Psychological Functioning in a Sample of Long-Term Practitioners of Mindfulness Meditation

Article excerpt

Although mindfulness meditation traditionally is viewed as a lifelong practice, much current knowledge about its effects is based on short-term practitioners who have participated in mindfulness-based treatment. In the current study, long-term meditators and demographically similar nonmeditators completed self-report measures of constructs expected to be related to the practice of mindfulness meditation. Extent of meditation experience was correlated in the expected directions with levels of mindfulness and with many other variables. Mean differences between meditators and nonmeditators were significant in most cases. Mediation analyses were consistent with the hypothesis that practicing meditation is associated with increased mindfulness in daily life, which is related to decreased rumination, decreased fear of emotion, and increased behavioral self-regulation. These mechanisms appear partially responsible for the relationships between mindfulness skills and psychological adjustment. Overall, the current study suggests that the long-term practice of mindfulness meditation may cultivate mindfulness skills and promote adaptive functioning.

Keywords: mindfulness; meditation; mechanisms; adaptive functioning

Mindfulness is increasingly recognized as an important phenomenon in both the clinical and the empirical domains. Commonly accepted definitions suggest that mindfulness involves intentionally bringing one's complete attention to the present moment's experiences in a nonjudgmental or accepting way (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Kabat-Zinn, 1990). Eastern spiritual traditions suggest that the cultivation of mindfulness through the regular practice of meditation leads to reduced suffering and increased well-being (Kabat-Zinn, 2000). A growing empirical literature supports the efficacy of several mindfulness- and acceptance-based interventions for a wide range of populations and disorders (Baer, 2003; Grossman, Neimann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004; Hayes, Luoma, Bond, Masuda, & Lillis, 2006; Robins & Chapman, 2004). As a group, these interventions have been described as the "third wave" of the cognitive-behavioral tradition (Hayes, 2004, p. 639) because they integrate cognitive and behavioral methods with an increased focus on contextual and experiential strategies, including mindfulness, acceptance, and values (Hayes, 2004).

Among empirically supported mindfulness-based treatments, the most intensive meditation training is provided by mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT; Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR; Kabat-Zinn, 1982, 1990), which are typically 8 weeks in duration. Many participants have little or no previous experience with mindfulness or meditation. Thus, much current knowledge about the effects of mindfulness practice on psychological functioning is based on relative novices or short-term practitioners. In addition, most studies have emphasized symptom reduction as the primary dependent variable. However, in the Buddhist traditions, meditation is viewed as a regular lifelong practice in which mindfulness is cultivated over a period of many years and a wide range of effects is expected, including increased awareness, insight, compassion, equanimity, and wisdom (Goldstein, 2002). Therefore, more comprehensive study of individuals who have practiced mindfulness meditation over extended periods of time could provide valuable information about its psychological effects (Walsh & Shapiro, 2006).

PREVIOUS STUDIES OF LONG-TERM MEDITATORS

Only a few studies of experienced meditators have appeared in the literature. Shapiro (1992) studied the motivations for and perceived outcomes of meditation in 27 practitioners with an average of 4.27 years of experience. Reported motivations included self-regulation, self-exploration, and self-liberation (sense of harmony with the universe and capacity for compassion and service). Changes in brain functions related to attentional processes in long-term meditators have been reported by Brefczynski-Lewis, Lutz, Schaefer, Levinson, and Davidson (2007) and Slagter et al. …