Archive for February, 2019


Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

The authors of this article present the results of an online survey.

Future Directions in Meditation Research: Recommendations for Expanding the Field of Contemplative Science.

PLoS ONE 13(11): e0205740. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0205740

by

Cassandra Vieten, Helane Wahbeh, B. Rael Cahn, Katherine MacLean, Mica Estrada, Paul Mills, Michael Murphy , Shauna Shapiro, Dean Radin, Zoran Josipovic, David E. Presti, Michael Sapiro, Jan Chozen Bays, Peter Russell, David Vago, Fred Travis, Roger Walsh, & Arnaud Delorme

Cassandra Vieten 2

Cassandra Vieten

Helané Wahbeh

Helané Wahbeh

Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy

david presti

David Presti

Arnaud Delorme

Arnaud Delorme

Abstract

“The science of meditation has grown tremendously in the last two decades. Most studies have focused on evaluating the clinical effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions, neural and other physiological correlates of meditation, and individual cognitive and emotional aspects of meditation. Far less research has been conducted on more challenging domains to measure, such as group and relational, transpersonal and mystical, and difficult aspects of meditation; anomalous or extraordinary phenomena related to meditation; and post-conventional stages of development associated with meditation. However, these components of meditation may be crucial to people’s psychological and spiritual development, could represent important mediators and/or mechanisms by which meditation confers benefits, and could themselves be important outcomes of meditation practices. In addition, since large numbers of novices are being introduced to meditation, it is helpful to investigate experiences they may encounter that are not well understood. Over the last four years, a task force of meditation researchers and teachers met regularly to develop recommendations for expanding the current meditation research field to include these important yet often neglected topics. These meetings led to a cross-sectional online survey to investigate the prevalence of a wide range of experiences in 1120 meditators. Results show that the majority of respondents report having had many of these anomalous and extraordinary experiences. While some of the topics are potentially controversial, they can be subjected to rigorous scientific investigation. These arenas represent largely uncharted scientific terrain and provide excellent opportunities for both new and experienced researchers. We provide suggestions for future directions, with accompanying online materials to encourage such research.”

They concluded that “mystical and extraordinary experiences  are prevalent enough among meditators, and salient enough to those who have them, to warrant further scientific inquiry.” Some of the mystical experiences were feelings of peace and tranquility, feelings of joy, loss of usual sense of time, fusion of self with a larger whole, and feeling that “all is one.” Regarding these, and other experiences, it is said in the report that “the vast majority reporting having them “2–5 times” or “many times” for almost all items.”

Other experiences included alterations in vision and hearing, perception of nonphysical beings, a sense of collective energy, and ESP-type experiences. “Over half of the meditators in our sample reported experiencing clairvoyance or telepathy (perceiving information that could not have been known to them by any known physical means, but later turned out to be true) at least once. Not only that, but the majority also found the experience “somewhat pleasant” and “quite meaningful or important.”

“Discussions of the relationship between meditation practice and advanced capacities of meditators can be traced in written form back to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, published roughly two thousand years ago . . . Claims such as precognition, clairvoyance, telepathy, and mind-matter interactions are still controversial, although a growing body of literature suggests that some such claims could be supported by data . . . External physical phenomena, or objects moving by a non-physical force, physical objects appearing when they had not been there before, objects falling over, a light going out, psychokinesis (the supposed ability to move objects by mental attention or intention alone), or other physical manifestations that seemed to have no physical cause are also discussed in historical literature. Approximately one-third of the meditators in our sample endorsed having experienced something like this at least once.”

“Physical and perceptual sensations not apparently caused by the physical environment were experienced by the vast majority of our survey respondents, including: heat, cold, pressure, or tingling; seeing lights, visions, or images; lightness or heaviness, floating, out of body experiences, body parts disappearing, or feeling like the body changed in shape or size; hearing buzzing sounds, humming, or voices or music that were not in the physical environment. These are experiences that have rarely been examined in a scientific context, but were endorsed by 60–90% of our respondents.”

