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Meditation Research: A Bridge between Worldviews…

by Cassandra Vieten

I was brought up as a product of The Enlightenment… in an academic, scientific, generally agnostic worldview that took the separation of church and state and of science and religion as an absolute given—even a moral necessity. My postdoctoral science training reinforced this: I trained in a medical center neurology department studying biological bases of a behavioral disorder which made employment of a psychologist to interact with research subjects necessary. And if my colleagues found the “soft” science of psychology a bit distasteful, they were downright allergic to any talk of spirituality. When the Fetzer Institute joined with the National Institutes of Health to offer a grant to study spirituality and alcoholism, my department chair authored a petition protesting this use of federal funding despite the fact that Alcoholics Anonymous, an essentially spiritual intervention, had continued to far and away surpass any biological treatment for alcoholism in clinical effectiveness.

Though I fully appreciate the historical necessity of the Cartesian split, even from an early age I couldn’t quite rest in a purely materialist worldview. I could see how the exclusion of the inner world was going to limit our quest to understand the true nature of reality. But I wasn’t sure how to bridge the two worlds until I went to college to study psychology and took a course on Buddhism. As I learned about this essentially empiricist worldview (meaning that it’s based on observation rather than on “faith”), I finally found a framework that described the inner world in great and profound detail but was not incompatible with science!

That’s how I came to join the many other scientists who understand that spiritual traditions hold sophisticated understandings about the nature of reality and pathways to well-being and virtue, and who believe that the insights and wisdom embedded in spiritual traditions shouldn’t be off limits to scientific investigation. Studies of meditation, particularly in forms that are derived from Buddhism, have increased exponentially in recent years; other forms of contemplative practice are beginning to be studied as well.

Fast forward to a presentation I made last month on the results of one of our studies to 350 people who practice and teach Centering Prayer, a Christian form of meditation. Joining me was friend and colleague Michael Spezio, a neuroscientist and ordained priest from Cal Tech. The following week I headed to Stanford to talk to 200 health-care professionals, psychologists, and psychiatrists about my research on meditation for post-partum depression.

Research on meditation is not off limits any longer. This week IONS announced our newly updated bibliography of meditation research with more than 6000 references, a number that reflects a steady increase in meditation research over the last five decades.

Can we just stop and reflect on that for a minute? I love that the 21st century is finding a way to respectfully bridge these worlds in so many ways! Scientists are learning from the spiritual traditions without contaminating the scientific method. Spiritual groups are seeking scientific evidence for the role of meditation to better understand their practice and deepen their faith. Health interventions are benefitting from centuries of scientific research as well as millennia of spiritual inquiry. This is something that we get really excited about at IONS. And meditation research paved the way.

Noetic Research, Worldview
  • CliffSkater Oct 12, 2011

    I believe the database is more a tight-rope walk than a bridge; without including anecdotal evidence, properly identified as such, the scope of information is limited. With regard to meditation research any lead, subjective or not, can be pivotal. There are all of seven articles on Kundalini in the database and none pertain to my specific interest. With respect to your maxim "extraordinary anomalies deserve special attention", if you truly believe that and can set aside bias you should include the possibility of submitting ground breaking, non-professionally published insights into the mix. In my own case I believe I have an immensely important contribution to make but the info has to get to the right people to be affirmed and researchers are understandably reluctant to consider anything outside their expertise. When I joined IONS several years ago I was hoping the institution would be helpful finding a resonant mentor/researcher or at least archive the info for future use. With the loss of SIA my research is now only to be found at:

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    iamonesoru Jul 24, 2012

    What the world teaches us about the chakras and kundalini energy are distorted third dimensional interpretations of the Divine Energy or the intelligent energy of consciousness which is life itself.

    What we call light and love are basically two polarized signals, or languages of consciousness energy, or Original Thought being projected throughout the universe coalescing into everything in existence.

    The kundalini energy is part of the Divine Feminine polarity, signal, or language (love) of the Source, which is both masculine and feminine, but because of our patriarchal worldview based on the Adam and Eve story we have been taught to deny the divinity of everything feminine, and distort the divinity of everything masculine, and basically see everything, including ourselves as much less than divine.

    The chakras are basically energy transducers that receive and then transmit the signal,after it has been interpreted or translated by the brain according to our distorted beliefs. Our consensus reality is a product of the distorted signals,based on the distorted beliefs, of some seven odd billion receiver/translator/transmitters that we call "bodies" transmitting their distorted false beliefs into the collective unconscious.

    Intelligence is masculine. Intuition and emotion are feminine, and because we repress everything feminine we are energetically out of balance, and our world is becoming more and more mentally and emotionally unstable as a result.

    The chakra system is much more than what has been realized or taught by either eastern religions or western "New Age" philosophy.

  • Jeanine Broderick Dec 13, 2012

    Your words about both the value of the body of knowledge in spiritual traditions and in finally being able to explore scientifically practices like meditation echoes what is in my heart.

    Iamonesoru - read your post again and see how you are promoting what you do not want. You do not say "some believe" or "some perceive" you say "this is." It is clear that you were taught that worldview and I know it is a worldview held by many but not everyone holds that worldview and I would say that it is getting better - not worse. I am blessed with a 22 and 20 year old daughter and two heart-adopted 23 year olds so I am often around that generation as my home has a loving and accepting atmosphere. The young adults I see on a regular basis do not hold these and other even less savory views that were common in earlier generations. We are on the brink of a tremendous breakthrough on emotion as a friend of mine has demonstrated scientifically that emotions are feedback from a guidance system. Emotions are about to come front and center as the power of this guidance system (which less "evolved" life forms all follow) comes into the awareness of the masses.

    Going back to the wisdom in the various spiritual beliefs, I researched more than half a dozen of them for indications that support this guidance system and the they all mentioned it - it is just the interpretations that have been attributed to the passages that were leading us away from this guidance system. Good things are coming.

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