A new study published in Mindfulness sought to better understand how profound mystical experiences occur during meditation. Researcher Anthony P. Zanesco and his colleagues hypothesized that “intensive” meditation may be more likely to elicit those types of experiences. Using participants who were experienced meditators, they found that those who attended an intensive meditation retreat were more likely to report profound and mystical-type experiences. This study demonstrates the potential benefit of engaging in periods of intensive meditation.
Meditation has been shown to have numerous benefits for psychological well-being, including reducing stress and anxiety, improving attention and cognitive function, and promoting emotional regulation.
However, less is known about the potential for meditation to induce profound, meaningful, and mystical experiences. These experiences are characterized by a sense of unity with all things, a loss of self-identity, and a feeling of transcendence beyond ordinary reality. They have been associated with positive changes in attitudes toward life and increased well-being.
The study recruited 32 participants who were experienced meditators and had about the same amount of experience with meditation retreats and long periods of meditation. Participants were randomly assigned to either an intensive meditation retreat or a control group that continued their daily routine. Both groups completed the States of Consciousness Questionnaire (SOCQ) and the Mysticism Scale before and after three weeks. Data analysis compared profiles of responses on the SOCQ between groups at the end of the retreat.
The results showed that participants in the retreat group reported significantly higher levels of profound, meaningful, and mystical experiences than those in the control group. The multivariate analysis revealed that items related to altered time perception, unity with others or nature, and feelings of peace or joyfulness contributed most significantly to differences between groups at the end of the retreat.
The findings of this study suggest that intensive meditation-based interventions can lead to profound changes in consciousness among experienced meditators, which is consistent with previous research showing that meditation can induce altered states of consciousness characterized by feelings of unity with all things, a loss of self-identity, and a sense of transcendence beyond ordinary reality.
One possible explanation for these findings is that meditation may shift attention from self-focused thoughts and emotions to more expansive and inclusive experiences. This shift may lead to increased feelings of interconnectedness with others or nature and altered time perception. These changes in consciousness may be related to positive attitudes toward life and increased well-being.
The study has several limitations that should be considered when interpreting the results. First, the sample size was relatively small, which may limit the generalizability of the findings. Second, the study did not include a long-term follow-up to assess whether the effects of the retreat persisted over time. Finally, participants in the control group may have experienced changes in consciousness due to factors other than meditation.
The study provides valuable insights into the potential for intensive meditation-based interventions to induce profound, meaningful, and mystical experiences among experienced meditators. The findings suggest that these experiences may be related to increased feelings of interconnectedness with others or nature and altered time perception. However, further research is needed to confirm these findings and explore meditation’s long-term effects on consciousness and well-being.
Overall, this study contributes to our understanding of the potential benefits of contemplative practices for psychological well-being and highlights the importance of using multivariate methods when analyzing complex data sets in this field.
The study, “The occurrence of psychologically profound, meaningful, and mystical experiences during a month‐long meditation retreat,” was authored by Anthony P. Zanesco, Brandon G. King, Quinn A. Conklin, and Clifford D. Saron.