The authors also state: “It is important to note here again that there did not appear to be a substantially higher rate of psychological disorders in this sample than in the general population. While these experiences could be completely illusory, they also could point to aspects of human potential and reality that challenge prevailing paradigms. Western scientists may hesitate to entertain the possibility that one possible explanation for these perceptions of non-local aspects of consciousness are that they are ontologically real. In many meditative traditions, whether they are considered real or not, these experiences are discounted as potentially derailing. Patanjali and others have cautioned that focusing on such experiencing can be seductive, cause egocentricity, or become distractions . . . At the same time, there are views within some contemplative traditions that such experiences can be utilized with wisdom and compassion by experienced masters, and some highly respected practitioners of contemplative traditions have encouraged more research on such domains.”

Overall, the authors of this paper argue that, more than side effects, all these experiences “may be crucial to people’s psychological and spiritual development.” One hopes that their call for further scientific research in these areas is heard.

 

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Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

Blanco, S., Sambin, M., & Palmieri, A. (2017). Meaning making after a near-death experience: The relevance of intrapsychic and interpersonal dynamics. Death Studies, 27, 1-12.

This study aims to investigate the processes used by individuals to integrate a near-death experience (NDE) and to discuss the use of a meaning-making component to help people who have had such experiences. A psychotherapist interviewed six individuals who reported having had a NDE. Transcripts of the interviews were coded using an interpretative phenomenological analysis. The authors identified intrapsychic and interpersonal dynamics implicated in the individuals’ meaning-making processes, and the problems encountered during their integration of the experience. Meaning-based approaches are a feasible theoretical framework for shedding light on the NDE and providing support for people who have lived through them.

Chandradasa, M., Wijesinghe, C., Kuruppuarachchi, K. A. L. A., & Perera, M. (2017). Near-death experiences in a multi-religious hospital population in Sri Lanka. Journal of Religion and Health, 57, 1599-1605.

Near-death experiences (NDEs) are a wide range of experiences that occur in association with impending death. There are no published studies on NDEs in general hospital populations, and studies have been mainly conducted on critically ill patients. We assessed the prevalence of NDEs and its associations in a multi-religious population in a general hospital in Sri Lanka. A randomised sample of patients admitted to the Colombo North Teaching Hospital was assessed using the Greyson NDE scale and clinical assessment. Out of total 826 participants, NDEs were described by 3%. Compared to the NDE-negative participants, the NDE-positive group had a significantly higher mean for age and a ratio of men. Women reported deeper NDEs. Patients of theistic religions (Christianity, Islam and Hinduism) reported significantly more NDEs compared to patients from the non-theistic religious group (Buddhism). NDE-positive patient group had significantly higher reporting of a feeling ‘that they are about to die’, the presence of loss of consciousness and a higher percentage of internal medical patients. This is the first time that NDEs are assessed in a general hospital population and NDEs being reported from Sri Lanka. We also note for the first time that persons with theistic religious beliefs reported more NDEs than those with non-theistic religious beliefs. Medical professionals need to be aware of these phenomena to be able to give an empathic hearing to patients who have NDE.

Kinsella, M. (2017). Near-death experiences and networked spirituality: The emergence of an afterlife movement. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 85, 168–198.

Near-death experiences (NDEs) were first introduced to the public in 1975. Shortly thereafter, an entire field of near-death studies emerged that began outlining an NDE-based spirituality. This spirituality draws heavily upon an aspect of NDEs known as the “life review,” which involves the reliving or witnessing of significant autobiographical events, either from one’s own perspective or that of others. Near-death studies have contributed to the rise of what I have termed an “afterlife movement”: a loosely organized collective utilizing NDE narratives and practices modeled after the life review to transform behaviors and attitudes toward death, dying, and end-of-life care. By presenting findings from the first ethnography ever to be conducted on the sharing and study of NDE reports in group settings, this article describes this growing movement at the local level.

Lake, J. (2017). The evolution of a predisposition for the near-death experience: implications for non-local consciousness. Journal of Nonlocality, 5.

