Research

Research for the book Living Deeply

Project | Background | Narrative Analysis | Focus Groups | Transformation Interview Study | Transformation Survey Study

The Transformation Survey Study

The Survey

All research starts with observation of an interesting phenomenon. In our case this was the fact that people transform their lives in deep and profoundly meaningful ways, sometimes in an instant, sometimes over a lifetime. The next step in scientific research is to form a hypothesis about how and why the phenomenon you’ve observed might be happening. This is often done by doing what we did with our narratives, focus groups, and interviews — delving deeply into several cases of the phenomenon, and talking at length with people who have encountered it many, many times, in order to find out everything about it. What happened in each? What conditions were present at the time? What took place just prior, and what happened next?

After we developed a number of hypotheses, using classic scientific methods we proceeded to explore whether the conditions we’d identified as precursors of transformation occurred in large numbers of people, or just in the anecdotes we’d collected to date. We launched an online survey, both to begin to answer some of the questions that remained, and to test some of our hypotheses. Can contemplative practices really foster the transformative process? Is a teacher or a community of like-minded practitioners useful? What kinds of practices are most helpful to what kinds of people? To answer these questions and more, we invited people all across the country to participate in an online survey of the transformative process. We heard from a school teacher in Illinois, a nurse in New York, a business man in Los Angeles, and many more. Answering dozens of specific and open-ended questions, these 900 respondents helped us learn more about the similarities and differences of the transformative process across people and practices. In general, the hypotheses we had derived from our experts held up well in a more general population.

We realize that this sample is self-selected, and as such isn’t representative of the general public in the way a random selection of all American households would be (something we hope to do eventually). However, this sample does offer a valuable opportunity for studying transformation in a large number of people who have lived through the process. Over 80 percent of those sampled reported having had profound transformative experiences; 90 percent engage regularly in some form of transformative practice. The lives of these 900 people have become natural laboratories for studying the transformative process.

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