23 April 2019

Mindfulness or emptiness? At last meditation research starts comparing

For many years research into mindfulness and meditation has been pretty shoddy.
Imagine testing a new antibiotic without clarifying what type of antibiotic was being studied and how much was being used. For too long most meditation research has not defined the type and quantity being studied.

Now a landmark study compares mindfulness with emptiness - and the results may be different to what you might expect, but first

        Thought for the day

The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. 
If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; 
If a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; 
If a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; 
If other species are biological kin, not resources; 
Or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity, 
Then we will treat each other with greater respect. 
Thus is the challenge, 
To look at the world from a different perspective.

                          David Suzuki

                                     Maybe this needs to be the thought for our time!!!

Many meditation studies have failed to clearly state what type of meditation was taught, and what the participants actually practiced. Few studies give attention to how much practice the participants actually completed.

So this comparative study provides an early window into how different techniques may work in different situations. Clearly this is the way for the future of meditation and mindfulness studies, but right now it makes for an interesting start.

Wisdom-based Buddhist-derived practices (BDPs) are concerned with transmuting suffering by cultivating insight into the ultimate nature of both the self and reality.

Arguably the most important wisdom-based BDP is emptiness (Sanskrit: śūnyatā) that implies that although phenomena are perceptible to the human mind, they do not intrinsically exist.

Emptiness can be likened to the stillness we talk of so much in the way Ruth and I teach meditation.

So quoting from this recent research… despite its significance in Buddhism, emptiness has received little empirical attention.

Advancing scientific understanding of emptiness is important as it may yield novel insights not only into the nature of mind and reality, but also in terms of helping human beings realise more of their capacity for wisdom and wellbeing.

This study recruited 25 advanced Buddhist meditators and compared emptiness meditation against a mindfulness meditation control condition within the same group of participants. Qualitative analytical techniques were also employed to investigate meditators’ experiences of emptiness.

Compared to the mindfulness control condition, emptiness meditation resulted in significantly greater improvements in non-attachment to self and environment, mystical experiences, compassion, positive affect, and negative affect. No significant relationship was observed between duration of emptiness meditation and any of the aforementioned outcome measures.

Qualitative outcomes demonstrated that participants 
i) combined concentrative and investigative meditation techniques to induce emptiness,

ii) elicited spiritually meaningful insights both during and following the meditation on emptiness, and

iii) retained volitional control over the content and duration of the emptiness meditation.

In conclusion, the researchers suggest cultivating emptiness appears to be a means of reconnecting advanced Buddhist meditators to what they deem to be the innermost nature of their minds and phenomena.

Exploring Emptiness and its Effects on Non-Attachment, Mystical Experiences, and Psycho-spiritual Wellbeing: A Quantitative and Qualitative Study of Advanced Meditators. Van Gordon W et al; Science Direct, Dec 2018, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2018.12.003    LINK HERE

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1 comment:

  1. David Suzuki—beautiful sentiments (and more than sentiments). Very like several native American prayers and poems that are often quoted. And so desperately needed in this time with our degraded natural world and exploitative politics.