Near-death experiences (NDE) raise important questions about the nature of human consciousness, the relationship between brain function and consciousness, the perceptual information that is available to consciousness in moments before death, the role of physical and biological mechanisms associated with altered states of consciousness, and relationships between consciousness, space-time and phenomenal reality. Challenges posed by efforts to define the NDE, claims of anomalous experiences associated with NDEs, the problem of “timing” of NDEs with respect to brain function, recent findings from neuroscience are reviewed, along with emerging evidence for quantum models of consciousness that may help elucidate the nature of NDEs.

Lawrence, M. (2017). Near-death and other transpersonal experiences occurring during catastrophic events. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care, 34, 486-492.

The purpose of this article is to describe examples of near-death and other transpersonal experiences occurring during catastrophic events like floods, wars, bombings, and death camps. To date, researchers have limited their investigations of these transpersonal events to those occurring to seriously ill patients in hospitals, those dying from terminal illnesses, or to individuals experiencing a period of grief after the death of a loved one. Missing is awareness by first responders and emergency healthcare professionals about these transpersonal experiences and what to say to the individuals who have them. Some responders experience not only deaths of the victims they assist, but also deaths of their colleagues. Information about these transpersonal experiences can also be of comfort to them. The examples in this article include a near-death experience during the Vietnam War, an out-of-body experience after a bomb explosion during the Iraq War, a near-death visit to a woman imprisoned at Auschwitz, and two after-death communications, one from a person killed in Auschwitz and another from a soldier during World War I. Also included are interviews with two New York City policemen who were September 11, 2001 responders. It is hoped the information will provide knowledge of these experiences to those who care for those near death, or dying, or grieving because of catastrophic events, and encourage researchers to further investigate these experiences during disasters.

Martial, C., Charland-Verville, V., Cassol, H., Didone, V., Van der Linden, M., & Laureys, S. (2017). Intensity and memory characteristics of near-death experiences. Consciousness and Cognition, S1053-8100(16)30380-4. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2017.06.018.

Memories of Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) seem to be very detailed and stable over time. At present, there is still no satisfactory explanation for the NDEs’ rich phenomenology. Here we compared phenomenological characteristics of NDE memories with the reported experience’s intensity. We included 152 individuals with a self-reported “classical” NDE (i.e. occurring in life-threatening conditions). All participants completed a mailed questionnaire that included a measure of phenomenological characteristics of memories (the Memory Characteristics Questionnaire; MCQ) and a measure of NDE’s intensity (the Greyson NDE scale). Greyson NDE scale total score was positively correlated with MCQ total score, suggesting that participants who described more intense NDEs also reported more phenomenological memory characteristics of NDE. Using MCQ items, our study also showed that NDE’s intensity is associated in particular with sensory details, personal importance and reactivation frequency variables.

Martial C, Cassol H, Antonopoulos G, Charlier T, Heros J, Donneau A-F, Charland-Verville V and Laureys S (2017) Temporality of features in near-death experience narratives. Frontiers of Human Neuroscences, 11:311. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00311

Background: After an occurrence of a Near-Death Experience (NDE), Near-Death Experiencers (NDErs) usually report extremely rich and detailed narratives. Phenomenologically, a NDE can be described as a set of distinguishable features. Some authors have proposed regular patterns of NDEs, however, the actual temporality sequence of NDE core features remains a little explored area. Objectives: The aim of the present study was to investigate the frequency distribution of these features (globally and according to the position of features in narratives) as well as the most frequently reported temporality sequences of features. Methods: We collected 154 French freely expressed written NDE narratives (i.e., Greyson NDE scale total score ≥ 7/32). A text analysis was conducted on all narratives in order to infer temporal ordering and frequency distribution of NDE features. Results: Our analyses highlighted the following most frequently reported sequence of consecutive NDE features: Out-of-Body Experience, Experiencing a tunnel, Seeing a bright light, Feeling of peace. Yet, this sequence was encountered in a very limited number of NDErs. Conclusion: These findings may suggest that NDEs temporality sequences can vary across NDErs. Exploring associations and relationships among features encountered during NDEs may complete the rigorous definition and scientific comprehension of the phenomenon.

