulness promotes subjective well-being, empathy and clarification of values. • Subjective well-being, empathy, and intrinsic values can lead to more sustainable behavior. • Promoting mindfulness could be construed as a policy that contributes both to sustainability and to greater well-being.

Abstract. Ecosystems are under pressure due to high levels of material consumption. Subjective well-being sought through other means than material rewards could make an important contribution to sustainability. A wealth of research indicates that mindfulness contributes to subjective well-being by focusing the mind on the here and now, giving rise to stronger empathy and compassion, facilitating clarification of goals and values, and enabling people to avoid the “hedonic treadmill”.

There is also a body of research that shows how subjective well-being, empathy, compassion, and non-materialistic/intrinsic values are associated with more sustainable behavior. Based on a review of the literature on these topics, we suggest that promoting mindfulness practice in schools, workplaces and elsewhere could be construed as a policy that pays a “double dividend” in that it could contribute both to more sustainable ways of life and to greater well-being.

Meditative dialogue with survivors of complex childhood trauma

Lord, S. A. (2013). Meditative Dialogue: Cultivating Compassion and Empathy with Survivors of Complex Childhood Trauma. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 22(9), 997-1014. Abstract

Complex childhood trauma often affects the capacities of survivors to experience empathy and compassion toward themselves and others. Recent mindfulness literature recognizes meditation as an evidence-based practice that is able to change the brain, increasing one’s capacities for empathy and compassion.

This article offers an exploration of selected literature on complex childhood trauma and on mindfulness practices related to the development of compassion and empathy. A case study illustrates the use of a meditative dialogue practice in psychotherapy with a survivor of complex childhood trauma that serves to increase her ability to have empathy and compassion for herself and others.

Increases spirituality and empathy

Birnie, K., Speca, M., & Carlson, L. E. (2010). Exploring self‐compassion and empathy in the context of mindfulness‐based stress reduction (MBSR). Stress and Health, 26(5), 359-371. Full text.

Abstract: Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programmes have demonstrated beneficial outcomes in a variety of populations. Self-compassion and empathy have theoretical connections to mindfulness, the key element of the MBSR program; however, previous studies examining the programme’s impact on self-compassion or empathy have demonstrated mixed results. This study examined the impact of MBSR on self-compassion and empathy, as well as on mindfulness, symptoms of stress, mood disturbance and spirituality in a community sample.

Significant reductions in symptoms of stress and mood disturbance, as well as increases in mindfulness, spirituality and self-compassion were observed after programme participation. With regards to empathy, a significant increase was seen in perspective taking and a significant decrease in personal distress; no significant change was observed for empathic concern. Changes in self-compassion were predicted by changes in mindfulness. Self-compassion and aspects of empathy revealed strong associations with psychological functioning.

May boost neural basis of empathy

Excerpt from ScienceDaily (Oct. 4, 2012). A compassion-based meditation program can significantly improve a person’s ability to read the facial expressions of others, finds a study published by Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. This boost in empathic accuracy was detected through both behavioral testing of the study participants and through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of their brain activity.

… The meditation protocol, known as Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, or CBCT, … [is] derived from ancient Tibetan Buddhist practices, [but] secular in content and presentation. … When most people think of meditation, they think of a style known as “mindfulness,” in which practitioners seek to improve their ability to concentrate and to be non-judgmentally aware of their thoughts and feelings. While CBCT includes these mindfulness elements, the practice focuses more specifically on training people to analyze and reinterpret their relationships with others.

Helps reduce stress, increase productivity, and develop empathy — in the work place.

[Abstract]. While organizations have addressed these challenges with a variety of stress-management solutions, until recently meditation was not among them. It still had a reputation for being flaky and unfit for corporate consumption. However, scientific studies that have proven the value of meditation in changing the brain point to meditation’s practical application in the workplace. Meditation is now gaining acceptance and being used in established American companies such as General Mills, Google, and Prentice Hall.

Source: Institute of Noetic Sciences, February 2012. Read more.

Promotes altruism

Wallmark, E., et al (2012). Promoting Altruism Through Meditation: An 8-Week Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. [Abstract]. Mindfulness. Published online, June 12, Springer. 

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a Buddhist meditation intervention on empathy, perceived stress, mindfulness, self-compassion, and of particular interest, the dispositional tendency to feel empathic concern rather than personal distress when perceiving another as in need, termed altruistic orientation.

Participants were randomly assigned to an intervention group (n = 20) or a waiting list control group (n = 22). Results indicated a trend towards increases in altruistic orientation in the intervention group—an increase that significantly correlated with meditation time, decreases in perceived stress, and increases in self-compassion and mindfulness.

Additionally, compared to the controls, significant increases in mindfulness and self-compassion and a significant decrease in perceived stress were obtained for the intervention group.