Martial, C., Charland-Verville, V., Dehon, H., & Laureys, S. (2017). False memory susceptibility in coma survivors with and without a near-death experience. Psychological Research, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00426-017-0855-9

It has been postulated that memories of near-death experiences (NDEs) could be (at least in part) reconstructions based on experiencers’ (NDErs) previous knowledge and could be built as a result of the individual’s attempt to interpret the confusing experience. From the point of view of the experiencer, NDE memories are perceived as being unrivalled memories due to its associated rich phenomenology. However, the scientific literature devoted to the cognitive functioning of NDErs in general, and their memory performance in particular, is rather limited. This study examined NDErs’ susceptibility to false memories using the Deese–Roediger–McDermott (DRM) paradigm. We included 20 NDErs who reported having had their experience in the context of a life-threatening event (Greyson NDE scale total score ≥7/32) and 20 volunteers (matched for age, gender, education level, and time since brain insult) who reported a life-threatening event but without a NDE. Both groups were presented with DRM lists for a recall task during which they were asked to assign “Remember/Know/Guess” judgements to any recalled response. In addition, they were later asked to complete a post-recall test designed to obtain estimates of activation and monitoring of critical lures. Results demonstrated that NDErs and volunteers were equally likely to produce false memories, but that NDErs recalled them more frequently associated with compelling illusory recollection. Of particular interest, analyses of activation and monitoring estimates suggest that NDErs and volunteers groups were equally likely to think of critical lures, but source monitoring was less successful in NDErs compared to volunteers.

Moore, L., & Greyson, B. (2017). Characteristics of memories for near-death experiences. Consciousness and Cognition, 51, 116–124.

Near-death experiences are vivid, life-changing experiences occurring to people who come close to death. Because some of their features, such as enhanced cognition despite compromised brain function, challenge our understanding of the mind-brain relationship, the question arises whether near-death experiences are imagined rather than real events. We administered the Memory Characteristics Questionnaire to 122 survivors of a close brush with death who reported near-death experiences. Participants completed Memory Characteristics Questionnaires for three different memories: that of their near-death experience, that of a real event around the same time, and that of an event they had imagined around the same time. The Memory Characteristics Questionnaire score was higher for the memory of the near-death experience than for that of the real event, which in turn was higher than that of the imagined event. These data suggest that memories of near-death experiences are recalled as ‘‘realer” than real events or imagined events.

Royse, D., & Badger, K. (2017). Near-death experiences, posttraumatic growth, and life satisfaction among burn survivors. Social Work in Health Care, 56, 155-168.

Survivors of large burns may face positive and negative psychological after-effects from close-to-death injuries. This study is the first to examine their near-death experiences (NDEs) and posttraumatic growth (PTG) and life satisfaction afterwards. With an available sample of 92 burn survivors, half met the criteria for an NDE using an objective scale. Those who indicated religion was a source of strength and comfort had high scores on life satisfaction, PTG, and the NDE Scale. Individuals with larger burns reported greater PTG than those with smaller total body surface area burned (TBSA). There were no significant differences on life satisfaction, PTG, or NDEs when examined by gender or years since the burn injury. Elements of the NDE most frequently reported were: An altered sense of time, a sense of being out of the physical body, a feeling of peace, vivid sensations, and sense of being in an “other worldly” environment. Social workers and other health providers need to be comfortable helping burn survivors discuss any NDEs and process these through survivors’ spirituality and religious belief systems as they recover.

Tassell-Matamua, N., & Lindsay, N., Bennett, S., Valentine, H., & Pahina, J. (2017). Does learning about near-death experiences promote psycho-spiritual benefits in those who have not had a near-death experience? Journal of Spirituality and mental Health, 19, 95-115.

Research has revealed a consistent pattern of positive aftereffects in those who report a near-death experience [NDE]. Beneficial outcomes are also possible for those who have not had a NDE, but instead learn about them, although much of this research has been conducted on therapeutic populations. Using a sample of 143 participants randomly assigned to either an intervention or non-intervention group, we investigated whether learning about NDEs generated the same psycho-spiritual benefits having a NDE does. Results revealed significant changes in appreciation for life, spirituality, and appreciation for death, in the intervention group after learning about NDEs.